I had the opportunity to work with one of India’s top pistol shooters over this last week and fitness, as always, played a big role in his training. However, it’s not the kind of fitness one would normally associate with sportsmen. To understand the nature of pistol shooting fitness, one must understand that the sport is won and lost in fractions — 0.1 is all it takes to separate Gold from Silver. The sport requires perfect balance, no sway or tremour and a great eye! It does not need lightning quick reflexes, anaerobic fitness or vast amounts of plyometric strength like other sports such as boxing, wrestling or tennis.
Even if you are a non-shooter and suffer from chronic lower back pain or shoulder issues, try working out like a pistol shooter and see how your body responds. Your lower back will get strengthened because the fitness regime for shooters is aimed at strengthening the core, which is the set of muscles responsible for supporting your lower back.
Your shoulders, which derive 90 per cent of their stability from muscles because of a shallow ball and socket joint, will be strengthened by rotator cuff exercises. The rotator cuff actually pulls your arm bone into the right position in the socket of your shoulder. The end result? Less stiffness in your lower back and shoulders.
Stability above all
The secret to pistol shooting fitness is stability. These athletes are masters at core strength and balance. They can control their bodies so well that not even the rhythmical movement of their chest during breathing has any effect on their arm and therefore their pistol.
They train religiously to develop slow twitch fibres, the ones that are involved in stabilising the body like the core and rotator cuff units. These muscles are well supplied with blood and have an excellent ability to resist fatigue. They do, however, lack maximal strength like their faster twitch counterparts, but who needs strength when you have bullets? This means that you won’t see a pistol shooter punching out three sets of Olympic Lifts every day, but rather do core activation and rotator cuff exercises. They are masters of degrees of movement and use equipment like elastic bands, stability balls, trampolines, wobble boards and Bosu balls.
If you’re a competitive pistol shooter or just someone who shoots as a hobby then pay careful attention to developing your balance and posture. Use exercises involved in core activation, rotator cuff stabilisation, grip strength, neck stabilisation and diaphragmatic breathing to do so.
You may feel frustrated at the detailed nature of each exercise initially and find yourself analysing everything that is happening down to the smallest twitch, but that is what it takes. You need a solid understanding of how to stabilise your body, how to control the right muscles in a given posture for an extended length of time and how to breathe in a coordinated manner so as not to affect your aim. Sit ups and back extensions are not a part of the inner unit or “core”. Exercises that target your transverse abdominal muscle, Multifidus (muscles surrounding the spine) and pelvic floor are important, as are the shoulder muscles.
If you are a shooter, professional or amateur, here’s an important tip — never do your core exercises within a four-hour window of shooting. We have ascertained that the stabilisers (muscles in the shoulder) are sufficiently fatigued in your training session to cause measurable sway during aiming. Do your training the evening before your shooting practice. This will give your body enough time to recover for the next session.
For a beginner’s programme on core activation, rotator cuff stabilisation and balance exercises please visit www.eliteathleteperformance.co.za for more details.
Non-shooters should use the green theraband/ exercise band and 55 cm stability/ Swiss ball (for women) and a blue theraband and 65 cm stability ball (for men).
Heath Matthews is physiotherapist with the Mittal Champions Trust