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!