Ideomotor training to improve shooting skills in elite biathlon


PhD A.V. Khalmanskikh
Tyumen State University, Tyumen


Keywords: psychological-education support technology, mental conditioning, biathlon, ideomotor training, shooting.

Background. Top priority at the modern development stage of the global biathlon is given to the mental conditioning as one of the key components of success in the sport. Our studies have demonstrated that the shooting success in elite biathlon may be improved by prudential planning and design of the applied shooting practices duly customized for the sport specifics and individual traits of the athletes, with an emphasis on the mental aspects of the problems coming up in the process [7, 8].

The national sport science has always kept in focus the problems of the athletes’ mental conditioning as addressed in the study reports by A.V. Alekseev (2002), A.T. Puni (1968), G.D. Gorbunov (1998), M.A. Itkis (1982), A.V. Rodionov (2006) et al. However, it was only in the study report by V.N. Potapov (2002) that the problems with concern to the individual self-control style formation in elite biathlon were considered.

Striving to improve the shooting success rates in modern elite biathlon, we have developed a psychological-educational technology to support shooting progress in elite biathlon giving the high priority to the diagnostic, algorithmic and reproductive qualities of the technology, permanent functionality of the feedback capacity and its flexibility with due emphasis on the individual traits of the biathlon competitors. The technology implies diagnostics of the competitive performance; focused selection and planning of the most appropriate psychological and educational tools and actions as required by the staged education/ training, pre-competitive and competitive process goals; implementation of the psychological and educational tools and actions (local respiratory exercises, mental technique mastering games, self-orders, ideomotor/ autogenous/ psycho-muscular training tools) designed to secure due control, co-control and self-control of the competitors’ behaviour and performance; and the competitive progress and supporting system control and adjustment in the process [7, 8]. Special attention in our technology was given to the ideomotor training system.

Objective of the study was to provide theoretical grounds for the ideomotor training method and outline its benefits for the elite biathlon competitors’ training and competition processes.

Study results and discussion. Ideomotor training system implies the athletic movement sequences/ conditions being many times imagined, visualized and verbalized by the athlete to facilitate their precise execution/ reproduction. As reported by Professor A.T. Puni, this training system makes it possible to potentially improve the shooting accuracy by 34%. Visualization of the nearing actions prior to the actual shooting is referred to herein as ideomotor setting [5]. The ideomotor training method, when prudently applied in a sport discipline, may help notably improve muscular endurance and physical working capacity and reinstate complex motor skills after long breaks in the training process.

Every experienced shooter knows that a slightest thought about possible miss prior to the shot may be detrimental for the routine sensations and concentration and, as a result, the right physical and mental setting may be immediately destroyed and the shot, if due corrective measures are not taken, may really be inaccurate. As soon as a negative fixed thought comes to the shooter’s mind, it is almost always followed by errors in the movement sequence [3].

On the contrary, when the shooter clearly imagines and feels the right movement sequence in the preparatory and shooting process, the shooting accuracy is highly probable to increase. Erroneous and inaccurate movements are normally common when the muscular sensations are poorly developed or seriously hampered/ blocked by emotional tension, fatigue, attention distractions from the main actions etc.

An efficient mindset implies the mental model of the movement sequence and every element in the shooting process being designed to precede and support the process acting as a sort of “imagination guide”. However, excessive emotional excitation of the shooter often suppresses or destroys the imaginary movement sequence thereby destroying the actual movements too.

It is the past experience in the core activity that will always be used as a basis for due ideomotor sequence construction process. The shooting sequence repeated many times by an experienced competitor is always memorized in every tiny detail so that it takes no effort from the athlete to replay it once again in mind detail by detail. It should be noted, however, that some shooters find it difficult to replay in mind even the key actions, movements and shooting process specifics, including the erroneous ones. These difficulties may be due to the athlete being untrained to memorize and analyze own actions or his/her memorizing ability being largely blocked by excessive emotional stress. It should be mentioned that real actions will be precise and well-coordinated when supported by due prior images of every movement followed by its practical execution, with well-trained ideomotor tools being activated in the process.

To ensure the shooting movement sequence being highly accurate, the athletes must do at least the following:

1) Create a perfectly clear mental image of the movement and visualize it first of all. As far as the shooting process is concerned, the athlete must clearly imagine how he/she gets ready and sets for the shot, takes aim, keeps it and pools the trigger, then follows the bullet trajectory and, what is particularly important, fixes the bullet hitting the bulls’ eye.

2) Transfer the image, keeping it crystal-clear, to the ideomotor domain, i.e. activate (at least to almost unnoticeable degree) the relevant muscular groups and functions. The shooter must clearly visualize own actions both from the inside and outside to feel through the whole process from holding the rifle at the ready to the bullet release, fly and hitting moments.

3) Put together the appropriate programming, positive, short and accurate verbal formulae for at least the most important reference elements in the movement sequence, for example:

“I am ready... All is good... I zero in at... the point... moves smoothly... start pooling the trigger... smoothly move it... normal vibration... freeze... press out... Come on, honey (to the bullet)… Well done!.. Good boy! (when the shot is accurate).”

It should be noted that the athlete should never be programmed for possible inaccurate shot. Every miss should be analyzed to explore the causes and effects, with the images relating to the missed shot being cleared as much as possible from the athlete’s memory. An emphasis in the readjustment process will be made on the actions to remove the causes of failure.

Missed shots and internal tensions aggravated by a highly emotional background may suppress the right mindset and imaginary right movement sequence thereby evoking disorders in the motor skills execution process.

4) Start physical execution of the movements only after the due ideomotor image of the movement sequence is clear and firm in mind and the relevant muscles are well warmed-up to execute the movement.

5) Right before the first movement, clearly imagine it at the ideomotor level and verbalize the execution process by the right wording.

In order to assess the benefits of the ideomotor training system for the shooting process success, we performed an integrated tests and studies, with picked women’s biathlon team of the Tyumen region being subject to the study. Individually, subject to the tests were 15 elite women’s biathlon competitors including 10 Masters of Sport, 4 International Class Masters of Sport and 1 Honorary Master of Sport. Every subject has been a runner-up and a winner of Russian Championships, Cups of Russia, IBU Cups, World Cups, World Championships, European Championships and other World ranking events.

The ideomotor training system was applied to the subjects for two competitive seasons from October 2014 to April 2016 in the formats customized for the individual/ typological traits of the athletes. The periods of rest breaks in the training sessions and right prior to the competitions were found to be the most favourable for the ideomotor training system application.

Our analysis of the competitive records showed every biathlete making good progress in the shooting speed at no detriment for the quality, with the following specific improvements being fixed: the prone/ standing shooting getting-ready times were improved by 16% and 17%, respectively; the total prone/ standing shooting time was improved by 15% and 14%, respectively. The shooting success rates were found to improve by 8% on average (with the prone/ standing shooting success rates improved by 7% and 9%, respectively). The Tyumen region picked team leader who qualified for the national team as a result of the progress made in the competitive season of 2015-2016, showed the prone/ standing shooting success rates improved by 12% and 13%, respectively.

Overall, leading in the competitive season of 2015-2016 were the women players of the picked teams of Tyumen region, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region, Novosibirsk region and Krasnoyarsk Territory (see Table 1).

Having analyzed the shooting accuracy rates and overall quality rates achieved by the competitors, we should note that the Tyumen region team players were the best in the Russian Championship of the past season, with the average team shooting success rate making up 86.50% including the prone/ standing shooting success rates of 85% and 88%, respectively.

Table 1. Shooting success rate variations in the seasons of 2014-2016, for the sample of the top three female biathletes in the Russian Championship, in the Olympic and non-Olympic events, %










Tyumen region







Novosibirsk region







Khanty-Mansi AR







Krasnoyarsk Territory







Conclusion. It was found by the study that brighter and clearer images created by the athlete cause stronger emotions and focus of the wording behind the images and more automated procedure, as well as higher benefits of the ideomotor training system. Prudent application of the ideomotor training system in the elite biathlon competitors’ training and competitive processes made it possible to step up both the technical mastery of the athletes and their competitive success rates as a whole. Special shooting warm-up practices driven by the ideomotor training tools were found to ensure fast and accurate shooting at high heart rates.


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The article considers some issues of shooting skills excelling in elite biathlon, with a special focus on the ideomotor training tools being applied in the training and competitive processes. Objective of the study was to analyze the benefits of the ideomotor training method and its application in the elite biathlonists’ training and competitive processes. It was found by the study that brighter and clearer images created by the athlete cause stronger emotions and focus of the wording behind the images and more automated procedure, as well as higher benefits of the ideomotor training system. Prudent application of the ideomotor training system in the elite biathlon competitors’ training and competitive processes made it possible to step up both the technical mastery of the athletes and their competitive success rates as a whole. Special shooting warm-up practices driven by the ideomotor training tools were found to ensure fast and accurate shooting at high heart rates.