Annette Doerr is a freelance writer, self-employed businesswoman, wife, mother, equestrian, and is active in Greyhound rescue. She and her husband Bob are avid shooters and are both NRA Certified Pistol Instructors and NRA Certified Range Safety Officers. Photographs courtesy of Bob Doerr.
If you are new to the world of shooting, perhaps you have not put much thought into the connection between physical conditioning and your shooting accuracy. Strengthening your “shooting muscles” can go a long way toward improving your accuracy and keeping yourself healthy.
Whether you shoot pistols or rifles, you need a strong upper body. Target rifles can be downright heavy, especially after shooting for a while. While pistols are much lighter, the fact that you are holding them with your arms extended in front of you, generally with no support, you can fatigue quite quickly. In a match or in a defensive situation, the last thing you want is to feel fatigued early on in the game.
Below are some basic upper body, core strengthening and cardio exercises, which can be performed at a gym or in the privacy of your own home generally without fancy or pricey equipment. Nobody knows your body better than you do, so why not spend a few minutes researching alternatives and additional exercises if you would like to target some areas more thoroughly.
Core strength: Your core muscles are the underlying muscles of your torso, running from your hips to your shoulders. Core strengthening exercises include the muscles of your abdomen, back and your pelvis. Crunches, planking, yoga, sit-ups etc. all make for a stronger core.
Grip trainers can increase hand and forearm strength.
Grip trainers: Grip trainers are designed to strengthen your hands. A strong grip on your firearm will help counter recoil and you will feel less hand fatigue after shooting. Inexpensive grip strengthening gadgets are available everywhere these days and generally run in the $10 to $20 range. Since they exercise the hand, they are great to have around the house for you to pick up and use while watching television or talking on the phone.
The forearm is made up of many muscles that you use while shooting!
Forearm strengthening exercises: One way to combat forearm fatigue is with wrist curls. Sitting down, place one dumbbell in each hand. Rest your forearms on your thighs, with your hands hanging over your knees, palms facing up. Raise the dumbbells by moving only your hands, hold, lower and repeat. Be sure to keep your arms still. After you have done your set, turn your hands over so that your palms now face down. Repeat the exercise this way, pulling the dumbbells up. Try to increase the number of repetitions with each new workout.
Dumbells, free weights and bands can all be effective in strengthening your upper body, arms and shoulders.
Arm and shoulder exercises: To be a competent shooter you need to have good arm strength. Whether you are shouldering a heavy target rifle or shooting a pistol, your arms will get tired if they are not in shape. The stronger the arms, the longer you can hold them in a shooting position, the less movement you will have and the steadier your shots will be. Lifting weights will tone and strengthen these very important muscles. You will want to focus on all of the major muscle groups of the arm and shoulder.
Kickboxing is not only a great cardio workout to get your heart rate up, it is also a lot of fun! Practice those defensive skills!
Cardio: Cardio exercises are designed to get your heart rate up, which in turn improves your stamina and physical endurance. Examples of cardio include: running, biking, treadmill, Zumba, kickboxing etc. Any exercise that increases your heart rate for an extended period of time can be considered as cardio; but do not forget to stretch, warm up, and properly cool down, your muscles will thank you!
Dry fire exercises: While technically not a physical exercise, dry firing when done properly and safely can improve your muscle memory. I often practice drawing and re-holstering while keeping my eyes locked on the target, not my weapon.
Even if you do not own a set of weights, there are items already in your home that you can use if you think outside of the box. Here are some ideas for homemade fitness apparatus:
Lift..then have lunch! Soup cans make great barbells
Empty and clean milk jugs or laundry detergent containers filled with sand or water can double as weights or kettle bells. You can vary the amount of sand/water to change the weight.
Fill some sandbags, they make great weights.
Stairs! Most of us have them, you do not need a fancy stair climber just run up and down them a few times!
No treadmill? Hit the road!
Disposable water bottles filled with water or sand make a great alternative to weights. If you fill them with water, you will have something to drink while you are out for a run.
Think outside the box, equipment doesn’t have to be expensive
Do not discount different types of exercises such as yoga and Pilates. Both are excellent for core strength, and yoga especially is excellent to help you control your breathing, which as we know is an important part of shooting.
You do not have to spend hours in the gym, but improving your physical fitness will pay off even when you are not shooting. Adopting a healthier lifestyle and getting into better shape is something we should all shoot for! (Pun intended).