Olympic Prone

As military prone represents the old standard, it seems like Olympic prone is currently the most commonly used variant of the prone position.  I have some theories about this that I haven’t heard or read anywhere else, so of course they’re crackpot theories. Read on, if you dare…

I started with military prone after reading everyone’s favorite book, Art of the Rifle.  Col. Cooper presents both variations of prone along with a statement that in his experience as a trainer, preference for one position falls generally at about 50/50%.  I don’t remember if I tried both, but I probably did and picked military prone.  I have no formal training in this position.

Later, I got some instruction that heavily favored Olympic prone at the total exclusion of military prone.  I completely switched over to Olympic.  I used Olympic prone for about a year, and shot decently well with it.  Later I got curious and compared my shooting with the two positions.  There wasn’t much difference, but I shot a little better with military prone, and it’s way, way, WAY more comfortable for me.

Olympic prone is marketed as being better than military prone because it gets your stomach off the ground and allows you to breathe easier.  It also allows you to get your elbow farther under the rifle.  It is also claimed that the drawn up leg absorbs recoil.  The question that needs to be asked in response to these purported benefits is: “Do I need these ‘benefits’?  Will they help or hinder my performance?”  Let’s examine this question.

I stated in the article on military prone that it “tends to work well for people who don’t have too much in the way of a “beer gut” and are relatively flexible in the rotator cuff and hip”.  I stumbled on to this secret formula for choosing which position to use after a ton of research- personally, anecdotally, watching and coaching other shooters, and it was another topic that took me to the end of the internet.  I know it’s hard to believe, but before I came up with this little blog here, you actually would have had to do your own research!!!  Luckily now you can just take my word for it.

In my personal shooting and spending a long time with Olympic prone, I discovered that there were certain attributes that were detrimental or of no benefit at all for me.  These are the same things that other people find helpful.  This is going to come as a shock, but not everyone has the same body type.  Furthermore, and just as shocking, different body types present different challenges and issues.  That’s why I encourage you to never just take someone’s word for it, even mine.  I also want you to know that I’m 100% consistent, and would never contradict myself.

The first benefit that wasn’t for me was getting my belly off the ground to make it easier to breathe.  I may not have washboard abs, but neither do I really have much in the way of a beer gut.  I don’t have any problems breathing with my belly and the ground.  The much touted “heartbeat” problem, which is apparently exacerbated by the pulse undulating through the belly causing the sights to move all over, doesn’t really cause a problem for me.  Admittedly, I see my sights or reticle bounce.  The movement is about a half minute.  This is within my ability to hold.  Therefore I consider it a non-issue.

In order to get the belly off the ground in Olympic prone, the firing side leg is drawn up towards the firing hand.  This is supposed to use the natural tension of your groin/hip area muscles and tendons to then roll your body up  towards your support side.  I happen to be somewhat flexible in that area (butterfly stretch anyone?), so drawing my leg up didn’t cause the roll to happen.  I had to make it happen artificially, which induced tension in the position to force the position to “look right”, because as we all know, function follows form (wait a minute…).  Forcing myself up like that causes me a lot of pain in my hip.

The other “benefit” of Olympic prone is that the roll puts your support elbow naturally further under the rifle.  There are a lot of people who have trouble getting that elbow under far enough, so this is of benefit to them.  In my case, I had done a lot of work getting the elbow under the rifle in military prone.  In Olympic prone, my elbow would easily go past the rifle, with stretch to spare.  This extra stretch, coupled with a relaxed position, caused my NPA to slowly fall down and left.  I could just watch it travel.  On the other hand, I get a pretty nice, solid, lockup with military prone.

Now we come to another theory of mine.  Why did Olympic prone become more prevalent than military prone.  Could it be that we, as a nation, have gotten more lazy and sedentary in the last 50-60 years?  I think this is a possibility (rifleman’s PT anyone?).

I’m not saying that Olympic prone isn’t right for anyone, I’m trying to illustrate why it isn’t right for everyone.  But if you’re going to do this, let’s do it right (I’ve said this before, but I also highly recommend Jim Owens’ book Leather Sling and Shooting Positions):

Lie on your stomach (maybe without rifle to begin with would be safer). Extend your left arm such that the flat of your support arm contacts the ground in front of you. With both legs straight behind you, bring the knee of your firing side leg up as far as it will go. Now bring it back down to about 1/3 to 1/2 way forward.  The lower part of your firing side leg (the one that’s “cocked” up) should be about parallel to the bore line.  The support side leg should be in pretty much a straight line with the spine:

Raising the firing side leg should raise that side of your torso up off the ground.  We’re looking to get the torso at an angle of about 45°.  This will give some room to your beer gut so you can breathe.

Because your body is at an angle you have two different ways you can get your heels down. Remember from the military prone article, you don’t want your heels sticking up, because they will move with the recoil impulse. Remember from the natural point of aim article that moving parts of your position cause inconsistencies, and that’s BAD!!!


B-A-D!!!Your options are: support side heel in, or support side heel out.

Because the rest of the stance is rotated at about a 45° angle, I think it’s more natural to keep the toes pointed in and the heel pointing out. This will put both of your heels and toes pointing in the same direction. Some people have difficulties moving certain ways, so I’ll leave it to you to choose what works best for you. I know that’s a radical approach, but we’ll try it.

Rolling the body probably put your support elbow farther under the rifle (or closer if you’re not very flexible). Try to get it as close to directly under as possible.


The elbow way too far under the rifle and the bulging vein in the forehead are clues that Military Prone may work better for you.

I’m assuming that you’re starting out without a rifle. Place your firing hand thumb on the bottom of the boniest part of your cheekbone (this is known as a spotweld, as opposed to a cheekweld in which the cheek contacts the stock). While keeping your thumb in place, plant your firing side elbow on the ground. You should be in about the correct position.

 Ready to rock, except that I seem to have forgotten something important, like say, a barreled action.

As a side note: the pictures this month depict the shooter not using a sling.  The sling is of great benefit to accuracy and precision in both the military and Olympic prone positions if you have the time to use it.

2 thoughts on “Olympic Prone

  1. Great post you have here, exactly the kind of detail I was looking for.

    Now for a question — what do you think is the best stance in terms of offhand shooting?

    For example, do you face the side of your body towards the target so that your feet are in a straight line, or do you open up a little?

    How far does your elbow come out? Or do you keep it tucked in?

    What does your left arm look like? Is it tucked in close and used like a stand of sorts, or is it slightly bent and holding the rifle farther down?

    • My ideas on offhand tend to be a little on the fringe. Most of what has guided the development of the current doctrine of offhand shooting has been competition, or of a somewhat slow fire format based on accuracy. This makes very little sense in terms of field shooting, where there are no restrictions on position other than time and terrain.

      A good starting point in breaking this down is asking the question, “What do I require of a standing position?” I think that speed should take slight precedence over accuracy, because if there is time to get into a more stable position or to find a rest, the rifleman will do that. The one attribute that a standing position has over any other is speed.

      There are a few different ways to approach offhand. A good starting point is described here (there are three articles total): http://artoftherifle.blogspot.com/2011/07/offhand-position-part-1.html

      I changed from that style of position because I asked myself what I want from offhand. I found something that is more conducive to pointing in and finding the sight on the target consistently. It’s not quite as stable for the long haul, but for a few seconds I actually have better results. Here it is (plenty of detail): http://artoftherifle.blogspot.com/2012/02/snapshot-rockin-bolt-gun-like-carbine.html

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