Train to Win: Out of shape, out of the fight

Most competitive shooters are in good shape, that's no coincidence. (Photo by: Jim Grant)

Most competitive shooters are in good shape, that’s no coincidence. (Photo by Jim Grant)

While at Front Sight Academy in Nevada I had a chance to partake in a four-day rifle training course, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Amidst the great amount of fun I had gabbing with other gun nuts and blasting through hundreds of rounds, I learned several eye-opening lessons. One of them dealt with fatigue and performance under stressful conditions.

On the third day of my rifle class, about 4 hours into that day’s regiment, an instructor told me that it was my turn to run the M16 canyon with my rifle and gear. I was excited and not wanting to make Guns.com look bad, I took it way too seriously. I gave 110 percent and my adrenaline was causing my heart to beat a thousand times a minute. I was pretty winded from my first run on the course. The second run drained me entirely and on the third run it felt like my knees might buckle at any moment. I’m not going to say I’m a bodybuilder, but I’m not in bad shape either. The combination of the dry oxygen-starved desert air, my body coming down from the adrenal dump and the four previous hours of training left me as combat effective as a third grader wearing Hulk gloves.

I promptly learned that even though I can run a 5K race that did not mean my body was prepared for the rapid, full-tilt nature of (simulated) combat. It drained me with a frightening quickness and I did not want to feel that way when defending myself or loved ones. Therefore, to get myself into fighting shape, I knew I had to take two very important steps: train under terrible conditions and be realistic about my abilities.

Training under conditions that are likely to be worse than those you’ll ever encounter will give you a tremendous advantage in a fight for your life. Assuming both you and your attacker are running on adrenaline, when it runs out who do you think will be at a bigger disadvantage? The attacker who can’t run a city block or the guy who runs 10K races and power lifts for fun?

Next time you’re at the range and it’s 80 degrees out, (assuming you have a healthy heart) do 25 pushups and 25 jumping jacks before shooting, so you’re winded and shaky before engaging the targets. Chances are in a defensive situation your heart will feel like it’s going to explode the entire time. You either need to be in good enough shape to compensate for your tachycardia or work with the knowledge that you will be operating at 10 percent your normal efficiency, and fight accordingly. If you think you’ll be shooting minute of VW bus at 10 yards, get closer and aim for center mass.   Here is where the “be realistic” portion of my advice comes into play. If you are so out of shape you can’t execute a push up or jumping jack, start small. Jog in place for a few minutes to get your blood pumping and your heart rate elevated, then try shooting. The point of the exercise to get you familiar with how your body reacts under stress so you can learn to cope with it.

This guy could hold a 1911 at arm's length for three weeks. (Photo Credit: www.vintag.es)

This guy could hold a 1911 at arm’s length for three weeks. (Photo Credit: www.vintag.es)

One bullseye shooter told me that if I wanted to improve my aim, I should hold a milk jug full of water at arms length for a minute at a time. Then, when a minute becomes easy, increase the time to 2 or 5 minutes a day. After a while, your home defense pistol will feel like a toy it’ll be so light. The purpose of all this is simply to build stamina and strength. It’s so simple you could do it while watching your favorite television show or while reading a book. Accurate shooting is the result of a practiced hand, solid fundamentals and the elimination of variables. If we think of variables as distractions, and the weight of a pistol as a distraction, it makes perfect sense that conditioning your muscles to holding a pistol will lead to more accurate shooting.

The old adage, “God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal” lulls many people into a false sense of security with their favorite gun. It’s 100 percent true that a 12-gauge slug to an opponent’s brain stem will instantly take them out of the fight, but if you can’t place those rounds where they need to go, in most circumstances, you may as well be throwing spitballs. Under terrible conditions most men perform terribly. Those who understand this and act accordingly usually live to tell the tale.

I’m not saying everyone out there should be vying for Mister Universe, but if you lose your breath going up a single flight of steps, you may want to invest some of your time into some rudimentary fitness training rather than adding an eighth magazine or new grips to your bedside gun.