New Gun, Training & Handling

Guns and Hand Limitations

We all need to be honest with ourselves when addressing our physical abilities and limitations when looking for the right gun. Any challenges we may have physically will directly impact our ability to handle and shoot a gun safely and effectively. Knowing and considering them is essential to finding the one that can give us the confidence we need. 

Women typically have weaker upper body, hand, wrist, and finger strength than men do. With guns manufactured based on the average male, we are already at a disadvantage.  This means that any injuries, arthritis, or other physical limitations can seriously affect our shooting and handling of a gun. 

Let’s breakdown a few areas where we may have limitations and what to look for in a gun to help minimize the effects of that limitation, big or small.


What do you have trouble with? Click the heading below and you will be taken to that part of the article.

Upper Body Strength

Hand/Wrist Strength

Finger Strength

Upper Body Strength

Your arms, shoulders, chest, and core make up your upper body. The strength of these will impact your ability to shoot and handle a gun.

Upper body strength is required to handle the recoil produced when shooting and to get your gun and your sights back on target quickly after each shot fired. It also is necessary for racking the slide and holding the gun in the firing position for extended periods of time. Let’s take a look at how upper body strength can impact your shooting.


Guns that have high felt recoil produce a lot of energy that your body has to absorb and control. You need to have the strength in your upper body to absorb the recoil, bring your gun back on target, get your sights re-aligned and be able to shoot again if needed. If you have injuries, arthritis, or other issues that have weakened your upper body or that limit movement, the amount of felt recoil a gun has should be a key factor in your search for the best gun for you.   

Caliber & Gun Weight

The higher the caliber, the greater the felt recoil. Now, caliber alone is not the only thing that contributes to the amount of felt recoil. The weight of the gun plays a key role in how much recoil your upper body will feel when shooting. A very light and small 9mm handgun will have a higher level of felt recoil then a heavier gun of the same caliber. Because you need to be able to hold the gun out straight in front of you, finding the balance between the two will be important to you. You want a caliber large enough to stop a potential threat and the maximum weight of the gun that you can comfortably shoot.

What to look for in a gun:

Look for guns that have a lower caliber but a slightly heavier body.

  • Typically, .40, .45 and .357 calibers prove to be too much for those with any upper body weakness.  Lower calibers that is powerful enough for self-defense would be a 9mm or a  .380
    • Remember to use self-defense ammunition when using a gun for your self-protection.
    • If you are someone with severe upper-body strength limitations a .22 caliber may be all you can physically handle and the best option for you. If this is the case, using proper self-defense ammunition is a must.
  • Look for a gun made of metal or those made with a combination of steel and polymer.
    • The heavier weight of the steel can help to absorb more of the recoil than a small polymer pistol.




Hand & Wrist Strength

The hand and wrist also are significantly impacted by recoil. When firing a gun, a weak/loose wrist or hand can interfere with a guns need to cycle, leading to ammunition malfunctions. This can be referred to as “Limp wristing.” It also can make it almost impossible to rack the slide or lock back the slide of many semi-automatic handguns.


Let’s talk about the impact of recoil first. If the wrist is unable to remain strong and straight during firing, AKA “limp wristing”, the energy from firing is “lost” or reduced. This can inhibit the slide of a semi-automatic from fully cycling which is necessary for the gun to expel the spent casing and pull the next round of ammunition from the magazine. This can result in a misfeed and temporarily make the gun inoperable. (Read more on How an Semi-Automatic Works)

Cleary, not something we want to happen in a self-defense situation.

Again, this issue points toward lower calibers and heavier guns. This doesn’t mean a heavy gun, just one that has “some” weight to it to help those with weaker hands and wrists handle the recoil. The same recommendations would apply as given above. 


Grip Size Does Matter

The hands also have the important task of holding the gun. It is imperative that those with weak hands (large or small) shoot a gun with a grip that they can completely get their hand(s) around.

The hands must also work the controls of the gun while firmly gripping the gun. This includes the ability to pull the slide back, to engage the slide lock (while keeping the muzzle of the gun pointed in a safe direction), using the magazine release button, and the operation of the thumb safety, if the gun has one. A smaller grip can help you to keep a firm grip and work the controls on the gun.


Racking the slide

If you shoot a semi-automatic pistol, racking the slide is something you must be able to do. Whether you are preparing to carry for the day, clearing a misfeed or cleaning your gun, you have to be able to rack the slide rearwards.

Different gun models have different slide spring tensions that dictate how hard it is to pull the slide back. The lower the tension, the easier it is to pull back the slide. Manufacturers are starting to create guns with lower spring tensions.

The best way to see if you can handle a gun’s slide is to get your hands on it and try it out. There truly is no other way. If hand strength is an issue for you, try or rent any gun model you are considering.

Also, make note that there is a proper way to rack a slide. Doing it this way will make your life so much easier! See the article Racking The Slide for the proper technique. 

What to look for in a gun:

You will want a gun that has “some” weight to it to help absorb recoil, a grip small or narrow enough that your hands have a solid grasp around it allowing you to easily work the controls. You will also want to pay attention to the recoil spring tension to ensure you can rack the slide efficiently.

  • Gun weight
    • Gravitate towards guns made from a mixture of metal and polymer. These usually have more weight to them and will minimize the felt recoil of the gun yet not be as heavy as one of all metal.
  • Ammunition
    •  You want the highest caliber you can be comfortable shooting. .380 ammunition would be the recommended minimum caliber.  Use a self-defense round when the gun is in use for self-defense.
  • Look for models with smaller/narrower grips
    • You need a grip where the entire hand fully wraps the circumference of the grip.
  • Models with magazine release buttons well within reach.
    • Different gun models vary in magazine release location and button style
  • Larger, more 3-D controls
    • This allows you to get the proper leverage when using these buttons, namely the slide lock. When there is more button to get your thumb under, it is easier to operate without straining.  These larger controls may require a bit more care when concealing to minimize snagging during the draw or show through clothing when carrying concealed.
  • Find gun models with lower recoil spring tensions as these will be easier to rack.
    • More manufacturers are coming out with models to help make it easier to rack the slide.

Be aware that you must be able to shoot your carry gun in all situations, both one- and two-handed.  In self-defense situations, you never know what may happen or what position you will be in. You may not have the use of your second hand due to an injury to it or the need to hold or protect a child.

Finger Strength

Trigger Press

Nothing happens if you can’t press the trigger. Some guns have incredibly difficult triggers to press. A Double Action gun, for example, can have a trigger that is almost impossible for those with weaker fingers to press. Your accuracy with your gun depends on how smoothly and straight rearwards you press the trigger. 

The trigger on each handgun model will have a specific “Trigger Pull Weight” (though, press is a better and more descriptive term). The higher the poundage, the harder to press.  For example, if you have to press back a 12-pound trigger, it would be like lifting or moving a gallon and a half of water with just your finger.

Revolvers tend to have heavier Trigger Pull Weights as revolvers typically don’t have an external safety. Therefore, the heavier, harder trigger pull acts as a safety feature.

The harder you have to pull, the harder it is to remain accurate. Unless you have Incredible Hulk-like strength in your finger, all of the hard work it takes to pull a 12 lb trigger can cause you to unknowingly pull your muzzle causing you to move off target. 

You don’t want to go too light, either. A Trigger Pull Weight less than 4 or 5 lbs is not recommended as it creates a higher likelihood of a negligent discharge.



Grip size will come into play for you here also. If you have weaker fingers, you need to find a grip that you can fully wrap your hand around. If the grip is fat or really wide, you will simply not be able to adequately get your fingers wrapped around the front of the grip leaving you without a solid grip on the gun. The more fully you can get your hands around the entire grip the less the recoil will disrupt your shooting and the more control you will have over your gun.

What to look for in a gun

You will want to look for guns that have a trigger pull that you can handle (not too heavy but not too light) and that have a grip that allows your hand to fully wrap its circumference.

  • Pay attention to trigger pull weight on any guns you are considering.
    • Likely, if you have severe hand strength limitations, a semi-automatic pistol will be the better choice.
  • Try models with narrower grips.
    • You need to be able to wrap your fingers well around the grip and be able to reach the slide-lock and magazine release.

Products that make shooting easier!

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As you can see, there are numerous things to consider when looking for the best handgun if you struggle with strength issues. It is encouraging, however, that today, more than ever before, there are gun models available that can help you to minimize these struggles.

Use The Well Armed Woman Gun Finder to assist you in your search. It will walk you through essential questions and measurements and help to narrow down the choices. 

It is highly recommended that you try any handgun before purchasing. Only having the opportunity to put that gun in your hand and shoot it for yourself will help to ensure you make the best choice for you.

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18 thoughts on “Guns and Hand Limitations

  1. Margot Aspen says:

    At 78 y.o. & osteoarthritis w/joint distortion, I have had to find my comfort zones. Contrary to what many believe, a larger grip works best since being able to make a fully closed is not an option. I’m 5’ tall & have gone from size 5 ring size to having to wear a silicone band. Used to use small grips but now use medium or large. Also, trigger finger on dominant hand has pin in first joint (@ tip) & 2nd joint so bad, it is nearly at right angle, leaning against middle finger. I have trained w/non-dominant hand but also using middle finger of dominant hand, then index/trigger finger becomes additional pointer & rests against slide. During Civil War, those green to gun use were trained to shoot this way for better accuracy—just have to practice getting finger on & off trigger, as the longer length can make it somewhat tricky if trigger guard too small.

  2. Sara L Russo says:

    I had a stroke about 11 years ago and and it effected my left hand which is my dominant hand. And as things would have it, that is one of the 5% of things that didn’t return to normal and will never come back to normal. And I have excepted that, as this is my life for the rest of my life.
    I had a gun that I can no longer rack, so I gave it to my husband. I went to several gun shows and tried several different makes and models (my state doesn’t have any restrictions on them like some do) , and found several makes and models that I could rack. Like 8. So I did my due diligence and research on them and narrowed the list down to 3. And found that one was always out of stock within the price that I could afford (military family so budget means to pinch that penny until a quarter comes out). And when one of the 3 was in stock at the price I could afford I snapped it up. I ended up with a Smith and Wesson M&P 9 EZ in 9mm. And I found on line a place that makes something to go on the racking thing to make it easier to rack, and I ordered one for my old gun. The covid hit so I haven’t tried it yet.
    Slide Spider

  3. A guy trying not to be pushy says:

    It should be noted that many semiautomatic pistols will function safely and properly with lighter recoil springs.
    Google your type of pistol and reduced recoil spring and you will generally find companies that make a reduced recoil spring. This will help a great deal with racking the slide.
    Some may argue that doing so makes a pistol less reliable.
    In the competition world we tune our recoil springs to meet our individual shooting style and load. Many of us fire tens of thousands of rounds without ejection or feed issues.
    If you are not comfortable picking out a spring weight, several companies offer tuning packs with multiple weights to try.
    Of course test your your new set up with your ammo choice repeatedly to be sure of function. Your owner’s manual will show you how to break down your pistol to change the spring. (ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASSES)

  4. Kristina Anderson says:

    I found this helpful about choosing the size of the grip; wish I had read this before I selected my revolver.

    I had an injury to the tendon across the back of one hand (my non-dominant hand) so I truly have a real hard time racking the slide on any pistol. That’s why I carry a revolver. There, I have issues with the heavy trigger pull, but I can be very accurate if I just remember to hold on very tightly to the grip while firing. I do have a semi-auto I’d like to use, it took me 4 years of searching to find one I can rack.

    I have been shown 3 ways to rack a slide; only one works for me with my hand injury. (it tends to re-injure if I get careless.) I need to grip the slide with left hand, the grip with my right, and firmly hold the firearm out in front at “low-ready”, and “shrug my shoulders”.

    I want to mention when I gave up eating all gluten, my arthritis almost disappeared. I know such a big lifestyle change isn’t for everyone, but if it’s possible for you, try it for 3 months and see if it helps issues like joint flexibility & strength. i am 57 and a survivor of a number of crashes & falls.

    1. Joan D’Andrea says:

      Thank you fir your response. I’m 79 and suddenly widowed. I’d like a hand gun for living alone, but have searched and searched fir the right pistol. I do have a revolver, but the trigger pull is so hard A dealer suggested I take to a smith for adjustment, but I’m also a little uncomfortable with fooling around with adjusting original products as I believe guns are designed pretty carful to operate with best performance within a specified set of perimeters and I’m currently not experience enough to deal with possible problems. I have serious arthritis in both hands. So. What gun did you eventually settle on and what has been your experience with it.

      Thanks for you patience with thus rather long post. I look forward to your text. by the way I learned to shoot pistols as a child a d I’m sure the motor skills learned in childhood will click in. Joan

      1. Mary Casper says:

        Joan, I bought my husband a Smith & Wesson EZ 9mm. Both shoulder joints replaced and age have taken a toll. It’s an easy racking gun and very accurate. It’s also available in a .380. Plus, add a slide spider to whatever you decide to buy, makes life even easier. Good luck.

      2. Old Guy says:

        Many revolvers that are double action (pulling the trigger also pushed the hammer back) are designed with very high trigger pulls because in part they were designated for police use and they wanted it to be a very deliberate pull. For instance NYC revolvers were about 13lbs. and that carried over when they switched to pistols. Recently I read that they were lowering the pull weight to 6lbs. Talk to a gun smith or a knowledgeable firearms dealer. You probably can have the trigger pull lessened to something like 6lbs and it would still be safe. My bullseye pistol has a 2lb trigger pull but that is a very specialized pistol. Do not be afraid to talk to dealer, gunsmiths and even NRA certified instructors.

      3. Pat says:

        Joan, I too am recently widowed and was seeking something for defense living alone. While I have my .38 LCR Revolver for carry, I keep my 12 gauge shotgun beside my bed…..just in case. I also have those little alarms pasted to each window and door to announce any uninvited visitor so that I have a chance to grab and arm myself. I have a handgun in just about every room in the house, securely hidden, but accessible. A friend recently told me, “I pity the fool that tries to break in to your house!” Stay strong my friend, stay strong.

  5. Marge says:

    What is meant by “self defense round” when talking about ammunition?

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      Hi Marge,
      Thank you for the question, when I refer to a self-defense round I am referring to a quality round that has expansion properties. Here is a good article with reference to this. Click the follwoing> Ammunition Demystifier

  6. Joanne Jennings says:

    I also am disappointed you did not mention revolvers. I have osteoarthritis in my thumbs and progressing into my hands . I have trouble working a slide on my semi automatic guns except for my beretta 9mm but it’s to large to carry so I carry Smith and Wesson 38 revolver. As a senior citizen we need to be taken into consideration.

    1. Joan says:

      Thanks Joanne. Over snd over I read that the 9m Beretta is the gun to buy if you’re a woman with osteoporosis hands. I have a pistol i haven’t shot in years and the trigger pull was pretty significant even then. Any comments from your experience . It us my intention to spend a good deal of time becoming proficient with this weapon so cost of amunition and availability is an issue.

  7. Jill A Wentz says:

    This is all great information but, I wish you would have added if there are any training a person can do to strengthen any of these areas.

    1. Misty Haglund says:

      Just reading this article and comments. I use a GripMaster 7lb individual finger pulls to strengthen my fingers and hand. I have recently started my exercise program again consisting of resistance exercises. I have a lot of limitations, so I do what works for me. There was a lot of trial and error, but working with my doctor and a trainer, we devised a good work out program for me.
      I have also worked some type of exercise with my firearm; dry fire, draw and fire, information, review of materials, etc.
      I belong to my local chapter of TWAW, and recently acquired my NRA credential for Range Safety Officer. I carry a Ruger LCP, which is a .380

  8. BECKY SCOGGIN says:

    Awesome information. Can I share this on my ladies Facebook page?

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      Hi Becky,
      Yes, please do! Thank you!

  9. Sandy Paavel says:

    I was a but disappointed that you didn’t mention revolvers. I have found a revolver much more comfortable and user friendly since I have difficulty in operating a slide on a semi automatic. I carry a Ruger LCR.

    1. Shannon says:

      I hear you, Sandy. I have a Ruger SP101 38 for every day carry and a seven shot Taurus 66 357 for when out in the woods. I also appreciate not having to tear down to clean after a trip to the range.

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