Shooter Fitness: Battodo and Crossfit, with humor

Obata Toshishiro-sensei, who brought Toyama Ryu to the United States post-WW2.

Obata Toshishiro-sensei, who brought Toyama Ryu to the US post-WW2.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve generally had some form of get-out-of-the-house activity to keep me reasonably fit and somewhat sane.  Until a few years ago, when my schedule got in the way of making it up to Oakland 2-3 times per week, I had the privilege of learning Toyama Ryu Battodo at Suigetsukan Dojo under Sensei Mike Esmailzadeh.  Yes, I’m an actual swordfighter in the tradition of the Japanese warrior class — not the most marketable skill, but fun to trot out at boring parties to spice up a conversation.  It was a bummer when I had to stop going after five good years of study.

Fast-forward a few years after my swordfighting studies came to an end: I could sense that I was getting sedentary and un-fit.  (It was something of a clue when my wife observed “You’re packing on a few pounds there, aren’t ya?”)  On a trip to rural northern California to do some camping and shooting at a friend’s ranch, one of my kids took a cameraphone picture of me in profile.  It was… not flattering.  In fact, I had apparently developed into my genetic predisposition: tall, skinny guy with belly fat.  Before the week was out, I had signed up for the mandatory Crossfit Fundamentals class at what is now Homegrown Crossfit.

I signed up for Crossfit for two reasons:

(1) I had already decided I wanted to get serious about achieving my potential as a shooter, and getting both strong and fit was clearly going to be a big part of that.  In fact, it wasn’t until I’d been doing Crossfit for about 6 months that I realized I suddenly had a whole different relationship with my HK USP40, because I was now strong enough to manage recoil and run it with authoritah.

(2) Some people like predictable exercise routines.  I am so not one of them.  One of the things I love most about Crossfit is that, excepting the benchmark “named” workouts like Murph, it is never ever the same thing twice.

Excluding some recent time off to allow an elbow injury to heal, I’ve been doing Crossfit 3x/week since January 2013.  I’ve never done anything so hard, yet so effective and time-efficient at making me fitter, stronger, and generally more of a badass.  It’s not for everyone, but I love it.

So that’s my background… now on to the fun stuff.

Rules For A Successful Fitness Program

  1. Show up for the workout
  2. Keep showing up for the workouts on the regular
  3. If you don’t feel like going, see rule #1 — unless you’re sick or injured, odds are that the more you don’t feel like going, the more you should go
  4. Never, ever look at the Crossfit WOD before you’re on your way to the gym — it’s WAY too easy to rationalize why you need to skip the workout that day after looking at it online.  It’s a lot easier to follow rule #1 if you don’t peek.

Shooters Need Grip Strength (danger!)

Captains Of Crush grip strength trainer

Captains Of Crush grip strength trainer

Of course you need more than just grip strength to be a good shooter — but a ferociously strong grip is the hallmark of a top-tier pistol wrangler.  Jerry Miculek is said to be able to straighten the frame on bent Colt Python with his bare hands.  (OK, maybe I said it just now.  But it should be true.)  I use a couple of different types of grip strength training devices, but the main attraction is my Captains Of Crush set which starts off with their lightest trainer and goes up to (IIRC) a 1.5 or 2.0.

Here’s the thing, though: you can screw yourself up BAD by overdoing the grip strength training.  I completely jacked up my right elbow with overuse injuries when I did a heavy grip-strength workout on a Sunday night, two heavy overhead-lift workouts at Crossfit on Monday and Wednesday, and hit the range on Tuesday and Thursday. Physical therapy and six (6!) corticosteroid shots in my elbow later and I’m still recovering from that.

Don’t overdo it.  Limit yourself to one heavy grip workout per week, and even then only after a thorough warmup.  Trust me on this, it suuuucks to have your arm hurt for months on end when you get multiple-site tendonitis.

Things Which Became My New Normal With Crossfit

  • Now totally normal to take two showers in one day.
  • Three pairs of socks in one day? Yep, that sounds about right.
  • Gym bag has two very different pairs of shoes. Both get worn on the regular.
  • Drawer in my dresser dedicated to workout shorts, shirts, and sweat towels.
  • Vitamin I isn’t habit-forming, is it? Asking for a friend.
  • Muscle Milk comes in powdered mix (with some sugar content) and grown-man milk boxes (sugar free)… and I have a different use for each.
  • Decisions on what to eat frequently guided by “will this cancel out the workout I did last night?”
  • Fib to my doctor about how much I’ve dialed back training while injury is healing.
  • Tell my coach what my doctor said word-for-word.
  • Foam roller pimp. If you tell me that you’re sore after doing X, I’m gonna proselytize the religion of the holy foam roller and his son, the blessed lacrosse ball.
  • Complete a workout that roughly 99% of US residents couldn’t do — think only of how to improve next time and what I need to work on instead of celebrating.
  • Could tell you without checking my notes: my pace for rowing sprints or distance; my typical time to row a mile; how much I can deadlift, power clean, or snatch… But I won’t volunteer that in conversation unless you ask.
  • Weight basically unchanged since starting Crossfit. Don’t care (except maybe when I’m doing pull-ups) because I know how much fat has been replaced by muscle.
  • Can’t run distances >100m for shit. Don’t care, because it turns out I can row like a mother-humper.
  • Try to find ways to encourage fellow Crossfitters without seeming like I’m paying too much attention to their workout performance. This can be harder that it seems, especially with girls.
  • I find myself working on stuff like grip strength and leg/hip flexibility outside of Crossfit so that I will be better at Crossfit.
  • If I’m not sore 24 hours later, I didn’t push myself hard enough in the workout.  (Note: not injured… sore.)
  • Lunges with a weighted barbell are ridiculously hard to do in quantity — and your ass WILL hurt like a mother-humper for 3 days afterwards!
  • Heavy squat days can, in fact, leave you so debilitated that you can barely walk, climb stairs, or sit down on the toilet.  Still worth it, because squat strength is the foundation of so much else.
  • Need someone to throw a 14-20lb spherical object against a spot on the wall 10 feet up, many times in a row? I’m your huckleberry.  Sometimes I’ll even provide entertainment value by letting it punch me in the face when I get tired.

Here’s the thing, though — if you want to be a good shooter, it’s my strongly held belief that you need to be fit enough to run your gun with authority.  Find a fitness program which fits your schedule, budget, and fitness needs… then see rule #1 above.


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