The Science Behind the Stance

Understand that first and foremost I’m concerned primarily with a woman owning a firearm and having the knowledge and willingness to use it to defend herself.  However, beyond that there’s also additional expertise available to help you when you do need to use the firearm.  One of those aspects is the science behind a proper stance.

There are three stances that the shooting world advocates—the Weaver, the Isosceles, and the Modified Isosceles. However, scientifically speaking there is only one stance that is ideal for accurate, self-defense shooting.

Isosceles Stance

Isosceles Stance

Many shooting instructors will advocate the isosceles stance.  This is when your feet are spread apart about shoulder width and center to your body.  Usually the shooter is crouched down a bit.  The problem with this position is that you are not properly balanced and it’s not a natural stance for your body to go into in a moment of threat. If you positioned yourself in an isosceles stance, I could usually come by and lightly push you off-balance either forward or backwards.  Next.

Weaver Stance

Weaver Stance

The next stance that even over-priced instructors advocate is that of the Weaver stance.  This is one in which you make your body less of a target by pointing one of your shoulders towards the target and shooting the firearm across your body.  You’re essentially standing sideways to your target.  There is SO much wrong with this particular stance that it frankly shocks me that any professional would teach such a position nowadays.  One, it’s not a natural “fight or flight” stance.  Two, your muscles are contorted.  Muscle tension is what creates tremors and stress.  For many years the military and law enforcement throughout the U.S. taught such a stance.  However, they discovered that the hit ratio declined dramatically while use such a position.  The primary theory behind using this stance is so that you make yourself a smaller target.  While I don’t advocate getting shot, I firmly believe that if you are the one doing the shooting, accurately, then you don’t need to be concerned about getting shot.  Chances are, if you’re being taught to use the Weaver stance, it’s because someone was taught that in the military and can’t let go of something that was ingrained in their mind so intensely.  But it is not the proper science consideration behind a successful stance.

Modified Isosceles Stance

Modified Isosceles Stance

The third stance is the one I strongly recommend and is the modified isosceles.  Experiment for yourself.  If I hold my fists up as if I’m going to deck you one, what would your natural body reflex be?  It would usually be a modified isosceles stance—with your feet shoulder length apart, with one foot slightly more forward than the other.  This is your body’s NATURAL reaction to an attack.  You don’t have to think about it.  You immediately go into it.  Anytime you can utilize your body’s NATURAL instincts to defend yourself, the better.  Not only that, but this position is a stronger position for you mentally—squared up to the target, I’m ready to fight, I’m ready to win.  It’s a lot better than trying to make yourself a small target.  When you do that, you’re actually telling your brain “Holy @&#$, I’m going to get shot.  I’m scared.  I’m crouched, etc.”  When you confront your attacker head on, you’re sending a completely different message, one of defiance and defense.  Which message would you prefer to use?

In the modified isosceles stance you are better able to pivot your body, rotate your arms for shooting, visually keep your eye on your target, adjust your shots, and you’re better balanced.  Even with the one foot just slightly forward, I’m less able to push you over with a slight poke.  Your stance is more firmly planted.  When you’re shooting, you’re shooting from your center core. This enables your brain to help you with the targeting and assigns  a  great deal of the shooting to your gross motor skills whereas the Weaver stance requires fine motor skills.

When you are shooting from your center core, you’re also shooting in such a way that your two strongest bones on your knuckles (your first and second knuckles) which go from your knuckles, up your arm, are taking the brunt of the recoil.  These are the same two knuckle bones that you would want to use when having to punch someone because the rest of your arm supports the action thus giving it more strength.  Shooting with all of your knuckles pointed towards your target will make you a much more accurate shooter.

While the mindset of being as small of a target as possible may initially make sense, it’s forgetting a key component of “war.”  There are 2 parts to a fight.  Offense and defense.  The offense is how you win (stay alive) because you can only play defense for so long.  At some point you’re going to have to shoot.  How accurately you shoot will be determined by whether or not you have to be on the defense.  So ensuring your BEST shooting position is the most critical part of fight.  A stance should be about the effectiveness of your hit ratio AND present the least probability of being hit—in that order.  If you promote a confident shooting stance you’ve got an advantage over your attacker as you will be mentally stronger AND you will be more accurate.  If your more accurate, then you’ve eliminated the problem of being shot as well.  You see, there really is a science behind the stance.

One last aspect to mention in passing.  Many instructors will tell you that foot placement isn’t important in your shooting.  I thought this too for many years of shooting, until my husband and I conducted an experiment.  We were using our quick-draw method but closing our eyes right after we sighted the target and just before we pulled our firearms from the holster.  We would take the shot with our eyes closed.  WHEN our forward foot was aimed towards the target, we hit the target every time, even with our eyes closed.  When our forward foot was placed even slightly towards either side, we were off on the shot.  Pretty interesting theory to practice on your own.  Let me know how you do with it.

Copyright protected all rights reserved by Kellene Bishop 2009. You are welcome to repost this information so long as you credit Kellene Bishop


7 Responses

  1. I shoot modified isosceles. Maybe not a perfect one but that is what my stance is definitely closest to it. That a good explanation of the modified isosceles starts with ‘get into the universal athletic position’ is probably the biggest single benefit to it. Feet about shoulder width apart with the dominant one back, legs slightly bent and shoulder forward. It is IMO the easiest stance for most people to shoot well from in a variety of circumstances.

    Some say the traditional isosceles has some benefit for shooting very powerful handguns. I am not an expert on that subject.

    • for the same reason why I don’t recommend the standard isosceles, this position is definitely NOT ideal for more powerful guns. If I can coem up to person and put them off balance with a simple push, then imagine what a high-powered firearm can do. 🙂

  2. I have always been a fan of the Weaver stance,for I’ve it allows for the most pivot with the least amount of movement.

  3. This is a great writeup of the different stances. I’m definitely going to check out the rest of what you’ve written.

    Personally I was trained first to use the modified isosceles and have always preferred it ever since.

    It’s always struck me, as you mention, to be a position I would naturally go into when in a true combat situation anyway.

    For me it’s a natural position to start and finish running from, and is very stable. I’ve found this to be the best combination of comfort and stability for me when shooting any of my pistols. Albeit, I don’t own any high powered handguns in my modest collection, the most powerful I ever shoot regularly is Remington Golden Saber HPJ 45 ACP +P (or at least it used to be until the current ammo shortage, now I save that for carrying in my ccw).

    I’m surprised at how often people dismiss the modified isosceles, especially instructors. I can understand their dislike of the standard isosceles but the modified stance mitigates or negates nearly all the negatives for me.

  4. […] well for me when I’m shooting at a target.  There’s a great article by Kellene  at Women of Caliber about the different stances. Yes, I kept my first […]

  5. What I note when I read many posts and writeups is that the authors don’t poperly discribe the stances and they get confused as to which is which. The primary reason is that there are so many variations of any of the three primary stances that elements of each get confused with one of the others. What I often see is that people get the oldest of the stances wrong. The Weaver stance as practised by Weaver and demostrated by Weaver in his video on line is often confused with the modified isosecles. The original Weaver stance is square to the target! The strong side leg is slightly behind the weak side leg. The legs are slightly less than shoulder width apart. The strong arm is slightly bent with the elbow pointed striaght down. The weak side arm is pulled into the body with a greater bend in the weak side elbow using the outside of the weak side pectoral (chest) muscle as a brace for the weak side upper arm. The strong arm puts forward pressure on the gun with the weak arm useing the bicep musle to pull the gun toward the body producing the push/pull tension that gives the Weaver stance it primary advantage over earier single or double hand methods of holding a pistol. The dynamic tension created by the push/pull gives you the famous Weaver stability to accurately hit your target. Remember Weaver was a real live cop! So his stance is straight toward the targeted person so that if the cop sustains a hit it will strike his Vest squarely. Standing at 45 degrees or any other angle and calling it Weaver is nonsense to a real cop because although it makes for a thinner target it exposes your body to being hit between the two halfs of your vest. Therefore at angle to the target you have no vest protection at all. Think about it; there is an openning between the front and back havles of the vest which centers at your side. So you do not want to expose that open side to someone shooting at you. I hope this helps some people in understanding the orginal Weaver Stance. The only thing I left out is that the head comes down slightly as the gun is raised to near eye level. You shoot from this slightly head down position because it gives you a flash picture of the sights. Weaver mentions that it wasn’t necessary to get the front and rear sight perfectly alligned vertically. The shot will still end up centered on target through practise and the instinctive sense of what the final vertical alignment would look like in your mind. Weaver had the same opinion as Wild Bill, it’s not who shoots first but he who shoots first and hits that makes the kill. Weaver always admitted that others were faster on the trigger but couldn’t hit as accurately. As he and others have mentioned, the bad guys are notoriously bad shots. Primarily because they practise even less than the average cop. In my opinion with all the Gangsta stances that rarely hit the other gang member or victum you’ve got a lot more time than you think to take your shot. The bad guys generally hit some kid or Grandmother sitting in their house watching TV. before they ever get you. So slow down just a bit and make the hit! IMHO, Mike Parish

  6. After reviewing my note I am sorry for the obvious spelling errors but I think you get the idea even with the errors.

    I did not talk about the other stances because being an old guy I don’t feel qualified. From the first time I’ve seen the Weaver in action by Weaver back in 1961 I have been a firm believer. I was thirteen in that time in case anyone is interested. Yes, I have used the stance in combat in Viet-Nam. I got my hands on an officers 1911 (We traded for an AK47, don’t ask how I got that) and used it during a three day period when our base was over run and we were running short of .223. Tet was the time from hell! I used the 45 with Weaver from the bunker very effectively.

    Mike Parish

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