Unloaded Start - 20 reps
Surrender Draw - 20 reps
Enter Position - 20 reps
Exit Position - 20 reps
Full Target at 25 yards. (1/4 target at 6 yards)
Do not do the same drill more than twice in a row.
A huge area of your performance in practical shooting. This is the freestyle aspect of IPSC that is so popular amongst shooters - the ability to solve a problem creatively. Developing a concise and efficient plan to shoot each stage is a challenge and also is paramount to your score.
That being said, I have personally lost a stage that was a 14 hit factor (VERY speed intensive) on points. So regardless of the hit factor, both speed and accuracy are still required for successful performance.
Knowing this information allows you to determine your approximate hit factor before the stage is shot. For example in a hypothetical 150 point stage, through practice and experience I have determined that I can shoot all of the targets in the stage in approximately 14 seconds including movement. Considering the difficulty of the targets I deduce that I will drop anywhere from 6 to 10 points. Knowing that information tells me that I can expect to shoot around a 10 hit factor for this particular stage.
This may seem like useless information, but it allows you to figure out the most efficient places for you to engage targets. For example, if there is a target you can take from either position A or position B, knowing your approximate hit factor on the stage before you shoot will tell you if it is better to take said target from position A or B.
In all honesty, this is not a tool I use often, but there are times when it makes a big difference to your score. Learn it and put it in your toolbox as something you can use when you need to.
Short, Medium, and Long Courses
The IPSC rule book defines a short course as no more than 9 rounds required and no more than 2 shooting positions. A medium course is no more than 16 rounds and no more than 3 shooting positions. A long course is no longer than 32 rounds. The recommended balance for an IPSC match is 3 short courses to 2 medium courses to 1 long course, however this nearly never happens in USPSA.
The vast majority of the time short courses are regarded as survival stages. With a maximum of 45 points available, chances are that you aren't going to gain much ground if you crush the stage. However if you happen to try and smash it but make a mistake or two, you can quickly find yourself 20 points down. Not a place you want to be. Therefore unless you are supremely confident in the layout of the stage - do not push it. Just get out of that stage with as many points as you can.
Medium courses offer a bit more area to gain ground. Usually there is a bit more movement, but crisp execution is still the more important thing. Survive these stages - but be on the look out for an opportunity. Be careful as these stages are frequently where matches are lost.
Long courses of fire are where matches are normally won. This style course is what we normally see at major matches in the
Rules of Thumb
There are certain things to look out for when breaking down any stage. Keeping these things in mind will hopefully give you a reliable process to figuring out the best way for you to shoot the stage.
I can't even describe the number of shooters I see (including some top tier GMs) break down a stage with no regard to the terrain they are shooting on. It is a very critical aspect of stage breakdown that is all too often ignored.
The condition of the ground matters from the perspective of what kind of footwear to where and how aggressive you can be in movement. Be sure to bring different types of footwear. There is nothing against the rules about changing shoes between stages.
If the bay mainly consists of gravel, figure out if it is loose and where it is loosest. The reason for this is that if you decide to use the drop-step and push method of exiting a position, you don't want the drop-step to bury your foot in 12 inches of loose gravel. As a general rule of thumb, try and use the most stable ground for your path through a stage. There is no benefit of traction from cleats on loose gravel. I suggest wearing something with good ankle support.
Obviously wet grass gets very slick very quickly. Cleats are great for either wet or dry conditions but really make a difference after a rain.
If you have ever tried to walk on wood boards with cleats, you know this can be a hazardous idea. This is especially true of wet wood. I've flipped ass over teakettle many times during a stage on wet wood, which is dangerous and also a bit of a time waster. If there are a lot of planks at the match, or any of them are wet, wear a good pair of tennis shoes or boots. Cleats should be avoided.
Any mounds, divots, cables, or stakes should be noted immediately in your walkthrough. Make sure your plan through the stage does not make those things a factor. Tripping in the middle of a stage does nothing good for your score, image, or confidence.
The height of the fault lines matter because it gives you a good point of reference for where you are in a stage. For example if you are having a hard time setting up in the correct position to shoot a target, you may be able to use a foot on the fault line for a reference so you hit it specifically when you are shooting the stage. Also if there is loose gravel around them, you can shift the gravel around a bit to have a clear presentation to the fault line. This is useful when sliding your foot to the next shooting position.
Knowing if the sun will be in your eyes or not is a mistake I made once as an Open shooter. It tends to be a bit worse while shooting Open because the dot gets washed out by the sun. Although there isn't much you can do about it, you can try and plan your stage so that the light interferes with you as little as possible. This may be something as small as standing back behind a barricade a bit more to be in the shade of it.
That list is not the “end all, be all.” Do yourself a favor and whenever you are at a match, bring a notebook and pen with you. Write down all the glaring mistakes and great ideas you see others and yourself do throughout the course of a match. My list is a good place to start, it’s up to you to fine tune it to your ideals of performance.
All shooting positions need to be considered with the next position in mind. Your position should not only give you an effective angle to the array but also be in line to the most direct route to the next position. For example, if you can ever help it, don't have a shooting position where you will have to go around something to get to your next position.
Another good rule of thumb is to always end on the hardest position. This is good for two reasons. The first is that you can devote all of your attention to the most difficult shot (which you should be doing anyways - but we don't live in a perfect world). The second reason is that you then don't have to worry about getting out of that difficult position which would take more time than normal.
Finding All the Targets
I was at the Area 8 match several years ago. First area match I ever shot. I was shooting Production, was having a decent match. Won a stage overall (in Production) as a B shooter earlier in that match. Get to the 2nd to last stage of the match which was a bit of a memory stage with lots of transitioning from left to right and several ports in the middle. I ended up being the first shooter and to make a long story short I forgot two targets. Six penalties and the 20 points I didn't shoot put my match in the hurt locker.
After that fiasco I vowed that I would never forget a target again - and to this day I haven't. Here is the process I go through on each stage to ensure I don't make that mistake again.
The first step is to determine how many targets and how many rounds are required for the stage. You will see most shooters trying to find every target from within the free fire zone. In my opinion, this is a mistake. You would be better served by going behind the stage and looking at it from that perspective.
It also helps if you have a partner. The partner can stand in each shooting position while you stand by each target. This way you are double checking with each other to make sure you aren't shooting a certain target more than once or not at all.
Only when you are confident that you have found every target should you start programming the stage. This is the reason why it is usually a good idea to arrive the afternoon before the match and check out the stages if they are open to viewing. It gives you a big boost of confidence to be able to go out to dinner the night before the match knowing how you are going to shoot each stage.
10 Things I’ve Learned
1) Plan everything you need to see or do throughout the course of a stage.
2) Know what your reliable times are for splits, draw, loads, and transitions at various distances.
3) The best plan in the world means nothing if it isn’t within your ability to execute it.
4) Visualize. You aren’t doing as detailed or as many times as you should.
5) Make a checklist and memorize it. Use it on every stage.
6) Know your target engagement order and why.
7) Bring a stopwatch to time activators. Always.
8) Rehearse a stage until you have no hesitation.
9) Eliminate extra motion. Take the most direct route you can.
10) Pinpoint potential “disaster” targets and plan for them accordingly.
One of the biggest misconceptions plaguing shooters today is that equipment will buy you skill. You’ve all heard the saying “It’s the Indian, not the arrow” at some point in your shooting career. And most of you if you’re reading this article believe that and are willing to put the work in to get better. For the physical action of shooting to be the best it can be depends on three things being in equilibrium. Those three things are your mind, body and spirit. If any one of these areas is out of balance with the other two, performance suffers.
The mind’s task in shooting is observation, awareness, and skill. Reading stages and developing strategy. The spirit’s task in shooting is drive, determination, and confidence. The body’s task is physically delivering your spirit’s and mind’s will to the course of fire.
The main area shooters focus on developing is that of the mind. We work our central nervous system to exhaustion developing and refining skills. This is a good thing, as constant and consistent practice is critical to developing the mind to a high enough level to actually be competitive. The spirit is mainly controlled by the shooters personality and ambition. However, the vast majority of shooters neglect training the body the correct way or altogether.
Shooting is an athletic sport. We are required to deliver a large amount of power during a course of fire. Fast and crisp movement. Accuracy under stress. Between stages we are required to re-set the stage, bake in the sun, prepare your equipment for the next stage, and prepare your mind for the next stage. As many of you know, a 12 hour day of this in the middle of summer can get to you pretty easily if you let it. I’ve seen more than one shooter pass out from heat exhaustion at Barry. The difficulty your body has during the course of a match is directly proportional to your level of fitness.
Our first and foremost goal is maintaining cognitive function from the first stage to the last. Most shooters are not as physically exhausted at the end of a day as they may be at the end of a football game. What happens is they become psychologically tired and their mind loses much of it’s normal capacity to execute high precision during high speed activities. How many matches have you shot where your only miss of the day is on one of the last three stages? Chances are this is why.
The body is the delivery vehicle for the input from your unconscious mind. If the body is lacking in form or function, given output will not be at it’s peak. What shooters require is anaerobic fitness for the stage and aerobic fitness for the time between. Contrary to most beliefs and conventional knowledge, aerobic activity is not the path to the sport-specific fitness we are after. What we are looking for is a powerful and explosive posterior chain, a strong core, an upper body that has strength and a high degree of accuracy, and a developed cardiovascular system. To obtain these abilities, there are a few things that we need to know (Obtained from www.crossfit.com):
1) Gymnasts learn new sports faster than other athletes.
2) Olympic lifters can apply more useful power to more activities than other athletes.
3) Powerlifters are stronger than other athletes.
4) Sprinters can match the cardiovascular performance of endurance athletes, even at extended efforts.
5) Endurance athletes are woefully lacking in total physical capacity.
6) With high carbohydrate diets, you either get fat or weak.
7) Bodybuilders can't punch, jump, run, or throw like athletes can.
8) Optimizing physical capacity requires training at unsustainable intensities.
Using these as guidelines, we can tailor our fitness towards exactly what we are looking for. Our explosiveness and agility will come from Olympic lifting. Our balance, strength, accuracy, and a portion of our upper body strength will come from basic gymnast movements. Our brute strength will come from powerlifting, and our metabolic conditioning will come from intervals and circuit workouts – not conventional cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming, or cycling. The reasons for this are many, but that’s another article for another time. We do no specific “ab” work. Our core is developed through all exercises.
Our bread and butter here are all variations of the clean and eventually the snatch. There aren’t any better exercises for developing the explosive opening of the hips than these. The variations of these exercises include:
Clean (Snatch) – Start from the floor, catch in a full squat
Hang Clean (Hang Snatch) – Start from hang position, catch in full squat
Power Clean (Power Snatch) – Start from floor, catch in quarter squat
Hang Power clean (Hang Power Snatch) – Start from hang position,
catch in quarter squat.
Clean and Jerk – Start from the floor, catch in a full squat, Jerk overhead.
These possible 9 exercises will develop your lower body’s power better than anything else. One time at the Olympics, they decided to test the weight lifters against the sprinters in the 100 meter dash. The amazing thing is the weight lifters had the sprinters beat at the 40 meter mark. They obviously got trashed in the full 100, but the point is a weight lifter’s ability to accelerate is better than a world class sprinter’s. This translates to the movement required from us during a stage very well.
“Much of the rudiments of gymnastics come only with great effort and frustration. That’s O.K. The return is unprecedented and the most frustrating elements are most beneficial—long before you’ve developed even a modicum of competency.”
—Greg Glassman, “What Is Fitness?”
When I mentioned gymnastics I’m sure a lot of you had the thought “yeah right.” That’s ok…I did too the first time I read about it. However the gymnastics moves we are working require little in terms of skill and lots in terms of strength. The exercises we will be learning consist of:
1) Pull-Up – Pulling yourself to chin over bar from full hang position, any way you can, kipping allowed.
2) Dip – Lowering yourself from full support until your shoulders are below your elbows and raising back to full support.
3) Muscle-Up – Start from full hang position, end in full support.
4) Handstand Push-Up – Starting in full handstand, lowering nose to ground, raising back to full handstand. Using the wall for balance is ok.
Working these exercises and progressions towards them will do a great deal in developing your upper body strength and stabilization.
The power lifts are unparalleled in developing raw strength in your entire body. These lifts include:
1) The Deadlift
2) The Squat
3) Overhead Press
4) Overhead Squat
5) Bench Press
Most of our core strength is developed from these first four exercises. The Bench Press, although not the most functional of exercises, develops raw upper body power better than any other exercise.
The deadlift stresses the central nervous system more than another other exercise out there, and to paraphrase Coach Rip, “It’s hard to imagine a more functional movement than picking heavy shit up off the ground.”
The squat is the best full body exercise you can to because it literally strengthens your entire body. Performed properly it is the safest exercise you can do for your knees and legs.
The overhead press is maybe the most useful upper body exercise we can do because it isn’t just an upper body exercise. It trains us to apply power from the ground up, which is crucial to having a developed and efficient stance.
The overhead squat is beneficial for all the same reasons as the overhead press, but also strengthens the core in a way unparalleled by any other exercise.
Also known as Cardio to most people. Metabolic conditioning refers to training 1 or more of the 3 metabolic pathways which power all human function. These pathways are:
1) Phosphagen – Controls the highest powered activities lasting around 10 seconds or less.
2) Glycolytic – Controls moderate powered activities lasting up to several minutes
3) Oxidative – Controls low powered activities lasting in excess of several minutes.
The most widely acknowledged definition of cardio is long and slow distance. Not recognizing the impact of excessively training the oxidative pathway is arguably the most common mistake in fitness training.
Balancing these three pathways is essential to the kind of fitness we are looking for. Real fitness requires an ability to perform well at all tasks, including the unfamiliar. The only way to develop this type of all-inclusive fitness is to never have a stagnant routine.
“Nature punishes the specialist.” Vary your exercises, reps, sets, weights, and order of exercises. Never perform the same workout twice in a row. Constantly change your intensity and duration. The goal is to keep the training stimulus as broad and varied as possible.
Training in all the aforementioned lifts and exercises will increase your flexibility automatically, but you should still work a good stretching routine as often as possible. Having above average flexibility will be an immense help through your shooting career. Just think of all the times in matches that puts you in awkward positions. How advantageous would it be to not need to go prone to shoot on the ground or not need to take a knee for a low port?
You’ll be able to move more fluidly with less risk of injury. Your body stops fighting itself and all expended energy is used to propel you through a stage.
The most important aspect of flexibility is consistency. If you do not do it, you will lose it and have to start all over to get it back.
The most neglected area in all of fitness training. I’d like to state here and now that if you are exercising and not eating right, you are doing yourself an incredible disservice. It doesn’t matter how hard and smart you work, if you are not eating right you will only see half of the results. Body composition is also about 90% dependent upon nutrition.
As a general rule, eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, little starch, and no sugar. Eat in a manner to where your meals are 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat. Eat enough to support muscle but not fat.
If you’re like me, you love to eat. Dieting has always been my weak area. The thing that helped me along the most is treating your food strictly as fuel for your body. If you put bad gas in your car, it’s not going to run very well – it’s the same way for your body. You can eat all the junk food you want, and chances are you’ll live a very long time, but you won’t be healthy and you definitely won’t thrive.
A good rule of thumb is to only shop on the perimeter of your grocery store. Stay away from packaged and processed foods. Taking a cheat day once a week is a great way to recharge yourself and as long as you are strict the other 6 days, it won’t hurt you. I also recommend weaning yourself incrementally off of sugar, caffeine, and other junk foods. Stopping cold turkey is a recipe for disaster. Although don’t let the weaning process take too long…lower consumption every day until it is at zero throughout the week.
You’ll notice I mentioned no isolation exercises or machines in this article. The reason for that is I believe in training the body in a way that prepares your body for activity. The body was meant to fight gravity in compound multi-joint movements.
The problem with the fitness industry today is the bodybuilding trend has produced a following of people who are more concerned with appearance than actual horsepower. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good naked, but it should be a consequence of your fitness that you look good rather than in spite of it. Here are some key exercises to stay away from:
1) Leg Press – A favorite among gym goers, however unfortunately incredibly un-functional. A 1,000 pound leg press is about as impressive to me as a 400 pound quarter squat.
2) Lat Pulldown – A poor substitute for pull-ups at best. Sometimes used as a progression exercise to pull-ups, however you would be much better served by doing jumping pull-ups or controlled negatives.
3) The Smith Machine – The bain of all machines. This piece of equipment is little better than scrap metal for training for fitness. It restricts your movement to one plane and take all coordination, balance, accuracy, and agility out of your movements.
4) Curls – Another favorite among gym goers. Develops aesthetically pleasing but performance lacking arms.
5) Crunches – Core strength is defined by the CrossFit community as your ability to maintain rigidity of your spine while loaded. Ab strength is only a portion of your core and should be trained in isolation sparingly and preferably with full range sit-ups on a piece of equipment called a Glute-Ham Developer.
As a general rule, if it restricts movement to one plane or requires pulley’s to use, there are probably better and more functional exercises you could be doing.
Translation to Match Application
So…how does all this transfer to better match scores?
1) A fit and healthy body can adapt to the varied stresses of a match better than an un-fit body.
2) There is often an issue of temperature variances, especially for those of us who live in the northern states. Going to a match that is 25 degrees hotter than you are accustomed to is hard to adjust to and near impossible if you are lugging an extra 30 pounds around with you or are always out of breath..
3) Maintaining a fresh and aware mind is critical to performance at the end of matches. The mind is usually the first thing to go when exhaustion sets in.
4) You’ll be faster and more aggressive in stage movement, handle recoil better, and be able to last longer throughout the day.
5) Your synaptic function will be faster and more accurate. Reaction time and focus will improve.
6) Confidence improves as a by-product.
7) You’ll be able to adapt to anything they can throw at you with ease – and you’ll be able to do it better and faster than anyone else.
We have had some dominant champions in our sport. However I believe we have not yet seen a truly dominant champion. Mark my words…one day a shooter will come along who is in equilibrium mentally, physically, and spiritually. That will be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
…Is it going to be you?
Train Hard,-Di Vita
Disclaimer: Consult your doctor before engaging in any fitness program or dieting practice. Use proper form at all times. Don’t drop anything on your head, neck, etc…if you do – it’s your fault!