Using functional fitness to enhance your shooting skills

By Mike Macro

When training at the firing range, our instructors often remind us of the importance of the four fundamentals of shooting: Stance, grip, sight, and trigger control. But how often are we at the range? Here are some tips to help you keep your shooting skills in top condition with exercises you can do in a gym or at home.

Your overall level of fitness, broken down into the following categories, will directly affect your shooting performance:

• endurance and strength
• heart rate
• breathing
• balance (propreoception)
• mental acuity

Endurance and strength

Endurance and strength top most people’s “training wish lists.” The good news is they are highly achievable.

When evaluating your training regimen, ask yourself pertinent questions:

• Is this the best exercise regimen possible for my desired attributes?
• Are there any other effective training methodologies available?
• How can I economically make use of my time?

With this in mind, you need to decide what type of endurance and strength are looking for. Is it specific to your job skills, or for the beach? If you train for your vocation, the “beach body” will eventually develop, but the opposite is not true: If you train for the “beach body” the skills required for your vocation will not be guaranteed.

Elevated heart rate

An elevated heart rate is indicative of a fight-or-flight situation. It can also be a great indicator of the target heart rate for your workouts. The effect on our physiology is similar. If we can develop a drill that emulates a desired task (“the fundamentals”), we can add this to our normal fitness training regimen.


The ability to regain ones breath quickly is a chief fitness indicator. The fitter you are the quicker your breath will return. Training at an elevated heart rate will also improve one’s ability to endure higher workloads (emotional as well as physical).


Balance isn’t just standing on one foot on a ball. In essence, it means mastering new body mechanics. From swinging a bat, punching a pad, to holding a side arm in the desired manner, all of these exercises are challenged by the developing new neuromuscular memory, a process called “propreoception.” Propreoception, for instance, is the tremor one feels when attempting a new skill set; it’s the muscles turning on and off to achieve the desired position. (Think of drawing down on your target and holding that position — this will eventually end in fatigue and tremors.) But these tremors alone will not improve your shooting accuracy. You must develop the complement of body mechanics that will, in effect, know what to “do” with your muscles.

Mental acuity

There are many other descriptive terms that can be used in place of mental acuity, such as mindset, intent, positive mental imagery — the list goes on and on. But what they have in common is the power of thought. You can help your game by thinking about what you’re doing, and by visualizing — in a real sense practicing — these scenarios. When you visualize a scenario, the brain releases the same chemicals that are released when you put the plan into action. You are literally priming the pathways of your brain.

One way to maximize this visualization drill is by conducting it in a similar physiological state as you expect to function in. So if you come back from a run and have an elevated heart rate, that’s a good time to prep your brain with some new tactical “software.”

The drill

The following drill can be added to your strength and endurance regimen. If you use circuit training as your preferred training system (similar to boot camp in the academies), you will find this an easy segue. If however, you practice body building you will find the drill a refreshing change and a good way to maintain your desired heart rate.

The drill will enhance your gross motor skills for shooting. The drill will also assist in adapting your physiology to the heart rate indicative to a situation where you may need to draw your side arm for defensive purposes. Note: This drill will not improve your trigger control. I have been assured by many range commanders that the best way to practice the “steady squeeze” of trigger control is to dry fire.


As a suggested rough guide, use a weight 2 to 4 times heavier than that of your side arm. Personally, I find a 10 lb weight to be adequate. It is essential that you maintain a physical state of being breathless and able to hold a conversation (see previous articles).

1. Start position - choose a point on the gym floor as a place of reference. Hold the weight in your shooting arm hanging by your side.

2. Mimic the draw and sighting of your side arm and side step twice on an arc (moving offline from an imaginary combatant) before settling into your shooting stance.

3. Return to the start position at the high ready (side arm tucked up by your chest/armpit).

4. Punch out the weight again (mimic the draw and sighting of your side arm) and side step twice on an arc in the opposite direction before settling into your shooting stance.

5. Return to the start position at the high ready (side arm tucked up by your chest/armpit).

6. Punch out and sight the weight again, walk forward two steps then adopt a kneeling-shooting-position.

7. Return to the start position at the high ready (side arm tucked up by your chest/armpit).

8. Repeat the 3 to 8 (in order) two more times.

At all times try and keep the mechanics similar to how you would use your sidearm. Repeat this drill a few more times throughout your work out. As I have mentioned before you could also benefit from using your imagination — so don’t feel foolish by visualizing a foe. This ties in the drill with intent and therefore helps to ingrain the drill into your subconscious.

(This form of mental training is associated with Neuro-Linguistic-Programming, and is readily available in many media formats.)

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