If you struggle with muscle fatigue or speed when shooting and you want to improve how long you can hold up your pistol or rifle, here are a few things you can do. Fitness is an important element in all of our lives and is something we should incorporate into our daily regimens (doesn’t always happen though). A good motivator, however, could be the discipline you desire to build your strength and endurance to improve your shooting technique. “Working out” may not be your forte, but you can make it fun enough to include your hobbies.
You test your shoulders, back muscles and grip strength any time you go to the range. Those of you who practice drawing from a holster or moving and shooting as quickly as possible could benefit greatly from building your fast twitch muscles; not just by practicing the specific movements, but by improving the overall fitness of the muscles themselves. Your speed at the draw could also mean the difference between life and death. If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.
Avoid Social Media at All Costs
I started my first job in January 2006 at the ripe old age of 15. I was a front desk clerk at my local gym. Now, this was way before the social media fitness boom. This is when people were in the gym 100 percent for themselves — no kudos were given, no selfies were taken. This is where I learned a lot about myself and the importance of competing with myself and nobody else. None of my friends or family had gym memberships. I started this journey with no precedent.
I made friends with one of the women who was a personal trainer. She showed up every single morning at 3:30 a.m. to get her own workout in before she helped her clients and mentored me. Honestly, I am relieved that I never had to deal with the pressure of social media when I was starting out. I personally find it to be more discouraging than I do motivating. Any progress you make seems futile because you don’t see the process, you only see what people want you to see. If you’re reading this and have had similar feelings, I implore you to avoid social media as much as possible when you are working on improving your fitness or any skill, for that matter.
Like me with the personal trainer I worked with, do some research and pick one fitness-related person to use as a guide. If they have a book, use that instead of the Internet. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of fitness people/posts. It Will overwhelm you and you won’t have any idea where to start.
Jumping off my soapbox now, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of some things you can do to help your strength/endurance.
Grip Strength and Shooting Technique
This is essential stuff if you want to increase your strength and endurance for holding onto anything. I recently chatted with a friend who just completed selection for U.S. Army Special Operations. He received some great advice from someone who had done it before. He told him to work on his grip strength. It’s something nobody thinks about until you get asked to carry two massive water jugs for 2 miles. He smoked everyone. Here are a few things he did:
You can get these anywhere for cheap. For strength, I suggest buying a weight that is challenging, but you can perform three to four sets of eight to 10. For endurance, I suggest going lighter and completing four sets of 12 to 15. Do this every day. When muscles grow, it hurts (obviously); so be prepared for some soreness. However, I am sure that after a month-plus you will notice a difference.
These are great for grip strength, but they also tackle all of the biggies: Shoulders, core, back, forearms — everything. Grab dumbbells or kettlebells or, hell, maybe sand bags or water jugs; basically whatever you have that you can hold onto while walking that is heavy enough to challenge you. Walk as far as you can back and forth (20 to 40 feet). To increase endurance, do sets with less heavy items but walk farther and faster.
Don’t forget to use your core. Your abdominal muscles are essential for this exercise; you don’t want to pull something. If you want to get really crazy, grab your old body armor if you have it and throw it on for these. If you ever practice moving and shooting with it on, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate it into your workouts. People will judge you and probably make fun of you but people suck. Do you.
These are tough, but effective. Find some flat plates that you can grip on either side in both hands. Trust me when I say you will want to start with less weight. They are a bit more challenging than you think. Hold them for 30 seconds and do three to four sets. I like to incorporate shoulders sometimes. I will do lateral raises while pinching the plate. It’s an ass kicker, but it adds another dimension to it and switches things up.
Fast Twitch Muscles
This is based around HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) Cardio. I know, I said the “C” word. No turning back now! There are those of us who can run long distances and enjoy it; I am not one of those people. The thing I like most about HIIT cardio is you’re so preoccupied with the exercise and the chaos that you don’t really have a lot of time to think about how much you want to die. And you get little breaks in between, so it’s a win-win.
The best HIIT cardio I have ever done was definitively “Insanity.” It’s a program developed by Shaun T a long time ago, but remains relevant. Granted, it is an hour of HIIT cardio. That “shit is bananas, yo!” That’s a Shaun T quote from “Insanity.” I wouldn’t advise doing this more than once a week if you’re on the gains train. But, if you are a bit overweight or you have some really stubborn areas of fat (my love handles), I would absolutely recommend doing it for the full 60 days. If you invest in the program, you’re investing in yourself (NOT AN AD). It is still available at BeachBody.com.
However, there are many alternatives to “Insanity” that are on YouTube. If you do a HIIT cardio routine for 20-30 minutes, you’re set.
HIIT cardio is extremely effective with explosive movements like running from target to target, stopping quickly and drawing your pistol. It gets you used to functioning effectively with fatigue.
Back and Shoulders
Luckily for me, back and shoulders are my favorite muscle groups; probably because I am extremely back and shoulder dominant. During our physical fitness test in the Army, my push up form was mostly driven by my back, shoulder and core strength. If there is one muscle group I am confident in, it’s these. Here are a couple of my favorites:
You can do these weighted or just use your body weight. What I love about back extensions is the focus on the entire back. The exercise is an all-encompassing back strengthener, which is important because your spine is your lifeline. You want to protect it and keep it as strong as you can. Your geriatric self will thank you!
Use the hyperextension bench you have in your gym. I usually hold a 10- to 25-pound plate to my chest depending on how many reps I do. As you lean forward, make sure you keep your back straight until the end. Do not round out your back once you get to the bottom. When you return to the top, don’t overextend backwards; keep your back in line with the rest of your body. Depending on weight, do 8 to 10 reps or 12 to 15 reps for three to four rounds. You want to feel challenged!
You read that right — pull-ups. If you can’t do a single one, there are alternate ways of knocking them out to build your strength up enough to do them, and do them well. This also comes in handy for that grip strength we talked about earlier. If you can only do one pull-up, do it. Then go for the second one. If you fail, wait 30 more seconds and then give another one a try. Do that a few times and combine it with other things to build up that strength.
If you have the pull-up assist machine, use it. I like to do three sets of eight to 10 pull-ups using as little weight as possible to assist me.
Also try pull-up negatives. You start at the end position, and slowly lower yourself down. It can get awkward jumping up and down, but it gets the job done. With three sets of 12 to 15 of every time you do back, you will be amazed at what you can do in a few weeks.
Not only do you feel cool doing these — because, well, Arnold — but they are highly effective. I was having a hard time describing exactly how to do these, but I found the perfect step-by-step instructions that I originally used on MuscleAndStrength.com.
- Set up an adjustable angle bench to 90 degrees and select the desired weight from the rack.
- Pick up the dumbbells from the floor using a neutral grip (palms facing in). Position the end of the dumbbells on your knees and sit down on the bench.
- Using a safe and controlled motion, kick your knees up one at a time in order to get each dumbbell into place.
- Once the dumbbells are in place, rotate your palms so they are facing you.
- Take a deep breath then press the dumbbells overhead by extending the elbows and contracting the deltoids.
- As you press, rotate the dumbbells until your palms are facing forward.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position (the arms should be roughly 90 degrees or slightly lower depending upon limb lengths).
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Barbell Front Raise
These are my favorite for the front of my shoulders, but they can be difficult if the gym you go to doesn’t have varying weighted straight bars. If you don’t have a barbell that you can use, use the straight bar attachment and the cable machine. These are pretty self explanatory, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of not throwing your momentum around. Every single rep of every single exercise should be controlled and deliberate.
Make sure the cable is positioned at the very bottom, attach the straight bar, face away from the cable machine with your feet on either side of the cable and bar. Step a foot or two away from the machine and raise the bar between your legs; your arms should be extended but your elbows not locked. Control the bar all the way down and bend your arms slightly backward to complete the rep. As always, do three to four sets of eight to 10 or 12 to 15 reps, depending on how much weight you’re doing and what your goals are.
The Holy Grail of fitness is your core. I will go to my grave preaching how important it is to focus on your core not just when doing core-related exercises, but when you’re doing any exercise. Doing “Insanity” actually taught me to focus on flexing my core the entire time I work out. Doing this will keep you from getting injured and will increase your muscle memory to use your core as often as possible, to the point you are doing it and not even thinking about it.
I love leg raises because you can vary them in so many ways, they work extremely well and you don’t have to get bored with them. Lately, I am trying not to focus on reps so much as I focus on time. I do them in a circuit at about 30 seconds per exercise, but you can start at 10 or 20 per and do a few rounds.
I use a roman chair for these. The first exercise starts with legs straight down, and then I bring my knees to my chest and lower my legs for one rep. I do this for 30 seconds. Next round is same starting position, but instead of bending my knees, I keep my legs straight and left them up as high as I can without swinging too much. Remember, control over momentum. The next lift is similar to the first one, but instead I bend my knees and turn them inward using my obliques to lift and flex my core. If you’re like me and you’re a visual learner, Google “roman chair” ab exercises. You’ll find many variations and you can see what I am describing.
Might I Add …
A little tip for core: If you want to keep your core relatively flat against your body and you don’t want to create the “rounded” abdominal area, do body weight only or minimal core lifts with light weight. If you want to get stupid strong and don’t care how flat your tummy is, use weight with your core lifts. Hold a plate and do some sit ups, snag the rope at the cable machine and do high cable crunches (Google them, they are great).
However you picture your ideal body, there is a proper way of getting it. That’s a wrap for today on some fitness stuff I like to do to improve my skills and my body in general. Please leave a comment below on some of your favorite lifts and what you do to prepare for the range or your other hobbies!