Going Down Hill…Fast
How much time off does it take to see a meaningful degradation to your developed skills? How much can you get away with before the detrimental effects cost you in performance?
Hard Work Pays Off
Something that is not often talked about is performance maintenance. Specifically how much maintenance needed to sustain your current skill level. Whatever the skill level it will require effort proportionate to the skill level. Consider these two parts to this equation. The first and hardest part is acknowledging you will have to continue to put in hard work. This is sometimes difficult to convey to the masses. Nothing is free and if you worked hard to develop the skill, you will have to work equally hard if not harder to sustain the skill. The second part is how hard do you need to work to sustain the skill. I often associate this with what is the intensity and frequency of my practice needed to sustain a specific level.
Forced Time Out
I voluntarily took some time off from training recently. All training; shooting, lifting, grappling and striking. I wanted to enjoy the holidays and figured I deserved some time off. Then I got ill and that added more time off than I expected. It was about six weeks off completely before I got back to the range for some live fire training. The results were more than disappointing. They were shocking. At least to me. I saw a noticeable increase in my failure to meet minimum standards on baselines. These are simple drills used to evaluate a battery of skills. Every now and then I will fail a baseline drill, but the failure is a rarity. In this case, I failed on over 70% of the drills I shot.
Acceptable Levels of Failure
Honestly, I was expecting a little dip in performance, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such poor results. It wasn’t only on my first trip back to the range, but the next couple before I started to see my skill level normalize. When you see performance drop after an extended absence what can you expect? Well, at the very least the same if not worse. The hard part is being able to put some concrete numbers in place to help people appreciate this situation. When you take time off for whatever reason it will have negative effects on your performance. Again, the question is how much and is that still within acceptable limits.
A Journey of Discovery
This means you first have to establish some baseline standards. I suggest at least a half dozen different drills. Drills of various tasks, under various conditions to various standards. You need a broad scope to truly appreciate your hard work. From there, you want to experiment. What happens when you take two weeks off, 3 weeks off and 4 weeks off from training of any kind to include dry fire. If you are still able to pass your battery of baseline drills with up to 4 weeks off that signifies you have a well adapted set of skills. Truthfully I see that in a very small segment of the shooting population. The vast majority will see poor results within 2 weeks of no training.
The Hourly Evaluation
Something to think about is the details of your journey measured in hours. The more hours of formalized training/instruction you have under your belt, the more likely you are to sustain longer droughts. An example would be if you are an elite level shooter, then with 6 weeks off due to an injury or illness you can probably expect to shoot at the advance level when you return to training. Most would agree that advance level shooting is more than adequate to meet many of shooting standards and therefore not a significant penalty (other than to the ego). Now, if you were to consider a basic level shooter who takes off 2 weeks can probably expect their shooting skill level to be at the beginner level when they return. Which is one of the reasons we see so many students who fail to break the basic level.
Experiments Are Fun
I conducted an experiment where I took a 12 month period and partitioned it into 30 day segments of training. The first 3 months were a combination of dry fire and minimal live fire. The next 6 months were dry fire only and the last 3 months were back to dry fire and minimal live fire. When I say minimal it was no more than 50 rounds of ammunition. What I discovered was dry fire did indeed help me not only sustain my performance, but actually improve by a few percentage points. The reason I bring this up is if you are not going to routinely live fire train, then at least setup a consistent dry fire routine. The benefit of investing in a consistent training plan is to help bridge the gap when life makes it hard to practice. Most take for granted the challenges of sustaining their hard earned skills. Don’t be complacent or at the very least acknowledge your likely skill decline.
The next challenge is in trying to assess the different skill levels, not by achievement alone, but by how hard to maintain. What I have discovered is that