Clay shooting isn’t a sport that many would consider the most physical of pastimes, but I’ve been really surprised with how I’ve become more aware of the state of my health and fitness through wanting to improve and progress in shooting. I’ve started to understand how, alongside my mental approach, my physical well-being can have a huge influence on my shooting ability, endurance and stamina.
In this blog I’ve decided to explain the hurdles I’ve physically faced in my personal life, how this has impacted my shooting, and what I’ve done to overcome this. More often than not, I’ve missed targets because I’ve overthought the shot, or not had enough confidence but at times I’ve not competed to the best of my ability due to a physical issue.
I’m writing from my own perspective so it’s completely subjective and I would always encourage anyone who is having serious physical issues or embarking on a new exercise regime to seek the help of a medical or fitness professional. Having said this I hope that sharing my experiences may be beneficial to others.
Gaining those guns – Arm Strength
When I first picked up a shotgun I was really surprised by how tired my arms would get! I soon realised that I’d not used a lot of muscles in my arms before, so it was no wonder I would ache. My first ever gun was a 12 bore Beretta 686 Essential and though it wasn’t particularly heavy, handling this ‘alien’ object could become pretty tiring. I knew that if I wanted to be able to shoot more than 50 birds at a time I’d need to get used to holding the gun longer, and to do this I needed to build my arm strength.
I started off with a set of dumbbells with interchangeable weights and doing some simple bicep curls and chest presses. I combined this with press ups and I learnt that if I could just take 10 minutes a day doing a few reps of this routine it would make a big difference. Little and often is far better than being gung-ho, in my opinion!
So then I started shooting registered competitions and my arm strength was getting better; I wasn’t feeling so fatigued from holding the gun. I was using 21g cartridges, as I was still a beginner and it definitely helped with recoil issues. But as I began to shoot more I wanted to use heavier loads; I knew most competitors were shooting 24g or 28g cartridges. With my arm strength improving I also noticed my gun swing took a lot less effort, and as a result would often end up whipping through a target too quickly, so I needed something with a bit of weight to slow me down. I bought a Beretta 682L Trap gun and with the addition of a Danuser recoil system it now weighs just over 9lb. Joe already had a pull up bar installed at home, so to continue improving my arm strength I slowly worked towards pull ups and chin ups too.
A few years on I’m now at a point where I don’t often feel weakness or weariness in my arms. I still use the weights and the pull up bar (probably not as often as I should) but I don’t have the same issues I once had. No doubt a lot of this improvement is down the sheer amount of time I spend lifting my gun. I’m usually out shooting every weekend so it’s bound to have an effect on my strength and help with muscle memory!
Core, stance, balance
Just after my 30th birthday I started to develop a bad back, which was ironic considering I’d had so many people teasing me about getting older! So, after a while of aching constantly I took myself down to my local Physiotherapy and Chiropractor clinic. I naively assumed that I had pulled a muscle, and a few clicks ‘pushing it back into place’ would sort me out. What I wasn’t bargaining for was to be told that I had overdeveloped hip muscles and actually had virtually no core muscles holding me up! For the next few months I had regular physiotherapy alongside having some ‘homework exercises’ to complete.
At times it was quite painful, and frustrating too because my stance was particularly bad when it came to shooting. From looking at photos taken of me around this time I can see that I was often hunched over, and coupled with a heavier gun I often ‘pulled off the line’ from a target without realising it.
My physiotherapist recommended that to help improve my core I should start doing TRX classes. ‘TRX’ stands for Total Body Resistance Exercise
and is a suspension based exercise program using straps anchored to the ceiling which can be quickly adjusted into different positions for working different areas of the body. I have to admit that at first I was slightly sceptical when it was suggested; I wasn’t a ‘gym-goer’ and couldn’t see that I’d keep up going to the classes. But after a few months I really saw a huge difference in the strength of my core muscles, my balance was getting better and it was also helping my overall stamina too. I can now ‘plank’ and ‘pike’ alongside everyone else in my class and have been doing this every week for 3 years! My physiotherapist clearly knew better
than I did!
Another gadget I sometimes use at home is an Ab Wheel (also known as ‘Ab Roller’). This is a small sturdy wheel with a rod traversing the centre that serves as the handles. It works on your ab and oblique muscles and can be quite tricky to get the hang of but the key is to keep your stomach tucked in tight. This is also a really great exercise for working the abs.
I will probably always have a weakness when it comes to good stance in shooting; I still regularly remind myself to ‘stand straight’ in a stand, as bad habits can often creep in. But I will continue to strengthen my core muscles through exercise because I know that the times I have shot well generally go hand in hand with a good posture!
‘Trapped traps’ – looking after your neck and back
Did you know that falling asleep on the sofa can be dangerous?!
It was Eastertime and it had been a really busy few weeks; I was feeling the fatigue of a heavy workload but was looking forward to a long weekend of shooting over the bank holiday. I’d had a couple of glasses of prosecco and fell deeply asleep in an awkward position on the sofa. I awoke, crawled straight into bed but in the early hours I was up and in excruciating pain and just couldn’t move my head. I assumed I’d just cricked my neck but it seemed to get worse the more time was passing that day. I’d contracted my upper trapezius muscle. My shooting was temporarily on hold (weekend plans of shooting sadly went out the window) whilst I went through some intensive physio sessions to loosen and ease the tight trap muscles. Luckily in our sport, our heads and necks aren’t supposed to be moving around quite as much as other parts the body, so it wasn’t long before I could shoot again whilst still receiving physio.
A friend at work suggested I see a lovely lady called Emma Dicker, who is a holistic therapist based in Stroud. For the past few months she has been giving me a series of deep tissue massage treatments and I’ve seen a huge improvement in the flexibility of my neck and a reduction in aches and pains across my back too. Before I went to see Emma I’d not really placed much value in regular massage, but she’s helped to relieve underlying problems in my back, and I also sleep so much better for addressing the issues I had. If you’re local and would like to know more about her treatments; her website and Facebook page links are here;
Fan of the ‘Fitbit’! Swimming for trimming down and better breathing
I decided a few months ago that I wanted something else to help me keep fit alongside my regular TRX classes; I’d put on a few pounds since Christmas and was determined to lose these for the summertime. So I started to go swimming.
I used to swim on a regular basis many years ago but hadn’t been for about 6 years. At the same time I bought a fitness tracker (The Fitbit Flex 2) that could be worn in the pool, as I was intrigued as to whether it would accurately track the lengths I swam and the calories burnt. This tracker looks like a small support wristband and syncs info with an app on your phone. I thought I would get bored of using it, but have to say I’m a huge fan – there are other features to the tracker such as a sleep tracker which is interesting too.
But back to the swimming….So 4 months into a regular swim each week and I can definitely say that I’ve lost the winter weight; in fact I’ve lost a little more. Swimming is a great all round exercise; I’ve been really pleased that my lung capacity has also improved and breathing seems to be better alongside the weight loss. My endurance in the pool has improved; I started off swimming half a mile, then ¾ of a mile and now I swim a mile each time I go. Some days I’ve had to push myself a little but it’s been worth it. I’ve seen its impact on my shooting to be really beneficial; I don’t get quite so fatigued on a 100 ESP comp and I don’t need to put as much movement into my gun swing, though I’m still trying to get used to this!
I’m sure that when many people think of the greatest shots in the world, they’re probably not the slimmest of sportsmen! But we all know that it’s important to be fit and healthy in life. Improving my strength and fitness has massively benefited my shooting because I can give greater attention to everything that happens at the end of the barrels rather than behind it. I still have a few mental hurdles to overcome in this sport, such as confidence and concentration, but I’m so glad that I know by physically improving aspects such as my arm strength, stance and stamina I have a few less excuses now if I don’t do as well as I should have done!