Fitness & Shooting: The Secrets You Don’t Know

By Michael Mills
Posted in #Skills
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Fitness & Shooting: The Secrets You Don’t Know

September 24th, 2022

9:44 runtime

Fitness and health affect every aspect of your life, but what about the physical effects of being in or out of shape on your shooting skills? If you have ever played sports or been in any type of job that requires moderate to extreme physical exertion, you will understand how even a slightly elevated heart rate can have a negative impact on your physical skills and diminish your mental capacity to make appropriate decisions.

fitness and shooting training
Fitness and health affect every aspect of your life, but how big of an impact does it have on your shooting performance?

What we need to be honest with ourselves about when it comes to physical and cardiovascular fitness is what our current state of health does to our fine and gross motor skills. A simple question posed to yourself is, do you regularly workout, do you train in the best or worst of circumstances, and have you ever really tested yourself in a physically and cardiovascular strained state.

Heart Rate Up / Skill Set Down

To set the stage for this, I am in good medical health and moderately physically fit. I can run a few miles without issue and throw decent weight around in the gym. I have had multiple careers in life, from the military to law enforcement, where I trained at an elevated state to test my skills and abilities. But that being said, it has been a while since I have done physical stress-related training.

pushups for shooting training
In addition to being a great exercise, push-ups are also a great way to elevate your heart rate to test your shooting ability under stress.

Today, we are going to put it to the test by doing a set of drills cold followed by another iteration of the drills after a simulated 1/4 mile foot pursuit and a series of exercises to mirror a physical struggle. The drills will consist of a Bill Drill, Baer Standard Drill and a Reload Drill. What we are going to look for is accuracy and time on these drills to see the after-effects of a little cardio and muscle fatigue. I know many are expecting to see higher times after the physical exertion, but sometimes that can make you default to training and skills you have built over years of repetition and you actually perform better.

gear for testing your fitness and shooting
In addition to your normal shooting gear, a timer can be an excellent tool to help evaluate your shooting skills.

All drills were from a cold start and all drills were from a Blackhawk Omnivore retention holster. The first series of drills played out with a 2.73 on the Bill Drill, 4.8 on the 3 reload 3 and 13.6 on the Baer Drill. Although I have run all of these drills far faster during training days, these were run cold with no warm-up of any kind, and the goal was to guarantee 100% accuracy.

hard exercise and shooting
With your body in a stressed state, your shooting performance will likely decline. The better your physical condition, the better you will perform.

After my first run of drills, it was time to spice it up a bit. For this, I did a quarter-mile run, followed by push-ups and air squats to simulate a foot chase and physical struggle. I then ran right into the next series of drills. For the exertion drill times, I got a 3.4 on the Bill Drill, 10 seconds on the Baer Standard Drill and a 6.7 on the 3 reload and 3 all in the headbox.

But wait, did I shave three seconds off of that Baer Drill? How is that possible? This is where having fired that drill so much and maybe being a bit warmed up shows though. Think about it. It’s almost like having autopilot with something you do at work every day. You can perform this function without thought at ease, but when you stop and think about the automated response you slow down.

Low Fitness Equals Failure

Without getting all medical on you, let’s explain why your body does what it does at certain heart rates and fitness levels. There are five basic heart rate zones in the fitness world: very light, light, moderate, hard and maximum. Each of these will cause your body to experience certain feelings of calm, fatigue, deep rapid respiration or complete exhaustion.

doing push ups before shooting
When the body experiences hard physical activity, you will lose fine motor skills and experience fatigue. You may have difficulty balancing or holding a pistol still.

Light and very light are examples of my first volley of shots. Hard and moderate are the second set of drills after the run. An example of hard was the first drill right after the physical exertion, and moderate on the next few since my body had started to regulate a bit. At moderate heart and respiration rates, the human body will breathe heavily, build up lactic acid, and begin to diminish fine motor skills.

target after shooting it during exercise
Under stress, you can expect diminished accuracy and precision. To improve this, you need to improve your physical fitness.

When the body experiences hard physical activity, the heart and respiration rates — especially if prolonged more than one minute — will cause extremely diminished fine motor skills, mental and physical fatigue, and difficulty balancing or holding a pistol still. The hard or even upper moderate level is where we start to see misses on even standard-sized targets, or extremely slow and fumbled manipulation drills.

So, What Do We Do?

All of the aforementioned symptoms can be diminished by a certain level of physical exertion training and cardiovascular health. If we exercise regularly, pushing our cardiovascular fitness and lung health a bit, we will not fall into the hard and diminished category as easily or quickly.

shooting after hard working out
All the tools in the world won’t do much to help you if your fitness is so poor as to destroy your accuracy under stress.

Combine that with testing your skills while being physically strained, and the combination will help add another layer of performance into our training regime. Training is always ongoing, whether it is skill-building at the range, knowledge-based learning at your desk, or sweating to the oldies to improve your physical health. And yes, I know that was a bad reference to an 80s fitness craze.

The last thing I will say is, before you do any physical activity and skill-building, ensure your doctor and trainer have cleared you for safety and health reasons prior to any new training program of any kind.

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Michael Mills

Michael Mills

Michael Mills created as a way to help spread good information, shed positive light on the gun community and to have fun. He has always loved teaching and helping others, especially when it comes to gun rights. This passion was further ingrained during his service in U.S. Army Special Operations, and he is a Use of Force Instructor, Defensive Tactics instructor, DEA Firearms Instructor and Police Academy instructor. He also has 15 years of law enforcement experience from patrol to supervision.

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