As more women embrace tactical training and firearms as means of protection and sport, fitness' role in optimizing female body mechanics is gaining attention. No matter your level of conditioning or lack thereof, if you're serious about competitive or defensive shooting, the time to start training is now. And if you ask Sheepdog Tim Kennedy, the second best time to start is also now.
Competitive athlete now NRA-certified firearms instructor Brenda Osborne says there might be some physical distinctions between the sexes on the range but firearms equalize them. “They [firearms] allow us ladies to be able to protect ourselves from a much larger, stronger threat that intends to cause us personal violence.” While some believe there are vast differences between the genders based on biology and muscle mass, Osborne is more pragmatic, “I find that on the range differences between the sexes are more cerebral than physical.”
The cerebral aspects of firearms consist of understanding the mechanics of the gun itself to the application of its strategic deployment as evidenced by tight groupings or threat neutralization. Women might initially be drawn to guns for the defensive aspect but once their skills progress they usually find the competitive component a fun and exciting way to hone their proficiency. There are many pro-Second Amendment organizations throughout the US designed for women that provide competition, education and socializing opportunities.
Education is paramount to competency for either sex. Whether a woman's breasts necessitate adjusting a draw from an appendix carry holster versus a male protecting his delicate regions from being muzzled remains debatable. What isn't up for debate is the inherent physicality of the sport. Having a strong, nimble and flexible frame is advantageous to everyone, but don't give up hope if the only exercise you've got lately is driving the kids to their soccer practice. Start small, be consistent, and integrate both cardio and weights into a daily habit of wellness.
“That’s what is so great about shooting sports, if you can master the fundamentals, understand the dynamic and put it all together you’ve pretty much got it made,” says Osborne who acknowledges she and her mentor, Maggie Mordaunt work with many women and men with physical limitations. In fact, Mordaunt, like Osborne, is also a former bodybuilder and personal trainer who leveraged her handgun hobby into a new career after suffering a broken neck. Mordaunt now owns and operates CCW Maggie and travels the country providing training with and for law enforcement, military, and civilians of all skill levels. She and Osborne also lead the Nevada chapter of The Well Armed Woman, a nonprofit organization designed to educate, empower and equip women about their own personal protection goals.
Conditioning your body will help you achieve greater proficiency and endurance. “Sometimes the training can be difficult ,” says Osborne, “It not only requires lateral movement but running, stopping abruptly, moving from a standing to a kneeling, to a prone position or possibly lying on one’s back and flowing repeatedly through these positions while taking the time to find your sight alignment, sight picture and address your target at varying stages of flow.” Osborne admits these movements are not only tiring but hard on the joints and connective tissue.
“My level of fitness allows me to focus on my shooting skills without having to be accountable to physical weaknesses so it’s a gift I’ve given myself,” Osborne says, “But it’s never too late to address it and make it better. Be the best you that you can be.”
Stanford professor B.J. Fogg says if you're going to start any habit start tiny. In fact, start so small it seems ridiculous because statistics show you'll actually keep that habit and build upon it. If you don't participate in regular physical activities, start with walking 10-20 minutes a day three times a week and take the kids or dogs if you can. Can't get out the house? Walk or march in place or move the clothes you've hung on the rails of that treadmill and jump on that. Each week increase both the duration of time and add some weights.
If, however, fitness is an integral to your life as that silky macchiato, here are some moves that Osborne recommends to add to your repertoire to make you a more stable shooter.
A sumo squat is an up and down movement while in a wide ballet second position. Meaning feet wider than shoulder level and toes pointed outward. The weight used is a dumbbell held in the hands and in front of your hips, knuckles pointed at the floor. At this point one would keep their chest up and knees out to bring the weight to the floor in between your legs and then stand back up. This exercise is great to strengthen the muscles needed for not only sprinting, but for low profile, lateral movement.
Core training of any kind would never be a waste of time! Abdominals and lower back need to be engaged while shooting so any abdominal movements—sit-ups, leg raises, etc.—combined with lower back hyperextensions help strengthen the core and aid in stability.
Strong all over deltoid movement to strengthen for extending the firearm into the on target position. Front raises are great for that. Simply grasp some light dumbbells and hold them at your sides. Alternate raising each one, arm straight directly in front of you until your arm is slightly higher than 90 degrees from your body (not higher than your nose) and then bring the dumbbell back to your side.
Kettlebell swings encompass ALL of these movements into one complete workout. The Kettlebell swing description and video can be easily found online.
Optimizing your physical conditioning plan for defensive shooting or shooting sports makes a good foundation, but Osborne offers some additional advice. “While cardio and strength training are important for force and stamina, time on the range is equally as important since shooting is a perishable skill.”
COMING UP - Part II: Tactical training
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