Tips on improving vision for clay shooting

Vision is fundamental to good shooting, and Ed Lyons explains how you can improve your performance with a little expert help.

One of the most common questions I was asked during the lockdown period is “what can I do to improve my eyes or keep them tuned up for when I return to shooting?” Shotgun shooters have always been interested in the latest cartridge, choke or coloured lens, but this shows that more people are thinking about how to enhance their own personal performance, rather than just relying on purchasing more expensive kit.

Having ‘perfect eyes’ won’t make you a perfect shooter, but vision and shooting are intrinsically linked; the accuracy with which you see the target dictates how you make the move to shoot it, and the coordination and synchronicity of your eye muscle system is linked to how repeatable that ‘pair dead’ becomes.

Since 2010, I have examined the eyes of more than 1,200 shotgun shooters, from amateurs to World Champions and Olympic medallists. Without exception, all of the highest performing individuals have superlative visual skills.

This is partly to do with the ability of our eyes to resolve detail, called our Visual Acuity (VA). This is generally better when we have both eyes open, as the signal to the visual cortex in the brain may be boosted, a phenomenon called Binocular Summation.

High achievers may need to wear glasses or contact lenses to achieve maximum VA, but there are other visual skills that they exhibit which cannot necessarily be enhanced through conventional optometry; I hope to cover these in a future article.

20/20 vision

VA is typically expressed as a set of numbers such as 6/6 or, as commonly used in the USA, 20/20. These numbers equate to a particular size letter on an optometric test chart which is viewed at a set distance, with a controlled level of illumination.

VA of 6/6 or 20/20 can be absolutely fine for normal life, but for the competitive shooter 20/20 is not all that impressive – the top shots can typically resolve far higher levels of detail. Target presentations may also present further visual challenges through use of background, clay colour and speed, and ambient light levels are also an unpredictable factor.

Now that we know about VA, it can be a useful analogy to compare our eyes to two video cameras, each of which is constantly collecting both static and dynamic information.

If we’re lucky, these ‘cameras’ may be able to resolve detail in HD because any refractive errors have been accurately corrected and the neuro-ophthalmological pathways have developed to a high level.

Sometimes we may have one ‘HD’ eye and one with lower resolution – this is a common cause of eye dominance problems as we get older. In some cases both eyes may only be able to achieve low levels of VA.

In order to move these cameras around, we have six pairs of eye muscles, some of which have primary, secondary and even tertiary actions. We have muscles for lateral movement, vertical movement and also elements of rotation which are linked to gaze stabilisation and balance, not to mention those tiny muscles which are involved with helping us to focus. It is this muscular system that we can train at home.

Like any muscle system in the body, our eyes can be affected by stress, tiredness, hormone levels, blood sugar, medication and even our ‘lateral gaze angle’ – where the eyes are looking at the limits of their movement.

Eye muscle efficiency can be an important factor in gun fit, as well as being a vital and almost entirely overlooked consideration when measuring eye dominance; it can also be a performance limiter for those who have a low ability to fuse the images from each eye.

This ability to fuse the two separate images is a key factor in establishing true binocular vision. When each eye is locked onto the same target, other objects either in front of or behind that target may appear double.

This is called Physiological Diplopia, and is why you may see two barrels when looking hard at the target with a mounted gun. This is totally normal, and means your eyes are working correctly. It does not indicate an eye dominance problem as is commonly thought.

Eye tests will be able to determine any issues you could have with your vision

Vision training kits

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that a motivated shooter can tune up some of these muscles and learn how to control their eyes more effectively in space. I have produced three entry level kits, with exercises that have been specially selected to help shooters maximise their visual potential at home. The following deceptively simple products are included:

Brock String – a vital training tool for the two-eyed shooter. This can help you develop better coordination of the eyes and ensure both are pointing at the same point in space at the same time. An excellent tool for eye muscle, depth perception and anti-suppression training, the Brock String may also help some shooters overcome certain types of eye dominance problems.

Fusion Cards – can help to develop enhanced depth perception and spatial awareness by training convergence (inward eye movements) and divergence (outward eye movements) with no suppression of either eye.

Hart Charts – help to train the accommodative system, which is the ability to change focus from distance to near. They help improve the ability to increase and decrease our focusing on demand. Some people focus too much and cannot relax; other focus too little and experience blurry vision for close tasks.

Our near focussing system begins to lose efficiency in our mid-40’s but the Hart Chart can also be used to train eye movements called saccades – rapid, ballistic movements of the eyes that abruptly change the point of fixation. They range in amplitude from the small movements made while reading, for example, to the much larger movements made while acquiring and locking onto a target.

A Hart Chart trains the focus

Each exercise has its own instruction manual and a QR code which will take the user to a private video demonstration. They come in three different kits, depending on what you want to achieve:

Kit 1 Eye Muscle Training – contains a warm-up program, a Brock String and Fusion Cards 

Kit 2 Depth Perception and Eye Speed – contains a warm-up program, a Brock String and Hart Charts 

Kit 3 Total Workout – contains the warm-up and all three pieces of equipment for a comprehensive program 

It’s important to realise that these programs are not designed to diagnose or treat any condition and do not replace the need for regular eye examinations, spectacles or contact lenses.

You should read all the instructions through before you start. If you have any pre-existing ocular conditions seek advice from your eye-care practitioner prior to commencing training.

Taking it further

For those that want a more advanced solution, an American company called EyeCarrot has developed an innovative online vision training protocol using their Binovi platform.

With the Binovi kit, the user is supplied with an entire box of vision training equipment containing Stereograms, Tranaglyphs, Parquetry Blocks, Marsden balls etc and access to the Binovi Coach app. Monthly or weekly Vision Training programs are uploaded and recorded so both the coach and performer know how the user is getting on.

Starting at £650, it is a more significant investment. Currently I have shotgun shooters, a world champion boxer and an England rugby player signed up to the system, along with a few regular clients, and feedback has been very positive.

A couple of years ago in my optometric practice in Wolverhampton, I invested in a Senaptec Sensory Station which is an excellent piece of kit for assessing the visual ability of an athlete and has revolutionised the level of detail and analysis I can offer my clients.

Now, amongst other things, we can assess and analyse: high contrast acuity, contrast sensitivity, depth perception, peripheral vision, perception span, reaction time, dynamic acuity, target capture, hand-eye coordination, critical decision making, multiple object tracking, eye movement tracking in all directions, saccades and pursuits, eye dominance (four very different methods!), colour preference… and plenty more!

The idea is to develop a comprehensive understanding of how the individual sees, which is unique to them, and by using cloud analytics compare their visual skill set against others in their peer groups across the world. We can then identify what areas they are strong in as well as finding areas of opportunity to improve.

This information is passed to the coaching team so everyone knows where we are in the journey. Performance plans can be drawn up to optimise the individual’s perceptual skill set; this may be through very precise prescription lenses, custom made contact lenses, precision tint work, 2D and 3D vision training, vestibular-ocular training and so on.

Along with the Sensory Station, Senaptec launched their Strobe eyewear which is designed to train the connections between an individual’s eyes, brain, and body. They have been shown to boost short-term memory, improve hand/eye coordination and focussed attention.

Senaptec produce the Sensory Station (left) as well as the Strobe eyewear

Using liquid crystal technology, the lenses flicker between clear and opaque, removing visual information thereby forcing the individual to process more efficiently. The units can be controlled using the analogue buttons on the side, or via a free downloadable smart phone app.

The Senaptec Strobe can be integrated into a shooter’s existing training drills and exercises both with and without the gun; Team USA’s Kayle Browning is a regular user to ensure her visual system is warmed up prior to competition.

There are two versions of the Strobes. The regular Strobe has eight speed settings and each lens can be isolated, or the unit can be used binocularly. The latest Quad Strobe is segmented into quadrants.

From the eyewear or using the app, the wearer can activate each region independently and customize the occluding patterns desired, a tremendous breakthrough that further enhances the Strobes’ capability.

Senaptec are also releasing their at-home vision training program, which helps shooters to train reaction time, perception span, and hand-eye coordination amongst other skills. Three of my clients have access to the beta version of this so I’m looking forward to hearing their comments!

As always, if anyone has any questions on the above please feel free to email me at ed@ed-lyons.com, or alternatively email james.marchington@futurenet.com if you would like your question featured in the Ask the Experts page. Stay safe and see you on the range soon! 

For more about Ed’s vision training kits, or to place an order, see www.ed-lyons.com/eyewear-shop.

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