Slide Lock Lever vs. Slide Rack Demonstration

Speed reload, emergency reload, slidelock reload. Whatever you want to call it, we’re talking about a reload that’s performed when a semi-auto pistol runs dry but you want to keep shooting. After a fresh mag is inserted, there is some debate over the best way to get the gun back into battery. Some people believe that no method is always “correct” and the best method to use depends on the individual and their situation. Other people are angry psychopaths and will scream at you in all caps in the comments section if you don’t do it their way.

Basically what they’re arguing about is whether the pistol should be reloaded by hitting the slide release, or by racking (or “powerstroking”) the slide. I give a brief demonstration of both techniques in the video above and it should come as no surprise that I’m advocating for a more tentative approach to the issue that assumes neither method is right for everyone in every situation. To know what’s right for you, it’s best to just try out both methods for yourself, but you should also be aware of the following pros and cons.

Slide Lock Lever Method

The lever that locks back the slide is also referred to as the “slide stop” or the “slide release”. Many of the arguments you’ll encounter over this issue end up getting sidetracked by even more ridiculous arguments over what to call this little lever. Ignore this distraction and instead focus on what this glorious invention allows you to do; return the slide to battery with the mere flick of a thumb. Using either the support hand thumb or firing hand thumb, the slide lock lever usually requires minimal pressure in order to drop the slide into place. Here are a few more of the merits of this method:

  • Requires less movement to re-establish a firing grip
  • Can be done with one hand
  • More reliably returns the slide fully into battery (no possibility of “riding” the slide forward)
  • Faster than racking the slide by roughly one half of a second

Of course, this method has its downsides. If it didn’t, the debate would be no fun.

  • For left handed shooters, only works if the pistol is equipped with an ambidextrous slide lock lever
  • Potentially more difficult to see or feel the lever under stress compared to grabbing the slide
  • Not everyone can easily reach the lever on their pistol
  • Some levers are too stiff for this method to work reliably
  • Not as reliable if using an unfamiliar pistol (somewhat dependent on muscle memory)
  • Possible to release slide before magazine is fully in place, leaving the chamber empty

If you’re trying out this method at home with an empty pistol, be aware that some pistols are designed so the lever is much stiffer if a magazine is not inserted. Some are even stiffer with an empty magazine versus a loaded magazine. I recommend the use of Snap Caps (dummy rounds) for practicing this.

Slide Rack Method

I’m not sure who first dubbed this method the “power stroke”, but I guess the cool kids decided that “slingshot method” didn’t sound tough enough. Despite being slightly slower than hitting the slide lock lever, the slide rack technique has a lot of proponents that appreciate how universal it is across all pistol types, among other benefits.

  • Works equally well for right or left-handed shooters. Not dependent on an ambidextrous slide stop lever.
  • Viable method for nearly any semi-auto pistol on the planet
  • Less dependent on hand strength or hand size than hitting the slide lock lever
  • Shares identical muscle motion with racking the slide for initial loading or malfunction drills
  • Can be performed “no handed” if necessary by pressing the rear sights against a hard surface

And for the weaknesses of the slide rack method:

  • Slower than hitting the slide lock lever by about half a second
  • Risk of catching a finger in the ejection port
  • Risk of “riding the slide” instead of releasing it completely, preventing the slide from returning fully into battery
  • Risk of unintentionally activating the safety or decocker on pistols with slide-mounted safety/decock levers

How to Choose the Best Slide Lock Reload Method?

Like I said before, you really just have to try this out for yourself and decide what works best for you and your pistol. The slide rack method is a little slower, but with practice, it can still be very fast. Hitting the slide release might seem less reliable to some, but with practice it becomes second nature.

If you’re left handed and your pistol doesn’t have an ambidextrous slide lock lever, the choice is pretty easy.

If you want to shoot competitively and every microsecond counts, then you should probably find a way to make the slide lock lever work.

If you’ve always done it one way and it works for you and it would be difficult to change techniques, then your range time is probably better spent on something more productive.

As for me, I prefer to use the slide lock lever. It’s how I was taught when I first started shooting handguns, and it’s always worked well for me. I’m right handed, I have average size hands, and fairly long fingers, so the slide lock lever is easy for me to reach on just about any pistol. The instant I feel a magazine snap into place, my thumb automatically goes for the lever. In fact, when I was filming the video above, I actually had to perform several takes for the slide rack version because I kept reflexively hitting the slide release even though I was consciously trying not to. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.

That said, I also have fairly strong muscle memory for racking the slide because that’s how I load the gun, and that’s how I practice malfunction drills (“tap, rack, bang”). On the very rare occasion the slide lock lever doesn’t immediately “go” for some reason, my support hand instantly moves to rack the slide without me having to tell it to.

But What About Fine Motor Skills?

Another aspect of this debate that you’re bound to run into is the issue of fine motor skills versus gross motor skills. In short, this is basically another red herring argument that you can mostly ignore. Todd Green has an excellent explanation for why this detail is frequently misunderstood, but the gist of it is that both methods require the use of fine motor skills. Practice and repetition is a far more important determining factor in your ability to perform the reload method of your choice under stress.

Whatever your decision, don’t let anyone convince you that either method is a “death sentence” or some equally absurd dismissal. Just make up your mind and practice it until it’s second nature and save your internet rage for something useful. Like caliber debates.

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  • Jay Pearson

    I use the the rack method.. i refuse to call it the power stroke.. I do this for a few reasons..1st being I am a lefty , so it is just easier. 2nd .. and more importantly for consistency.. when clearing a malfunction or training for malfunction clearing .. we consistently tap rack and bang … when we do this we are trained to rack the slide and not use the slide lock lever… i have done this so much in my life.. why change it now?The difference in time between the two methods is negligible especially if as you are racking the slide you are simultaneously moving your gun forward to reaquire your target..Then there is the mechanical factor involved.. slide lock levers have been known to bend twist or break or hang up.. which equals more time to figure out the malfunction.. you avoid all of these by racking your slide… That is just my humble opinion.. take it as you wish..

    • LG Chris

      Yep, no need to change if it’s working for you. I think the speed difference between the two methods is probably exaggerated, as are the potential issues with the slide lock lever. As you said, with the right technique, the rack method can be very fast.

      The only time I’ve personally had trouble with slide lock levers have been with brand new M&P pistols. They are very stiff out of the box, but loosen up considerably after a few hundred rounds. If I started having more frequent problems, I would have no qualms about switching to the rack method, though it would take a lot of repetitions to “erase” my current habit.

      I would only nudge someone toward using the slide lock lever if they had aspirations of becoming a serious competitive shooter where that quarter to half a second could really count. Otherwise, it’s just personal preference as long as you can make it work consistently.

  • Jason L. Kreps


    • MrApple

      and then a nap.

  • Frank Schoner

    I don’t care how other people reload their personal firearm unless I’m depending on them in a competition or defensive situation and they can’t get their crap together because of a failure in training. Personally, I rack the slide because I like to keep everything simple with similarity of method across various gun platforms and drills like tap, rack, bang malfunction clearance.

  • Brian Augustyn

    Glock special reload. Seat the fresh mag hard enough, it will cause the slide lock to release. Otherwise I mainly use the slide lock method. I do practice using the slide rack method as well as 1 handed reloading, right and left…. Just in case.

  • Tom Gerace


    Do you drop the mag or strip it? Yet another “less filling..tastes great” debate.

  • Max Esgrow

    Very rarely do I ever use the slide lock lever, just due to learning and training to work the slide first. If it ain’t broke.

  • Michael Taylor

    Like Brian A. mentions below for his Glock, my S&W M&P .40 full-frame will pop one in the pipe with a full mag an a little velocity when you seat it. Tested this method, and it seems that a mag with less than 10-11 rounds in it does not create enough inertia to release the slide lock. Otherwise it’s the slide method for me. M&P’s layout puts it right there under my thumb. Efficiency of motion

    • Boby Sandhu

      my 9mm M&P releases the slide lock if I slap the magazine consistently (full 10 round mag)

  • Jonathan Schmadeke

    good article!

  • Tom McCaffrey

    Great lists of pros and cons for each method.

  • Jason Price


    • Treiz


  • MrApple

    I would say use what works best for you and your particular firearm. Slingshot is my choice all day every day.

  • mike

    i read an article recently that indicated that the “slide lock” method would over time damage the firearm.(they did not get into what type of damage)

    • G-Man

      I know my Ruger Mark III maual specifically stated not to use the slide lock as a release because repeated use in this fashion would wear the locking mechanism so that the bolt would no longer lock open after the last round. I would imagine that other pistols COULD suffer similar “damage”. I suspect that this might be the “damage” they were referring to.

  • camdogify

    Slide rack