For a lot of folks, the terms “shooting” and “fitness” don’t usually seem to go together. Mention shooting to your average Joe, and he gets this image of Larry the Cable Guy running around in the woods, decked out in camo, beer in hand, blasting away at anything that moves (and some stuff that doesn’t move, too). Not the pinnacle of fitness, obviously. Mention fitness to most shooters (the vast majority of whom thankfully don’t resemble the drunk redneck type the general public has in mind – no offense to drunk rednecks), and they just stare at you like your either nuts, or from another planet. What has fitness got to do with anything? This is SHOOTING, man!!!
Even in the practical shooting sports – and, for our purposes, let’s say that includes all of the more dynamic games, like IPSC/USPSA, IDPA, the various 3-Gun games, etc – there are ready examples of some of the most accomplished shooters in the world who are not exactly what you’d call fit. Robbie Leatham and Taran Butler come to mind – these guys shoot fast, move fast enough, and win matches left and right.
So, why be fit, if those guys can win without weighing in at 175 with six-pack abs? Read on to find out…
The benefits of fitness are obviously many, and I’m not going to waste space telling you things you already know, like how much longer you might live, how you’ll have better quality of life, etc. Those things are generally pretty well known, and you can find plenty of info on them elsewhere.
Perhaps we should start by defining “fitness”, just so we’re on the same page. The definition I find most usable is the CrossFit notion of “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains”. Its a broad, general, inclusive level of fitness where there’s a balance of the 10 general physical skills first postulated by Jim Cawley and Bruce Evans from Dynamax: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
Specific to practical shooting, what benefits can you derive? Think about this – what separates practical shooting from the vast majority of other shooting sports? Movement and Time. We cover ground, we contort into odd positions, we swing our torsos around to index the gun, and everything is done as quickly as possible because of the time element in our scoring. How is that not athletic, and how would greater fitness (as defined above) not improve your ability to move through a course of fire, get into odd positions (and back out of them), drive the gun, etc?
There are other factors that may not be intuitively obvious, though, that will positively affect your match performance. The simple actions of standing around between shooters, pasting targets, running a timer – the stuff that we all do as a normal part of shooting the match – those things will have less of an impact on your energy level through the day. That stamina and endurance increase is bigger than you may think – don’t discount how much work you’re really doing hauling your body and all your gear around the range through the course of a match. Major matches just multiply that amount of work. Your confidence will take a huge boost, too, because you will feel strong and secure as you walk through a course of fire, and prepare to shoot, and feel like you have loads of energy to spare.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that fitness trumps shooting skill. Its quite obvious that if you cannot shoot, you cannot win in this game. Pure shooting skills will get you a long way. Instead, my point is this – why not take any possible advantage that you can? Especially when the competition is increasingly younger and quicker right out of the gate???
So, let’s look back at that picture at the top of the page. Consider it a case study. You can tell a lot from just the images, really. Which guy looks like he’s ready to go win the Nationals, doing battle against Max Michel, Jr., Travis Tomasie, and Chris Tilley? The relatively chunky guy on the left, or the much leaner, more confident looking guy on the right? Easy answer, isn’t it? What you’re seeing are the results of my first three months of training this off-season with the guys at CrossFit Central here in Austin, TX. After reviewing footage from the last season, and receiving feedback from some trusted top shooters (“You need to get moving!”), I made a decision and made a change – the off-season was perfect for it. In three months time, I’m 23 pounds lighter, and my body fat composition has dropped tremendously, as well. If you examine those ten physical skills, I can definitely tell you I’m better in all 10 areas.
I feel like an athlete, now – not just a “shooter”. And that’s pretty damn huge…