Be Fit

Megan Jeffery

Dec. 4, 2000

Physical fitness is vital in all sports if the athlete is to achieve the best results. Fitness involved in target shooting is just as demanding as any other sport. To achieve physical fitness, it is necessary to maintain a fitness program which challenges the body as well as the mind. Attention must be paid to aerobic, strength, and flexibility training, as well as proper nutrition when conditioning the body for results to be expected. Through physical fitness, a target shooter's performance can be improved.

Target shooting is a sport of fine-muscle control and endurance. Shooting does not require a wide range of movement of the body and its limbs, the large muscle groups are not actively involved; fast and great effort in short spaces of time are not called for[1]. Although target shooting does not involve the heart and lungs as does a 10 km run, the muscles used by a shooter can become as starved for oxygen as the muscles of a runner, therefore it is vital for the athlete to be physically fit in all perspectives. The sport demands precise and well coordinated movements, quick reactions, a good sense of balance, and flexibility of the body and limbs. Muscle-tone must be suitable, neuromuscular systems and fine motor skills must also be well developed if the best possible performance is to be achieved[2].

Physical fitness is a valuable supplement to a marksmanship-training program. An overall conditioning program is not regarded as a replacement to training on the range, but rather as an addition, to provide significant benefits with relatively small investments of time[3]. The off- season is the ideal time for any athlete to focus particularly on the physical demands of the sport, rather than the technical. Physical conditioning is estimated to contribute as much as 35% to a shooter's performance[4].  Although 'bone-on-bone' shooting positions have been designed to minimize the involvement of muscles, they cannot eliminate the need for muscles entirely, therefore it is important to condition the body's muscular system. Static positions assumed while shooting restrict blood flow to the working muscles, depriving the cells of oxygen. The more efficient the muscles are at utilizing the limited amounts of oxygen available to the muscle, the greater their resistance to fatigue[5]. Sufficient strength with endurance and flexibility is what the competitive rifleman needs[6]. To improve one's physical fitness, weight-training and aerobic- conditioning are essential to building both strength and endurance.

Endurance training, often called aerobic training, consists of prolonged exercise that sustains an elevated heart-rate[7]. Aerobic conditioning will produce a more efficient cardiovascular system; reduced resting heart-rate and allows for a quick recovery back to a slower heart-rate upon the cessation of exercise. Although shooting does not make demands on the body's aerobic energy system, a conditioned aerobic system can have many benefits to a marksman. A limited number of shooters learn to release the shot when the rifle is at its maximum steadiness; between heartbeats. A slower heart-rate can be of significant advantage, and in close matches can make the difference between winning and losing.

Strength training has also been found to improve a shooter's performance. This is when the athlete works the muscles against resistance and exhausts them by depleting their glycogen stores. As a result, the body's cells store more glycogen and increase in bulk and strength[8]. Strength for rifle shooters is more closely linked to the aerobic preparation of the shooting muscles, than the ability to lift heavy weights. Heavy weight training for the body may actually reduce a shooter's ability to hold position for long periods of time[9]. However if a 'light weight' program is implemented, then strength training can result in less fatigue and improved stability in positions.

Competition schedules and training demands are such that muscular fatigue is inevitable. Fatigue often results in an increased tension deep within the muscle. Stretching the muscle relieves miniature muscle spasms by improving blood flow throughout the muscle[10]. The primary goal of a stretching program used before and after shooting is not to improve the mobility of specific joints, but to work the stiffness out of tired and overworked muscles. Stretching has two benefits: it lengthens muscles and tendons making it possible for you to get into your shooting positions more easily; it induces a relaxation response which reduces the frequency and magnitude of those involuntary twitches[11].

A fitness program should be regarded as an invaluable tool and a supplement to a total marksmanship training program. Overall muscular-conditioning will result in an increased ability to hold your body and a rifle stationary. A relaxed, correct position will be easier, and reaction time will be faster. The heart will become stronger; oxygen capacity (MVO2) will be greater, thus breath control will improve. Overall muscle strength and endurance will be improved, giving more control over a rifle and subsequently better performance.

Shooting itself does not require much energy but other associated tasks will increase energy use. All additional activity, such as walking downrange to change targets, adjusting equipment, or talking to others will only have the tendency to increase energy use and heart rate, thus performance will deteriorate. Nonessential activity prior to and during a string of fire should be minimized to achieve the best results. Nutrition plays a crucial role in energy consumption because if one is not fueling their body with the right essentials, then the body is not burning it's energy efficiently.

Fitness can be defined as: the ability to perform work with a minimum  effort. Nutrition is vital to becoming physically fit in order to supply muscles with the essentials to do the 'work', i.e. carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Proper nutrition consists of a varied diet that has approximately 60% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and less than 25% fat12. Vitamin
 supplements are not necessary if a varied diet is consumed. It is recommended that a 'before match' supper should consist of mostly carbohydrates, such as pasta because carbohydrates play a key role in the supply of energy to the muscles, and the supply of energy for the brain functions. An athlete should also plan a healthy breakfast which contains high energy foods and some protein which can provide energy throughout the day. For on-range snacks, one should eat fresh or dried fruits, crackers and cheese, or lean meat sandwiches to keep a steady supply to the body without putting it under any digestive strain. It is best to consume food in small proportions, otherwise, if food is eaten in large proportions than blood rushes to the stomach after meals and is not available for the decision-making brain and working muscles13. Special attention should also be paid to the intake of fluids, because a lack of fluids in the system can cause loss of energy and physical strength during matches, of course an excess of fluids can lead to discomfort on the range, and a loss of concentration. Poor nutrition during a competition will result in poor performance, so in order to perform well, one must also adhere to the body's nutritional needs.

There is also an opposite side to the positive effects of nutrition; the negative effects of poor nutrition. Although almost all target shooters know the downside of poor nutrition, the facts are still ignored. Types of foods a marksman should avoid are foods such as coffee because it contains caffeine which causes mild muscle tremors, effecting one's ability to stabilize the rifle.  Products which contain refined sugars and white flour (monosaccharides or simple sugars) for example chocolate bars, sweets, and cakes should be completely ruled out14. Simple sugars are very rapidly absorbed from the stomach into the blood; quickly raising the sugar level. This rapid rise in blood sugar causes insulin to be released which breaks down the blood sugar, which causes a mental depression of low efficiency. This results in an increase in heartbeat combined with loss of concentration.

Various chemical compounds are used to artificially enhance one's performance to give desired results. These 'enhancers' can be found in a wide range of products, such as medications commonly used for treatment and nonprescription; household drugs. Any method of artificially enhancing performance that is not specified as being permitted by the rules is forbidden, since it would be contrary to the principle of fair and equal competition between athletes15. One commonly used sport enhancer are 'Beta Blockers', they are used to control one's blood pressure by thinning the blood, thus the advantage is a slower heart-rate. Most drugs, including alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine affect the brain and the nervous system, which in turn influences the functioning and control of the body's muscles16. In most cases, the use of drugs is actually harmful to a target shooter's performance. The common effects of drug use is high blood pressure, heart-rate and rate of respiration increased and muscles tremors are induces17. To achieve the best results, it is best to avoid all 'sport enhancers'. If one maintains a healthy diet, the need for enhancers is eliminated, and the shooter is depending on total physical fitness for success.

 When reviewing the sport of target shooting and its physical demands to achieve success, it is clear that the need to be physically fit is essential. A shooter's performance will improve by maintaining a physical fitness program, a balance of aerobic endurance, strength, and flexibility training should be included in the program to make it effective. Improved fitness will result in a lower heart-rate, a larger lung capacity (MVO2) and oxygen efficiency; thus improved muscular endurance, allowing for better muscular control and stability in static positions. A competitor at any level of shooting would be wise to observe the potential benefits to performance and better health that results from physical fitness.

© 2010 Ontario Rifle Association (ORA)

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