Shoot better with no practice?

Well, faithful reader, its been a while since my last post. I apologize for the delays – its been a busy couple of weeks over here. I’ve been thinking about the subject of this post for quite a while. I’m making a semi-controversial statement here, and only sharing my experience – not the results of some massive, scientific study I’ve undertaken, or anything insane like that. Well, this whole blog is my opinion and experience, isn’t it? So, maybe that’s not a surprise….

Improvement without practice. Does that sound far fetched to you? I bet it might. And, what kind of improvement are we talking about? No, it doesn’t just happen by osmosis. Yes, it still requires a lot of hard work. No, its not the be-all-end-all to all your shooting problems. Yes, it does make a big difference in your skills, your confidence, and your stamina. What’s the big secret? Good old fashioned elbow grease… in the form of CrossFit!

I’ve been doing CrossFit now for 6 months – since very late August. You might remember my first post on the subject that detailed some of the early benefits I’d seen. There are obviously health benefits to any type of exercise, and I would encourage everyone reading to stay active in some form of physical fitness regime.

So, the thing is this – many types of exercise are good for your overall fitness level, but don’t necessarily lend themselves to increases in your shooting skills. For instance, running 25 miles a week at a 7 minute pace will certainly help keep you aerobically capable, and keep the unwanted extra pounds off your frame. But, it does very little for your explosive speed, balance, and agility. Pushing iron in the gym, depending on your routine, will definitely help with what’s called static strength and may help improve your explosive strength, and possibly dynamic strength, but is not going to do a lot for your cardio endurance, coordination, or flexibility.

Remember when I told you last time about the 10 general fitness skills? Re-cap: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. In practical shooting, how many of those skills do we employ? I’ll give you a hint – only one of them isn’t used all that much, unless we’re talking about something like the MGM Ironman match, simply due to the length of effort. Everything we do tends to stay anaerobic, so cardio endurance doesn’t actually come into play in the vast majority of shooting we do. Its not a bad thing to have, obviously, but if you’re going to workout to try to perform better on the range, you maybe shouldn’t bias yourself heavily toward cardio endurance.

Ok, so now a confession. In trying to get some personal projects off the ground, I’ve been really busy and … well … neglecting my practice to some extent. We’ve also just come through winter here in central Texas, and with the range being an hour away in each direction, practice time doesn’t come easily in the short days. Honestly, I’ve not done enough of anything to expect to see differences in my performances – in fact, I’d expect decreases.

How, then, have I managed to take over a tenth of a second off my cold draw in the past couple of months? How is it that I’m perceivably faster on foot, faster on index, more precise in long distance shooting, and so forth? In addition, how is it that I intuitively know that I own those increases in performance, and am approaching stages with more confidence and aggression? There’s only one viable explanation – an improved level of general fitness, as defined by the 10 general fitness skills above. Go read those skills again – how do you think things like balance, coordination, and accuracy (that’s accuracy of physical movement – not accuracy of shot placement!) factor into our shooting? What about speed and power? Flexibility?

Here’s what I’ve noticed in the past couple of months, in addition to the easily measurable skills above… If I visualize a movement I need to make, I’m better able to simply do it. My prioperception has taken a large increase, allowing me to intuitively know better where my body and equipment are in three dimensional space. Interestingly, I’m finding myself overrunning myself as my body is capable of acting faster than I’m used to – this is an interesting challenge to have, and will resolve itself as I become more used to moving at higher rates of speed.

So, why does CrossFit do a better job of working all 10 of those general fitness skills? Simply put – randomization of functional fitness skills. Look at the picture above. I’m doing what’s called a “clean” or “hang clean” – this is a developmental Olympic lift that can actually get you kicked out of a big box “Globo-gym”, and yet its an amazing exercise for developing explosive power and strength (not just in the legs, by the way, but upper body, as well), and in addition it develops balance, coordination, agility… you get the point. In a hang clean, you start holding the barbell with your arms hanging down in front of you. You dip the bar down, and drive up off of your heels, applying all that force to the bar so that moves upward and essentially floats in front of you (that’s where I’m at in the picture). You then pull yourself under the bar, and catch the bar at chest level and stand it all the way back up.

CrossFitters don’t just do Olympic lifts, of course – we do a variety of traditional aerobic exercises (running, rowing), gymnastics/calisthenics (muscle ups, pullups, pushups, L-sits, knees to elbows, situps, burpees, air squats, etc), strength lifts (deadlift, press, squats), medicine ball work (wall ball, ball slams, tosses), plyometrics (box jumps, primarily), kettlebell work (swings, for instance), and so forth. The key is randomness between workouts, doing a wide variety of workouts that stress the three metabolic pathways, doing the workouts with the highest intensity that you can manage, and doing functional exercises for the bulk of your work. By “functional”, I’m primarily talking about doing exercises that require you to stabilize and manage whatever weight you’re working with. Usually, this requires you to be on your feet for any sort of weight lifting, so things like bench press, military press, inclined press, and all of that don’t end up being staples of the workout regime – the bench is really holding the weight up for you, not your body. Also, you want to work at full range of motion at all times.

Obviously, I’ve drank the CrossFit Flavor Aid… I invite you, though, to visit the CrossFit website, and investigate the material available there. There’s a lot of videos of exercises and workouts, as well as lectures describing the adverbs (who, what, when, where, why, how) of CrossFit, plus written material that makes for good reads. I feel this is compelling stuff for our sport – and there are others that would agree. If you’re interested in not only improving your shooting skills, but also in improving your ability to learn new ones and improving your overall well being, there are far worse things to try. It just requires a little effort on your part, and that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Ok, all right, lest you get confused about my intent…. In no way am I suggesting that a person should just go workout, and never practice, and that working out will somehow make you king of the practical shooting world all on its own. Sport specific training is key, and I would not recommend never training for our sport as some way to get better. If you have issues with your shooting skills, you’ll still need to work those specific skills in practice to see the best improvement, and to maintain the skills levels you’ve got (ie, to fight skill perishability). Improved general fitness will keep your skills fresher, longer (skill preservatives, anyone?), but will not supplant doing the skills work on the range. TANSTAAFL, unfortunately!

In the mean time, though, get off the couch. Find a gym, and get to work. Take every advantage over your competition that you can get. Those who make the effort see the gains. Those who don’t… well, they see some gains, too… around their waist in the form of ballast.

3… 2… 1… GO!

About the author


USPSA Grand Master, NRA Instructor, http://re-gun.com/about/

Permanent link to this article: http://re-gun.com/2008/03/shoot-better-with-no-practice/

1 ping

  1. But what can it do for ME? | Re-Gun says:

    [...] of these guys work out frequently using CrossFit methodologies. As I told you in a previous post, CrossFit has an impressive ability to improve the 10 general fitness skills (cardio endurance, [...]

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