It takes the same amount of discipline and conditioning to be a top-level competitive shooter as it does to be a top-level golfer, NASCAR driver, or a third-degree Brazilian Ju-Jitsu black belt, like my teacher, Joe Cunningham.
Joe and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu bring us to the focus of this article—conditioning. Having dabbled in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu in the early 2000s, recently I decided to get back into this art and sport after having my six- and eight-year-old daughters training at Yamasaki Academy in Woodbridge, Va. It was there that I met Joe Cunningham, the owner, who began training and conditioning for Brazilian Ju-Jitsu in 1998. Now, he is a third-degree black belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, first-degree black belt in Judo, as well as an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor. “Coach Joe,” as he is commonly called, runs many classes at Yamasaki Academy Woodbridge. The class that relates to this article is the “Body Conditioning” class that Coach Joe and I have modified for our own personal training, specifically moving and shooting with a gun.
While developing these workouts, we were mindful of the body language, movements and strenuous body positions competitive shooters can often find themselves in during USPSA, IDPA, 3-Gun, 2-Gun and Tactical Games competitions (and many more).
Many firearms are not exactly lightweight. The average full-size Production division pistol weighs an average of 1½ pounds without ammo. If you run Heavy Metal division in 3-Gun, your rifle could weigh up to 10 pounds or more when fully loaded. You might be thinking, “what is this guy talking about, 1½ pounds is nothing.” To that, I say try swinging that 1½ pounds around, bringing it up and down quickly in front of you from hip level to eye level. Now, do it hundreds of times. After that, hold it out in front of yourself with arms locked out for two minutes straight. How do your forearms and deltoids feel? Now add running around, squatting up and down in awkward positions, or going prone, lifting, or dragging something … you get the point. Similar to a golfer taking hundreds (if not thousands) of swing repetitions each day, or a boxer throwing that hook over and over, it takes many repetitions of a body-mechanic movement to master that movement to its true potential. Specific conditioning to fit your sport goes a long way in driving up your performance.
If you apply these exercises to your weekly workout regiment, you will see a significant increase in your ability to not only hold your own weight, but also your pistol, rifle, gear and whatever else you might have to carry. This will make you more mobile, confident and agile on the range or in the field. Working through the pain and exhaustion of these workouts, while also having to concentrate on holding your sights on target, will enhance your ability to push through long, physically demanding stages. Additionally, there is truth to the old saying, “wind wins.” Integrating cardio can be a game changer. Learning to control and work through your breathing—while shooting—is demanding, to say the least.
HAND, ARM AND SHOULDER STRENGTH
As a precursor, for the below workouts I recommend using a SIRT training pistol or a blue training gun. If your exercise venue is outside of your home, using a one- or two-pound weight is perfectly fine.
This first workout falls both here in the hand, arm and shoulder section, as well as in the next section, “CORE STRENGTH.” Holding a weighted elastic band (use a light band to start), use something to anchor from (we used the octagon cage support pole) while standing on one leg, with arms out straight in front, holding a SIRT training pistol or a blue training gun and elastic band wrapped around your wrists or in your hands (if using the blue training gun, try to hold your sights on a target or object on the wall). Face the opposite direction and do the same thing balancing on the other foot. I often switch to weak hand when working the other side for this exercise.
Similar to the name, this is on hands and knees, with the exception of one arm “pointing” straightforward (sort of like a bird dog) and the opposite leg uplifted and pointing straight backwards, level with your back and extended arm. With the extended arm, grip a SIRT training gun or blue training pistol and aim at a target or mark on the wall and hold. Keep the pistol as steady as possible the entire time through your trigger press. Switch arms or legs and repeat the set. Again, keep the sights as steady as possible all the way through trigger press, or just holding sights on target as accurately as possible if using a blue gun.
As mentioned above, Sight-Strain is a dual-purpose workout and works excellent as a core strength exercise as well.
PLANKS—UPRIGHT, LEFT AND RIGHT
In the upright plank position, hold a SIRT training gun or blue gun training pistol and point straight ahead of you at a target on the wall. Switch arms. Hold the sights as steady as possible through each shot. Be sure to use the blue training pistol the same in all workouts.
In the left and right plank positions, the only difference is you will point the blue training pistol straight in front of you to the side you are facing on side plank, as shown in the photo above.
ARMS HIGH SIT-UP
While laying on your back with knees bent in a sit-up position, with SIRT training gun or blue training pistol in a normal two-handed shooting grip, perform a crunch motion starting with your pistol at your chest, ending with a thrust of the shoulders upward, with the training pistol being thrusted upward toward the ceiling almost like punching out from the draw. Find a spot on the ceiling as an aim point if possible. Try your best to hold the sights as steady as possible through each crunch motion.
Perform the side lunge as shown, while holding a SIRT training pistol or blue training gun, doing lunges down and back in an accessible area in your gym, or even in your living room if it is long enough for a few strides back and forth. Make sure to work the opposite leg on the way back or on alternate timed sets.
Using a workout band, wrap it around your legs just above the knee. Do side strides stepping wider than your shoulders width on each step, with knees bent 45 degrees. Using a SIRT training gun or blue training pistol, hold and aim with arms fully extended the entire time through your strides. No bobbing up and down, stay smooth and level throughout your lateral movement. Don’t forget to alternate your leading leg in each direction.
WALL-SIT CALF RAISE
With back flat up against a wall, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, also doing calf raises, hold a SIRT training gun or blue training gun and hold aim through the full set.
Set a timer for a level you’re comfortable with, with an alarm bell set at every minute interval. Start at a jog. At each alarm bell, increase your pace, ending with a sprint on the last alarm. Immediately upon finishing, pick up your SIRT training gun or blue gun training pistol and hold your sight on target.
By doing these specific workouts, you are strengthening your hands and fingers (grip, trigger press and recoil management) and your deltoids (steady arm extension control, target transition and helps the hands with recoil management) all particularly important muscles in helping with accuracy and holding solid sights on target. All of this, while straining to stay in position, is teaching your mind and body to work together under stress. Core exercises help you maintain a solid base in your shooting platform, as well as helping in solid, steady lateral target transitions, lifting and moving something heavy with one hand only, or mitigating a difficult prone or semi-prone shooting position.
My workout on these particular exercises is outlined here. I mix these into my High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) workouts three times a week, since we do leg day, arm and core day, and cardio day. If you do full-body workouts, then just add them all in and roll with it. Here are my sets and reps. Do what works for you, but if you aren’t pushing yourself to failure, you aren’t pushing yourself enough.
SIGHT-STRAIN: Four sets, 30 seconds each. I pull the trigger at least 15 times each set with my SIRT training pistol. I like to switch to weak hand when changing legs, but you do what is comfortable.
BIRD DOG: Four sets, 30-second holds. I pull the trigger at least 15 times each set with my SIRT training pistol.
PLANKS—UPRIGHT, LEFT AND RIGHT: Four sets, 30-second holds. I pull the trigger at least 15 times each set with my SIRT training pistol.
ARMS HIGH SIT-UP: Four sets, 20 reps. I pull the trigger each time I reach the peak of my upward motion when I have the SIRT pistol fully extended as if taking a shot.
SIDE LUNGES: Four sets, one minute each set. I imagine getting low when firing from cover or concealment and I pull the trigger each time I am at the bottom of the stride and stopping once I am upright again, then repeat and so on.
SIDE STRIDES: Four sets, 30-second rounds. I try to stay level with no up and down movement as if I’m sliding sideways on a snowboard with knees bent. Be sure to pull the trigger the entire time throughout the whole workout.
WALL-SIT CALF RAISE: Four sets, 30 seconds each. I pull the trigger about every other second for the entirety of each set.
PROGRESSIVE RUN: Four-minute rounds, three sets. Two-minute rest between each four-minute round. Starting at a jog, I progressively run faster each minute, with my fourth and final minute being a full-on sprint. Immediately upon completion of the sprint, I pick up the SIRT training pistol and start firing shots for 30 seconds as accurately as possible.
A disciplined approach and mindset is just as important as your physical workout and training in competitive shooting pursuits. Many people outside of the competitive shooting community have no clue regarding how much physical fitness and stamina these competitors must have to stay at the top of their craft, not to mention time and money. With a well-rounded diet of healthy foods, a consistent conditioning plan and all-around healthy lifestyle, you will not only be a better competitive shooter, but you are more likely to live a longer, more rewarding life.
One final thing—when starting out, be sure to go at your own pace. But remember, if it isn’t pushing you to your limit … you aren’t pushing it enough. Like the old golfer walking down the fairway, going from hole to hole, we want to walk the range, going from match stage to match stage, until we are barely walking.
All photos by Maverick Mejia.