While it may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer, the fact is that – at competitive level – good physical fitness is one of the basic requirements of the sport. This must be accepted as an undisputed fact. The emphasis in developing an appropriate level of physical fitness must be on the development of physical and mental endurance, and this cannot be done without improvement of the circulation and lung capacity. (CARDIO VASCULAR fitness - best way to achieve this is by AEROBIC type of exercises such as jogging, running, swimming, skiing, skating, walking, etc.) There are several books available on this subject well worth reading.
The establishment and further development of GENERAL FITNESS. Various gymnastic, callisthenic exercises and some complementary sports can achieve this. (Running, walking, skiing, cross country hiking, bicycling, swimming, etc. A number of the best shooters play tennis.) For general gymnastics, one can use any of the better known and accepted exercises, such as the 5BX or the one published in the N.C.C. coach’s manual etc.
The establishment of SPECIAL FITNESS. The development and maintaining of this specific fitness can be achieved by special exercises to develop those specific groups of muscles used in target shooting. In the case of pistol shooters, this would involve the strengthening of the legs by skipping and jogging, bending exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back and the torso, twisting exercises such as the winding up a string on a stick with a 1 – 2 lb weight attached to the end of the string etc. Exercises with rubber ropes, spring expanders, squatting and weight-lifting exercises, (especially “curlers” with light to medium weights) should be used. Make sure of not overdoing any of these exercises, and try not to do anything, (play sports) that might make it difficult to “lock” the wrist (table tennis, fencing?)
Particular care should be taken in employing these exercises, as it is only too easy to do some damage to yourself by the lack of proper warming up and cooling off, or by overdoing them. Shooting is a sport where AGE is of relatively little importance. In fact the average age of international champions is a lot higher
than in most other sports. On the other hand, it should be realised that as a person gets older, the risk of injury increases. So does the necessary amount of work to keep a level of fitness. Physical exercises are useful only if they are done systematically and regularly. A carelessly acquired injury (eg “tennis elbow”)
can destroy a carefully planned training system. (Running on the spot, skipping, jogging are particularly hard on the ankles, knees and foot, and therefore should be worked up to very gradually).
general and special fitness first. The shooter must fully understand this and the underlying principles, because the observing the “inside technique” is difficult and – most likely – will require the assistance of a very experienced coach, with an active shooting background. Various exercises, tests, and experimentation
are essential parts of this process. These days, the use of video cameras, electronic shooting analysers, high speed photography, the use of force platforms, laser systems, etc. and the assistance of sport scientists, bio mechanists, etc. make the task somewhat easier, and shorten the learning curve. (Hence the lower
average age of shooting champions in the last few years.) The knowledge is available, but the shooter still must do the WORK.
Muscle coordination means the interrelation of those groups of muscles necessary for firing an accurate shot. In some of the pistol and rifle shooting events we need to do both STATIC (stance and holding) and DYNAMIC work. (Lifting the pistol for the first shot, moving from target to target, following a moving target, etc.) The learning and coordination of these elements and skills is a difficulty – cleverly and deliberately designed into these events – that is necessary to master, after the basic elements of both techniques are learned.
Muscle memory. With appropriate exercises that are carried out with absolute intensity and concentration, the necessary muscles and groups of muscles will become so “educated” that the shooter will be able to take the proper stance, grip and body position automatically and uniformly, without any special effort, and/or
without becoming tired. A pistol shooter, who is trained to the necessary degree, will be able to lift his/her pistol and it will point to the target without the direction of the eyes. It is this “muscle memory” that leads the pistol from target to target without the direction of the eyes. It is this “muscle memory” that leads the pistol from target to target in the Rapid Fire, or glides the sights into the correct area of aiming, automatically, without conscious effort. This muscle memory can be best developed by dry firing, and various exercises done with the eyes closed/open variations, whereby the exclusion of the sense of vision forces the central nervous system to seek the information necessary for the task by the feel and senses supplied by the muscles involved in the process. This type of exercise seems to speed up the process of developing the kinetic sense, body awareness and development of the muscle memory. All development of these senses are – of course – necessary for the automatisation of these techniques, even though some of the necessary exercises on a regular basis may be boring and take some self discipline. Most of the above described exercises will serve the purpose of assisting the development of the“EXTERNAL” techniques required for the sport, by establishing and strengthening the appropriate group of muscles and the most important neuro-muscular coordination. These “external” techniques are quite readily observable by the coach and therefore are relatively easy to correct and control. It is – however – also necessary to develop the special “INTERNAL” techniques. While the control and supervision of the external technique by the coach is relatively easy, as external stance, position, holding, grip, etc. are quite easily observable, the “inside” or “internal” techniques, preparation and development is very difficult to observe, even for a very experienced coach. These techniques involve the appropriate looseness of tightness of certain groups of muscles and the proper and appropriate tensing of other groups (muscle tone). The purpose of this inside preparation is the lessening of any unnecessary efforts and tensions in the body. The coordination of looseness and tenseness of the various groups of muscles is a skill, an ability absolutely necessary for still and steady body position and holding. Learning this skill can take months or even years of raining. The shooter, who neglects holding and standing-still exercises a fair amount of DRY FIRING, will probably never achieve this task. While dry firing, one must find those groups of muscles that need to be kept relaxed (such as the right should in the rifle kneeling position, the left arm in prone, or the relaxing of the left arm and shoulder in pistol shooting, etc.) In other words, only those groups of muscles should be used that are necessary for that particular event, and only to the appropriate degree. Furthermore, for maximum efficiency, they should be used – as much as possible – in their most favourable position. With several months of EFFORT and concentrated training, by learning to control the “inside technique” the shooter will be able to limit his/her body movement to a minimum. It must be remembered – however – that this would not be possible to achieve without developing a suitable stance and the necessary
FLEXIBILITY plays a greater role that generally realised and regular flexibility exercises should be included in the physical training program. Flexibility of the neck and shoulder region is especially important for pistol shooters (considering the head position in the usual “stance” and the need for flexibility becomes obvious) and should be included in the warm-up routines.
WARMING UP. No physical and/or mental activity should be discussed without emphasising the importance of this factor. It is more important than most people realise, for the purpose of it is not only to actually “warm up” the muscles and get the blood and oxygen circulation going and stabilised, but also – and perhaps more importantly – to “wake up” and stimulate the central nervous system. If one is serious about training, proper and appropriate warming up exercises should be planned, regular and natural part of all training sessions and - naturally – every competition. Proper WARMING UP deserves a more important place in the development of the shooter’s routine than it usually receives. The sighting shots should not be regarded as “warming up shots” as many shooters call them and by the time the first shot is fired, the shooter should have done all he/she could to have the body and mind ready for the task ahead.
PREVENTATIVE ROUTINES. Another factor deserving more attention is the preventative type of activities that must by designed into the training routines of elite shooters. These include sauna, and massage – a particularly useful aid in preventing muscle cramps and cramping and “tightening up” – which is not a desired state to be in at competitions – or at any time for that matter. Some teams are spending a relatively large proportion of their total training time on these training aspects.
REST. At the risk of becoming boring, I would like to emphasis that proper ACTIVE REST must be considered an essential component of all training programs and should be regarded as an important part of the training, rather than a “break” in training. As such it must be PLANNED into the long term training program.