How Crossfit Makes Me A Better Shooter

Last weekend I shot the 3-Gun Nation Southeast Regional Championship in Clinton, SC.  The match included a variety of stage designs and terrain – everything from close-and-fast stages in bays, to a shotgun jungle run through the woods, to a 50-yard sprint up a hill.  It tested the shooter’s ability to quickly blast targets at distances of 3 yards, and to precisely reach out and touch targets at 300 yards – sometimes within the same stage.  It tested the shooter’s mental ability to break down and execute a complicated stage plan, and it tested a shooter’s fitness.

Due to the widely varied nature of the match’s challenges, the match can be likened to Crossfit.  For those who may not be familiar with Crossfit, the official definition is “constantly varied, high intensity functional movement.”  Crossfit workouts vary in style, length, and movements on a daily basis; the only repeat workouts are benchmarks that can be used to track an athlete’s progress.  The workouts punish the specialist and seek to forge the most well-rounded athletes in the world, who are prepared for the unknown and the unknowable tests of fitness.  Anything, anytime, anywhere.

Similarly, this new style of 3-gun represented in the 3-Gun Nation Regional Series punishes the specialist and requires shooters to be proficient in a wide variety of shooting disciplines and styles in order to be successful.  And the fact that the stages aren’t published ahead of time means that shooters have to be prepared for anything when they arrive.  There is no time to work on weaknesses, only time to put up your best game based on your preparation beforehand.

I placed 80th out of 184 in Tactical Optics, which to the best of my recollection is my highest finish at a major 3-gun match.  While a certain amount of my success is due to increased dry fire and actual trigger time in practice, I attribute a large portion of my success this past weekend to Crossfit.  How?

Here are five ways that Crossfit makes me a better shooter.

  • Performance under stress.  Every Crossfit workout is performed on the clock with lots of people watching.  When I first started, I’d get extremely nervous before each workout as I was concerned how my performance would stack up against my classmates.  Over time, I got comfortable hearing the coach yell “3, 2, 1, go!” before the clock beep.  Then I started competing in Crossfit in front of much bigger crowds and the nervousness started all over again.  Again, with time and experience, I learned to control the nervous energy and channel it into productive output in competition.  The same applies to shooting – once that buzzer goes off, all of your nervous energy is either going to help you or hurt you.  Since I’ve learned to control it in the gym, my nervous energy almost always works in my favor on the range.
  • Core and upper body strength.  This one is pretty obvious, and is especially focused on my fellow lady shooters!  You can’t run your guns if they are running you, and you can’t run your guns if you are weak in your core and upper body.  My FNH USA SCAR 16S weighs 7.25 pounds empty; add an extended rail, scope with mount, and a full magazine, and that beast easily tops 10 pounds.  For many men, this isn’t a tough weight to handle, but for many ladies, this is a significant amount to heft around with any sort of efficacy.  It has only been through the thousands of pullups, pushups, overhead presses, and slamballs I’ve performed at Crossfit that I’ve developed the upper body strength needed to wield my SCAR.  Furthermore, the toes-to-bar, GHD situps, and barbell rollouts have given me the core strength I need both to absorb my shotgun recoil and to make quick, precise transitions from target to target.  Crossfit made me strong, and that strength keeps me in control on the range.
Heavy gun?  No problem.  I've got guns of my own!
Heavy gun? No problem. I’ve got guns of my own!
Photo credit: Barry @ squadsignup.com
  • Cardio/respiratory endurance.  Last weekend, stage 6 featured a number of pistol targets shot at close distances while running up a hill.  The shooter then picked up their rifle and sprinted to a barricade, where they engaged a total of 11 rifle targets from 100 – 300 yards.  All told, the shooter ran approximately 75 yards.  Many shooters arrived at the barricade just flat-out sucking wind.  They were unable to control their heart rate and breathing from a standing position, so were forced to go prone or kneel off the barricade.  The targets were spread out over a very broad portion of the horizon, punishing those shooters who needed more stable positions because they had to adjust their whole body multiple times to make the full sweep of the targets.  On the other hand, I arrived at the barricade with my heart rate and breathing barely elevated.  I was able to brace off the barricade in a standing position, which made it much quicker for me to transition from target to target.  I controlled my breathing and only required 3 extra shots for the 11 targets.  I finished 25th overall on that stage not because I’m an excellent rifle shooter, but because I have excellent cardiovascular fitness.
  • Coordination and agility.  Crossfit movements are complex movements that involve more than one body part moving at a time.  Some of the most challenging Crossfit movements are actually the Olympic lifts, the clean & jerk and the snatch.  These lifts require an explosive upward movement from the lifter’s feet to his hips to his shoulders, followed by a rapid downward drop under the bar, and are finished with a rock solid catch that freezes the bar in place.  If you’ve ever watched an elite Olympic lifter, you understand the grace with which these lifts can be completed; if you’ve ever seen a new Olympic lifter, you understand the soup sandwich that results from a complete lack of coordination and agility.  The same with shooting.  Experienced shooters are able to do multiple things at once:  shooting while moving, dumping a shotgun while drawing a pistol, reloading while running, changing direction rapidly, and precisely sticking a position.
Snatch.  It's wicked hard.
Snatch. It’s wicked hard.
Photo credit: Travis Dolan
  • Pursuit of excellence.  Crossfit is renowned for its soul-crushing workouts.  But Crossfit is also famous for its competitive atmosphere.  Crossfitters always strive for their own personal best, and seek to bring out the best in the others around them.  Crossfit has instilled in me the understanding that there’s no such thing as “good enough.”  There is always a new skill that can be mastered or an existing skill that can be performed at a higher weight. This mindset bleeds over into my shooting practice, because I’m never satisfied with where my skill level is at right now.  My reloads can always be faster; my splits can always be quicker; my target transitions can always be more precise.  I can always be more excellent tomorrow than I am today.

Are you looking to improve your performance in the shooting sports?  Take up the Sport of Fitness.  While there is no substitute for time behind the trigger for improving your actual shooting skills, the benefits that Crossfit brings to the range are unmatched by any other fitness program.  Get out there and get moving in 3, 2, 1, go!


2 thoughts on “How Crossfit Makes Me A Better Shooter

  1. 😉 Photo credit to James Mason? That’d be one I took, Barry @ SquadSignup.com
    Good blog, if you ever want unmarked photos just let me know.

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