handgun grip,using handguns,self-defense,how to grip a handgun,how to hold a pistol

Thumbs-Forward Handgun Grip

If you want to get on target faster and manage recoil better, try the thumbs-forward grip when shooting your defensive pistol.

By Scott Mayer (RSS)
November 18, 2011

One of the most recent two-hand grips to show up in defensive training is the thumbs-forward grip. This grip chokes up high on a semi-automatic pistol with both thumbs pointing straight forward along the left side of the frame. It offers significant recoil management for faster follow up shots, and some argue it is inherently accurate. 


To take the thumbs-forward grip, grasp the gun high up on the grip with your trigger-finger along the frame. Curl your remaining fingers around the frontstrap, and place your thumb over the safety (for 1911-type pistols) pointing forward.

You’ll notice an empty gap between the heel of your hand and the tip of your fingers on the left side of the grip. Fill that gap with the heel of your support hand, with your thumb pointing forward along the slide. Curl your support-hand fingers around your strong-hand fingers, and you’ve got the grip.

proper handgun grip,how to hold a handgun

When the strong hand properly grips the pistol, it creates a gap between the heel of your hand and the tips of your fingers.

Because a handgun is an L-shaped tool and you hold it by one leg of that L, the muzzle tends to rise during recoil. But, the higher up you grasp the gun with the thumbs-forward grip, the less mechanical advantage recoil has and the less the muzzle rises.

Recoil also tends to move the gun in the direction of the least mass contacting it. For example, if you shoot a handgun holding it in only your right hand, the gun tends to kick upward and to the left, because the mass of your hand is on the lower-right side of the gun. The nature of the thumbs-forward grip is to evenly distribute the most mass around the circumference of the grip. The result is reduced angular recoil that, when combined with less muzzle rise, lets a shooter get back on target faster for follow-up shots.

proper handgun grip,thumbs point forward

Current thinking in defensive training is that humans naturally point their thumbs at objects. The thumbs-forward grip takes advantage of this instinctive response.

The increased accuracy argument comes from a belief that humans naturally point their thumbs precisely at objects. I’m not completely sold on that notion, but I do accept one can reasonably point their thumbs at a close object, meaning with a thumbs-forward grip, the shooter is more likely to be pointing the gun at the target than not. 

Where I believe this idea and accuracy come into play with this grip is during the draw. I recently began training with a former air marshal, who instructed me to pull my support hand to the middle of my chest with the thumb pointing forward instead of up as I rock the muzzle forward from the holster when drawing. That hand position serves several purposes. First, it puts your support hand in a safe place while drawing the pistol. Second, it pre-positions the support hand and thumb to drop nicely into the gap created for the thumbs-forward grip. Third, if humans indeed point their thumbs with reasonable accuracy, when your hands come together on the gun, it is pointing at the threat. 

drawing a handgun,how to grip a handgun

Benefits of the thumbs-forward grip begin with the draw, if you train to orient your support hand in the center of your chest with the thumb pointing up.

Though it has a lot going for it, there are elements of the thumbs-forward grip that are going to vary individually. How well does it work for you during a retention drill? Can you reliably use this grip without compromising the function of controls such as the slide stop and safety? Are your hands so large or your gun so small that you risk injuring your thumb from muzzle blast? 

There is no such thing as the “best” grip, because guns, shooters and environments all differ, but as a foundation upon which to build, the thumbs-forward grip has a lot going for it. It also begs the question: What is your fundamental grip, and under what circumstances do you vary it?

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47 Responses to Thumbs-Forward Handgun Grip

  1. LMLarsen says:

    Scott, I’ve used this grip for the last couple of years and it definitely gives me more control with my 1911. It’s a little more complicated with my M&P45, as my strong thumb tends to ride the slide lock.

    The work continues…

  2. Sounds good, Larry! All of my life I had been using a thumb-over-thumb grip. George showed me this one a year or so ago, and it’s what he teaches at I-4. I like it. It’s not the only grip I use, but it is the “starting point” from which I modify as necessary.

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  4. Fred says:

    @LMLarsen- That’s why my M&P has thumb safeties. ;)

    I’ve introduced a few shooters to this grip over the last couple years. You can almost see the little light come on after they shoot a mag this way.

  5. susurson says:

    Grip should be firm and natural. Many of these suggestions are just BS

  6. I used this grip with my 9mm XD service model a few days ago. At 15 yards my group size went from about 7-8 inches to 5-6 inches. After 30 shots at the same target, all shots we’re within the same 5-6 inch circle. This grip greatly improved my accuracy.

  7. Jon says:

    Any competitive shooter(USPSA, 3gun, IDPA) uses this. It’s what works for running the gun hard. I find guns like Sigs and 1911′s harder to shoot period because they have such a High over Bore sight picture. M&P’s and Glocks are more and more popular because it sits lower in your hand, the sights are lower to your grip which helps with accuracy, muzzle control and recoil management. it would be wise if LEO and Mil were more up on modern shooting techniques.

  8. Mr Joseph Kenneth Senter says:

    It looks like the slide would eat your hand up . I have that problem with my Glock.

    • Semperflyboy says:

      Done properly, neither thumb rides the slide. I have used this grip on my Glock for the last couple of years with no problems. I have “average” to small size hands. YMMV.

  9. Bob onifer says:

    i’ve looking at different grips for the 1911, i started shooting IDPA with a 1911 and 180 lead round nose. its raining now but i/m going to the range. THANK-YOU.

  10. Charles says:

    I was NCOIC Smalls Arms teaching committe at Fort Polk, LA during the Vieitnam war. M 1911 45 course failiarization. Would have been good teaching tool for soldiers armed with the 45 members of a crew served weapons crew to know and use the thumbs forward grip. I will teach it during our shooting sessions here in Raven Valley. Thanks.

  11. Drew says:

    I use this when shooting a 1911, but I modify when shooting a Glock. I use my strong hand thumb to reach over the bone for my thumb and press it towards the slide. I find it helps keep my thumb from riding on the slide and getting cut.

  12. Irishvet says:

    My CCW instructor pointed out, what happens when your at the range and try to shoot your buddies 357 wheel gun? Bye bye thumb.

  13. Jason says:

    I like this grip for 1911′s and other semi autos of decent size.. but not for small guns or pocket pistols.. i think it is of important not to make sure people do not use this grip for revolvers at all… if you have ever seen the tip of someones finger obliterated by the expanding gasses and powder from a revolver you would know it isn’t a pretty site… but some people would not know better if not told…

  14. ArmsVault says:

    I have tried this but just can’t get use to it.

  15. SilverBear says:

    Tom Gresham has a video clip on this which I highly recommend. I’m a rifle guy and don’t presently have a handgun, but I really want to try this. On that video the fellow being interviewed was able to make his SR40 seem literally like a loud .22 because he could maintain the sight picture even during recoil for the most part. It was amazing.

  16. john says:

    I’ve been using this grip since I decided to get serious a couple years ago. I am primarily a Glock shooter, but use this grip for all pistols including 1911s, and revolvers. If you run your left thumb along the bottom of tge frame on a revolver, your finger is nowhere near the “blast” from the gap. Also, I don’t understand how anyone is getting slidebite from this grip. I even hold my Kahr PM9 this way. My left thumbtip is even whith the muzzle, but not in danger of muzzleblast.

  17. LMLarsen says:

    @JoeKS, I thought that at first as well, but I’ve never had a problem with “slide bite.”

    On a recent trip to the range, a good friend and experienced shooter expressed the same concern when he saw me shoot my .45 with this grip, but once I showed him the finer points, his groups shrunk noticeably. It definitely helps, but I still am working on adapting it to pistols with rearward slide stops, such as the M&P, Glock and XD.

  18. LMLarsen says:

    @Irishvet, I agree, you definitely have to modify this grip for revolvers.

    I place my support-hand thumb on the frame just above the trigger, under and behind the cylinder gap, and it works for me.

    But you are correct; the exact same grip for a 1911 would be painful and bloody on a snubby revolver…

  19. Jerry says:

    I have used this grip since 1972. It gives you better control and gets you on target fast. it also is one of the most stable grips you can use. and the bullet will go where your thumbs are pointed. I ride my thumbs right under the slide. I have never been cut by the recoil of the pistol. and if you don’t apply pressure with your thumbs you will not hit the slide lock. I have used this grip on Glocks , 1911′s and several other semi- auto pistols and have never had a problem with any of them

  20. JB says:

    I figured this grip out for myself roughly 30 years ago. Being a lefty, and most guns of the era being set up for right-handers, I was typically figuring out how to best adapt to the weapon in hand. Used to get some pretty strange “you’re doing it all wrong” looks from fellow shooters. ALSO took a lot of $$$ off those same shooters, LOL.

    Unless your grip is waaaay off or your hands are beyond “huge”, there’s really no way your thumb in the way of the cylinder gap of a revolver, IMO.

    As far as accuracy, I may or may not use this grip for slow-fire, pin-point “target accuracy” where I’m trying to get 10 shots in a quarter-sized hole.

    But for “combat accuracy”, I’ve found this grip to be the best option for me, and have never shot less than 98% with it in any scenario.

    Just my take on it.

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  22. Glad to see you using my FIST-FIRE GRIP!

    Hard to believe it’s taken over 12 years for it to catch on, but I’m glad it finally has.

    Stay safe,

    D.R. Middlebrooks – Tactical Shooting Academy



  23. John Randolph says:

    Nice grip…now let’s give credit where credit is due…


    This is not a revolver grip, but easily modifiable to shoot revolver.

  24. DISCLAIMER WARNING: We DO NOT offer revolver training (never have, never will) nor do we recommend using revolvers with the FIST-FIRE Grip. Gases escaping from the cylinder gap can burn skin and may cause serious injury to the off hand thumb.

  25. Dave Jiles says:

    I learned this method during a class with DTI a couple years ago, it has help me to keep firm control and tighter groups for sure. However I did start having a problem with the slide not locking back on an empty mag on two of my Glocks about the same time, the 19 and the 26. After a several months and a few replaced springs, I realized that I was alowing my right thumb to interfere with the slide lock lever causing the failure. Once I paid attention to that, all is well.

  26. You’re right…

    If you are shooting a NON 1911 style gun, then move the STRONG HAND THUMB off to the left…

    Both Thumbs Forward really only works with 1911 style pistols. I hope this helps.

    Stay Safe,



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  29. Dr. Dan Cheatham says:

    This is the best grip yet. Naturally helps left hand squeeze equally as right hand. Prevents shooter from shooting left and down from bullseye. Recoil becomes ignorable as target is quickly re-acquired. Thumbs forward [(]especially left thumb against frame[)] has DRASTICALLY improved my accuracy and confidence!

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  33. owenscott says:

    I was shown this in an LE class in ’06. Ive always passed my drills without it. Improved accuracy for me while speeding up my times. Its a win win … i do not shoot anymore (expensive when the govt isnt buying the rounds and i now need a pistol permit lol) but i still practice it empty handed walking around at work or at home. Im sure it looks funny but … :)

  34. Phil Yeager says:

    I have my wife shooting a modified form of this grip with her Beretta 3032 Tomcat. She must keep her hands low on the grip or the slide will cut the crap out of her. She’s gotten much steadier using this. I also use a similar version, with my off hand a little farther forward and my index finger around the front of the trigger guard on my Springfield XD9 sub. Use your grip when I’m shooting my beretta 96 FS 40SW. Regards

  35. Brandon p says:

    Can’t believe your taking credit for something Brian Enos created in the 80′s…but 12 years ago was only 20 years after him…so I guess it’s almost a tie ;[)]

    • Mike S. says:

      Brandon, can you provide a link or reference to Brian Enos & his credit for this grip? As a professional, I prefer to give credit where its due during training sessions but only if it can be validated. Thanks.

    • Mike S. says:

      Brandon, can you provide a link or reference to Brian Enos & his credit for this grip? As a professional, I prefer to give credit where its due during training sessions but only if it can be validated. Thanks.

  36. R. Castro says:

    The straight-thumbs method of gripping a handgun, which today has become the accepted wisdom among serious shooters, was developed in the early 1980s by Rob Leatham and Brian Enos.

    Read more: http://www.handgunsmag.com/2010/09/24/tactics_training_combatg_100306/#ixzz2k1PwU8Ib

  37. BOB says:

    This grip works. Especially good if you switch between 1911′s, Glocks and Springfield Armory XDM’s. All fit our hand differently and have quite different trigger pulls. This grip helps overcome pushing shots when you switch guns. I’ve been using it quite a while and it has become quite natural for me without thinking about it. That is when it works best; as always… practice…

  38. Roger says:

    I certainly agree with this grip… and frankly, for pistols (as opposed to revolvers) this is the only grip I ever use or teach. You can pivot out of the ‘sul’ position quickly with this grip and also roll up to ‘properly’ rack the slide for reloads or malfunction, etc. Even allows for all sorts of ‘body’ position (ground work, so forth). Of course, one handed, off handed and weak handed work should be done in conjunction but this is the way to go for all uses with a pistol. Thanks for the concise article.

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