Your Next Weapon Mod: FITNESS

I’ll bet you don’t see this at your next carbine course.

An observation of mine in recent months looking at pictures of people online attending competitions, shooting courses, training events etc is the there is a huge variety of fitness levels represented in our sport. I use the word “sport” lightly as obviously that means something different to different people. This would seem as an obvious observation but then again lets take a few steps back. I grew up playing traditional sports such as baseball and football, where fitness is a direct contributor to you ability on the field. I then carried on into college and again to play sports we had strength coaches and trainers focused on keeping us conditioned enough to compete at a high level. I have no experience with professional sports but I would take an educated guess to say that it only becomes more important at that level as well.

Why not in the civilian world? Current events make this something that is more of a possibility then ever before.

These days there are plenty of people fast to call themselves “tactical athletes”, whatever that might entail. Anymore it seems someone’s ability to purchase a brightly colored jersey and start a Facebook page for themselves constitutes professional status. If this criteria is what we as a shooting community are choosing to use, then I would like to debate what being a “professional” means. My definition is having the knowledge and physical ability to compete at a high level within your chosen sport or passion. Within that if you are monetarily backed either with equipment or other means of support by a company then you now represent them as well. Your conduct and appearance directly relates to every company you choose to wear on your shirt. Professional drivers in racing workout and focus on their fitness level to compete and have the stamina to maintain mental clarity and reflexes through a long race. Yet watching a good number of shooting disciplines this doesn’t seem to be as important. I prepare as I type this for the responses about professionals who are obviously not in ideal shape, I challenge that with the response of how much easier do you think they would move, breath, shoot if they were in better shape?

Within the shooting fundamentals that everyone is familiar with lies a couple things that might be tied to your fitness level. First lets talk about breathing, or your ability to recover your breathing during an event. I regularly watch some people run 25 meters and be out of breath and then not being to able regain it in a timely fashion. This has a direct impact on your shooting ability, mental clarity, fine motor skills, all absolutely vital to staying in the fight or at least putting your best effort forward for that stage. Followthrough after taking a shot is directly impacted by your breathing and physical state, especially as your tire through a stage or evolution. Within the precision rifle world having the ability after any physical exercise to be able to calm your breathing to take a critical shot on a piece of steel in a match or an animal if you are out hunting is critical. If you have to spend an extended period of time just trying to get your crosshairs under control that opportunity for a shot may come and go more quickly then you may think.

Soldiers moving during a drill at the US International Sniper Competition

I challenge instructors and match directors to include more physically demanding evolutions into their events, there are some who already do. This may open some people’s eyes to their fitness level and give them that extra little push to better themselves for the sport. Guys who I know embrace this as much as I do are people like Pat McNamara, Jeff Gonzalez, Mike Pannone, and instructors like them. I challenge people to attend their courses instead of the local gun shop instructor who can barely fit his gut in his polo shirt. People are very quick to put on body armor to dress up like their favorite SOF, yet very few want to put in the time to be fit enough to actually be able to function while wearing it. The sports toted as practical and based of tactical situations should absolutely have a physical stressor involved in most of the events. In regards to shooting sports if someone doesn’t like building up a little sweat there are events within just about any choice of weapon system from F-class, High power, etc where a person can stay stationary and pull a trigger.

Moving with required gear more then 10m… might be a functional skill

Am I in some way implying that all shooters need to be in the same shape as soldiers, or ball sport athletes? No I am not, am I saying you should go run marathons or bicycle 20 miles to work? No I am not, I am simply asking that as a community we watch the direction our sports are moving and by who’s standard we hold ourselves. Age is relative and for every age you chose to throw at me I have an example of someone doing amazing things at a similar or older age. Time is a huge wall to get over, trust me as a married father of two who is still active duty I understand the dilemma. What kind of example am I setting for my children by not being active? With the modern age in our sports there are entirely too many sources of information and we are forced to sort through it and pick out what we chose to use. I ask you pick your mentors wisely and who’s information and experience you chose to soak up.

Instead of looking for that newest selector or billet anodized part for your carbine or the newest reticle that you think may magically assist you in putting rounds on target I challenge you to buy a pair of running shoes or a bike, you may just be surprised what happens to your shooting and scores with a little bit of effort and a little less times spent online seeing what the next new flashy accessory is.

For more information or good training programs some I highly recommend are:


This entry was posted in Competition, Fitness, Training, Uncategorized by Joe. Bookmark the permalink.

About Joe

Joe currently serves active duty with 10 years in Special Operations with deployments to Iraq, Afghan and Pacific Theaters. His qualifications include Sniper, Breacher, Post Certified Pistol instructor, MACTAC Instructor, Range Officer, and Master Training Specialist. Joe has two years as a military small arms instructor teaching marksmanship and tactics. He actively works with southern California local SWAT units as a consultant and also shoots competitive tactical long range competitions when he has time off of work. In addition, Joe is deeply involved with the tactical long range industry actively consulting with many industry leaders.

33 thoughts on “Your Next Weapon Mod: FITNESS

  1. Ben Stoeger, 4 time USPSA National Champion said that physical fitness has little to do with shooting performance. The average guy I see burning it down at a IDPA or USPA match looks like they spent more time at In-N-Out then they do at Planet Fitness.

    • I think the point is not so much that a fit person is de facto better than a non fit person, but that the fit version of yourself will, more likely than not, be better than the non fit version.

    • I don’t think Ben said what you think he said. Even Ben, and his guests, admitted that being in better shape would make them better shooters. They were hacking on the guy who said that you had to hit the weight room, almost be a body builder, to shoot well.

  2. Yeah you really did miss the entire point. Fitness has a lot to do with ability to shoot well under physical and time constraints. Saying it doesn’t is ignorant. The simple way your body works under stress including your fine motor skills and awareness cannot be debated. Current games are built for the unfit and cater to them. My point is if your putting them under the guise of practical or defense type shooting to make them harder physically.

    • I missed the entire point, I’m ignorant, and you cannot be debated. Got it.

      • Someone’s a wee bit touchy. It would be hard to debate that good physical fitness, while not the end all be all, can only help. If nothing else it will help combat the stereotype of shooters as being old fat slob white guys. That alone would be worth it.

    • I like the idea of having shooters and people in general being more fit. That said, the more physically difficult the shooting sports become, the more they are about fitness and less about shooting. The two are not one and the same. One may facilitate the other to some extent, but testing physical prowess is not the point of the action shooting sports.

      I also find the recent trend of cross training physical fitness routines and marksmanship drills retarded. Train one, then train the other. Do each correctly with complete focus on the task at hand, whether that be shooting groups, or doing dead lifts with perfect form. Doing them at the same time is a good way to do neither well, and a great way to get injured. No one ever will need to do kettle bell swings while firing a handgun in RL.

      I do not understand why there must be more overlap in training. If the concern is not having physical stressors to prepare for the real life face shooting, then again, just do some exercise, away from shooting, to achieve whatever level of fitness you believe necessary to be an effective combatant. When the time comes, if you have trained both skills adequately, they will come together. No need to do them together.

      • In the Army, we do stress shoots because it replicates, to a certain extent, actual combat stress. Moving under fire, in full kit, over uneven terrain jacks your heart rate, affects your vision, etc. So stress shoots, where you combine physical activity with shooting is actually a good training tool. Not because that’s the best way to improve your fitness and not because it’s the best way to improve your shooting. Because it helps inoculate you to shooting in a stressful environment. If you’ve never shot with the pounding in your ears or where you we’re struggling to keep your dot centered on the target because you just sprinted to cover, give it a try. You may be surprised at how different things are when you put physical exertion into the mix.

    • I agree Joe.It is better to be at least somewhat fit to successfully compete in some of the Action type gun courses.Someone mentioned that some of the best Shooters look like they sleep at the In & Out.Take them out of there comfort zone and they become vulnerable.Fitness I dont think can be argued it helps to be fit.

  3. Being in better shape gives you an advantage in every part of life. No matter how good of a shooter you are, if you are in bad shape you will shoot better if you were in better shape. There is a reason why a lot of young guys can jump into USPSA faster then older people. Being athletic is always an advantage. Also being in better shape means you will live longer, and therefore have more time to practice and enjoy the sport!

    Now I have to go hit the gym to avoid being a hypocrite

  4. A fitter, leaner body will better tolerate the stress of being shot than a de conditioned body. Additionally, with proper training, you can simulate the massive adrenaline dump encountered during fight or flight scenarios, allowing to become accustomed to their negative affects.

    Inducing the fight or flight response on the range, will make each round fired much more effective than standing static on a range punching paper.

  5. Good article. I thought it was a bit high handed at times but you did bring up valid points. When I was in the Army I used to run races (5K to Half Marathons) in my spare time and I would tell people that I didn’t think that I would win the race but I would damn sure win an after race fight. Training more than what is required of you is not a bad thing. Hard work is sadly not as interesting as the newest piece of shiny kit but hard work helps out more in the end.

    Ok I will get off my soapbox.

  6. The “average person” at IDPA or USPA is playing a game. One of the local ranges has a competitive group and the scenarios are becoming more and more game-like. Yes, many use it as a means to better their shooting skills, but I can’t say they’re doing it for the same reason a soldier or LEO would be.

    “Professional” defined by me is anyone that is paid for their services. The idea that something looks professional or someone acts professional is a misuse of the word. That’s my little world.

    Now, what Joe says is absolutely true. After years of Army service and now working / living a different life, I see the direct correlation between the my personal physical fitness level and the ability to efficiently, accurately, and repeatedly perform.

    Take away the shooting. How many people do you see that are out of breath going to the restroom? Bicycle riding? It’s not just shooting. Being fit enhances so many things we do.

  7. Great article, Sir! Thank you for writing this. Performing under stress is a definite need in many ways. Recreational or matters involving using your weapon, it helps with a lot of rounds down range, fitness, and mental preparation. The physical aspect is often overlooked, but is up front when dealing with confrontation or other adrenaline enhanced situations. This I know.

    Again, thank you for the reminder. Stay safe.

  8. Let’s temporarily forget the shooting sports. I would propose to all reading this that strength, endurance, agility and recovery time are far more critical in a defensive encounter than they ever will be on a three gun stage. The need for a “continuum” of skills (awareness, avoidance, deescalation, combatives standing / ground based, lethal weapons, etc) is another key concept that gets WAY too overlooked as well but I will forgo that flame session for now as I don’t have my nomex skivies on.
    Imagine for an instant you are married with kids and your wife has brow beaten you into accompanying her and the kiddies to the mall. You’re in the food court having lunch w/ them and you’re done but they are too busy gabbing and are nowhere near done. So you promise to be back shortly and sneak off to the Craftsman section of Sears to fondle some wrenches and hammers. It’s on the next wing over but your wife will call your cell with a link up plan if they finish eating and move on to another store. You turn the corner out of the long corridor into the Sears wing and hear a series of loud pops that you immediately recognize as gunfire. Can you (in your current state) haul ass back to the food court, dodging panicked mall-sheep enroute, gather up your family, and get them out of harms way? Your 6 yr old son has a broken leg from the trampoline you got him for his birthday. Can you throw him on your back and sprint like his life depends on it?
    You scan the scene in front of you and realize that two small groups of gang bangers have decided to act out the OK Corral adjacent the food court. You see casualties down and recognize one as your 250 pound neighbor who’s taken a round to the upper thigh that is bleeding like a femoral wound. The shitbird gangsters have all run their guns dry and you see the opportunity to help as they fumble through half-assed reloads. Can you drag his quarter ton bulk to cover behind the concrete planter 20 feet away? Or are you in the midst of a coronary implosion and cerebral aneurysm?
    You see one of the thugs manage to get his Glawk up and running again and he’s now “aiming” at the other crew. Right over a huddled crowd of terrified patrons. His background is empty of innocents and he’s stationary, but it’s about a 30 yard shot (You DO have your carry gun with you… DON’T you…). Can you take a deep breath, quell the chaos within you and focus on making the shot? Or has your O2 deficit driven your lungs into an overdrive you cannot abate?
    These are questions I ask myself. I do NOT look like Pat McNamara. I’m 5’7″ and 170 pounds. And 51 years old. My morphology naturally leans more towards squishy twinkie than lean sinew. But I watch what I eat (buffets, fast food, excessive sweets, fried food all verboten), and I PT to the extent my schedule and my body allow. I run, I have some free weights that I do my best to move around, and I vent my bad days on my heavy bag with a vengeance. My son weighs roughly 80 pounds (he’s 10 yrs old). One of my old duffel bags is in the basement with 80 pounds of rubber mulch in it. I drag that damned thing all over the back yard if its dry. Then I carry it up and down the hill behind my house. At least for me, somewhere under the description of “dad” and “husband” is the additional duty of “protector”. My job is, first, to hopefully see such a scenario unfolding and avoid it. If I fail at that and we find ourselves in crisis, I can not fail there.
    Nature is harsh and physics is unrelenting. Whether it’s just for you or for your family, do what you can (and be honest here) to establish some level of fitness so that you might be worthy if fate comes calling. The gun is a tool. NOT the solution.
    Just my thoughts, fire for effect at will.

    • Boom. Right there. If anyone could not put that together from Joe’s initial article they may just lack a “warrior mindset”.

      Some folks who “play” IDPA, USPSA, 3gun, or whatever may not think of their fitness as a duty to themselves or their family.

      This article should really be aimed at “professionals” who signed up to carry a weapon, and deal with bad people in country or across the globe.
      Remove the word “sport” from the article and replace it with “job” and remove any gaming / sport references. Hell, softball is a sport.

      I would think the majority of folks who read and contribute to MSW “get it”.

  9. Fantastic response MK262 MOD1. I too am 51 and try to stay in reasonable shape in order to be effective when it hits the fan. I agree with Joe in his observation of the shooting masses. I’ve seen too many photos from training classes where I’ve thought that the participants should focus a little more on their conditioning, and I’m not just speaking of the civilian population. As a LE firearms instructor, I think the fitness component has been severely overlooked training arena.

  10. My major point is not that a bigger guy cannot be better then you, its that a fitter version of you will always beat you now. The return on investment is much higher for time spent getting in better shape then that new reticle you just got over the one you had last year. If you don’t understand that, then I cannot help you.

    I agree do not cross train shooting with fitness, don’t go run around your block with a rifle on your back. You sure can put a backpack on though. You don’t have to like Crossfit, Gym Jones, or any other specific form of working out. They are ways to an end and that is making you better then you are now.

    Life won’t slow down because you need to breath, things don’t get lighter because you can’t lift them. There is no points for misses in a gun fight.

    My opinion is just that, based off my experiences, trying to offer something for those willing to read. Its worth the price you paid to read it. I’m willing to debate it with anyone, unless you just want a pat on the back that your ideas are best. Come at me with real information that counters mine and we can talk. I’ve seen guys run out of steam in a real world situation and have to be helped through by those with a bigger motor. Which one of those do you want to be.

    • Agree emphatically on all points. Thanks for taking the time to broach the topic.
      And for your service.

  11. Love it! My overall condition played a huge role when I was struck by a car LOD. I more than “just survived.” I was able to finish what was started and walk myself to the ambulance once the dust settled. My love of the weight pile minimized my injuries. I find it hard to argue with Mark Rippetoe. “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.”

  12. There is a pretty fit young man who tears up 3gun nation and dominates many matches and has lost a few championships/finals on just bad luck but is the first two time champion. He is fit and constantly is shooting while on the move, though other competitors sort of run and shoot they are huffing and puffing afterwards. I think his name is Daniel Horner, you may have heard of him. I see the validity of Joe’s article and I tell my shooting friends also not to rely on just a gun in life but learn/study martial arts or boxing. Even though I am retired from the mil I still power walk 2 miles five days a week, some times longer distances on the weekends. Stay fit! bill

  13. While I don’t see ever needing the fitness level I required during my military deployments a modest fitness level is beneficial in even small ways – things as routine as policing brass and recovering mags is easier when you are not heavy and inflexible ( I am a bit guilty of this even as I write it!)
    I am one of the younger fitter guys at my local club and if I mention trying some more aggressive movement and positions in our weekly matches people look at me like I am crazy. Unfortunately with a large number of older unfit shooters at my club it has sort of turned into handicapped access shooting. I understand the need to accommodate shooters of different health and fitness levels, and have suggested things like this stage involves kneeling or prone or weak hand only and if you elect not to assume that position we just add a five second penalty to the time. Have not got anyone convinced yet but will keep trying

  14. Love all this, it really needs to be drummed into our community more. Armed or unarmed, self defense is tough physical work. I’ve seen way too many Captain Manboobs videos on YouTube.

  15. Deaths from Heart Disease-
    610,000 in the United States.

    Percent of US population with high blood pressure, high cholestorol, and smoking risk factors –


    Number of firearms related homicides, justified and not-
    11,208 for 2013.

    Way I see it- admission to a firearms class to an able bodied applicant should require proof of an active gym membership or a fit lifestyle. If youre out of shape and care about “tactical readiness”, your behind needs to be on a treadmill, not at the range.

    What good is busting it on the line if you keel over from a bum ticker? From what ive seen of folks at the gun range, the next generation of gun classes will be “How to Draw Around your Dialysis Machine!”

    If im being abrasive, its because health problems can be prevented. You cant prevent a group of armed jerks from kicking in your door at 3AM. You can prevent Heart Disease from ‘stomping’ your ticker.

    • “How to Draw Around your Dialysis Machine!”… Sarcastic perfection!…
      I will give you credit but I am definitely gonna steal that one!

  16. Joe (the author), totally agree on all points.
    I’ve long felt that IDPA and IPSC try to take the physical component out of it with they way many clubs run their stages and that’s a shame. Yet to see a stage that involves carrying a dummy, dragging something, or running or climbing. But I have limited exposure.
    There should be a new league out there, call it the Tactical Shooting League or some such that actually focuses on these things. Stratus Event 1 Alpha comes to mind as a huge step in the right direction. The issue unfortunately that the amount of people who want to train is far smaller than the number who want to play.
    Anyone who says that they wouldn’t shoot better if they were more fit is wrong.
    People who try to minimize the physical side of all this are missing out on the stark reality. Guns, knives, sticks, etc aren’t weapons. These are tools. You are the weapon. And if you’re not physically fit in a real way you’re not going to be lethal at the moment of truth.

  17. Excellent article! I don’t believe this topic can be emphasized enough.

    I also want to give another shout out to Strong Swift Durable. I have used their programming for years, and I highly recommend them.

    This endorsement is not to detract from Gym Jones. I just do not have personal experience with that gym. I will say that Mark Twight is a alpinist legend, and I am grateful to his contribution to climbing fast and light.

    Thanks, Joe, for taking the time to write this and share with us.

  18. Just try to do something every day. If your life depends on it you need to do more. I was caught up in weights and long distance running but then I’d be sucking wind during dynamic drills on the range, DT or fighting a perp. Conditioning with body weight exercises, sprints, kettle bell, sandbags can go a long way toward your fitness goals for fighting and or shooting sports. I can get more from an twenty minutes training in a hotel parking lot doing jumping jacks, pushups, rows and burpees than an hour of running.

Comments are closed.