August 28, 2023
I’m an online and private strength coach, movement geek and lover of handguns. Wanting to learn a new skill and get out of my comfort zone, in 2018 I picked up my first handgun, fell in love with shooting and began competing in the USPSA Production division.
I make a living helping people move better and get stronger. I work primarily with everyday folks like you and me, but I also train several athletes ranging from high school to the pros. No matter who the client is, I believe everyone needs to be able to move explosively quickly, have stability, be strong and have the endurance to last when situations arise.
And this includes shooters. Whether you’re trying to get better at a shooting sport like USPSA or simply be a better, more effective defensive shooter, being physically fit will help you accomplish those goals.
As a strength coach, I use the acronym GPP, which stands for General Physical Preparedness. The athletes I train need to be able to deliver maximum effort on every play for the entire game. For those of us who pride ourselves on being able to protect our loved ones, that means we should not only be proficient with our gun but also have the strength and cardiovascular endurance to physically deal with a situation—without panicking because our heart is racing and we’re gasping for oxygen.
So how do you train to improve your GPP? Since I’m a strength coach, I will stay away from self-defense skills. Instead, let’s look at the most important areas you need to train: legs, core stability, grip and cardiovascular endurance.
There’s no question that life is easier when you’re stronger. The more functionally strong you are, the easier everything else becomes. For example, if you struggle to lift a 40-pound bag of landscaping rocks and need to move 100 of them into your backyard, it’s going to be a long day. However, if you’re strong enough to lift two of them with your bare hands, this task will be much easier and your heart rate will stay lower. Simple life rule: Get in the gym and pick up heavy stuff.
Start with your legs. Your legs are the foundation of your body—and as such they’re the foundation of most handgun shooting positions. As your lower body strength improves, everything improves. Learn to squat, lunge forward, backward or even walking lunges. Learn to hip hinge, various types of deadlifts, good mornings (a back body exercise) and hip thrusts will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
You’re familiar with the term “getting off the X,” right? It’s all about being a more difficult target to hit in a gunfight through movement. And that movement is far more effective if it’s explosive. I love to put an explosive movement like a box jump or quick lateral movement after heavy lower body strength movements. This pairing has always produced the most explosive strength gains imaginable.
The next thing I like to have my clients do is upper-body pulling. Rowing variations, pull-downs or pull-ups are examples of this.
Pairing a lower-body movement with an upper-body movement is another outstanding duo that produces amazing total-body functional strength because it links the core together.
If you want to challenge yourself, make sure the pulling movement has a grip that’s hard to hold onto. Something like towel grip pull-ups or fat grip rows will improve your crush grip strength.
Why is crush grip strength important? Views on handgun grip have evolved from a “firm handshake” approach. These days, experts are advocating applying a lot more force to the grip as a way of controlling the gun for superior accuracy and better control. Apart from dry-firing with a strong grip, additional exercises like I described can help you achieve and maintain the grip you need.
Next up is core stability. Core stability connects the lower body to the upper body. For example, last Friday I was out on the range shooting targets that were spread out fairly wide, working on transitioning from targets from left to right. I could rotate my shoulders and swing the gun from target to target, but a more stable way of doing it is to drive the hips and square up the pelvis with each target. This will give me a stronger, more stable shooting position.
Essentially I’m using my lower body to move the gun, but my ab strength or core stability connects my shoulders to my hip movements. If I’m down in a kneeling position and need to lean off to the side to shoot, I will shove my hips over as my shoulders drop down. It’s my core stability that keeps me from collapsing.
Core stability can be improved by performing upper-body strength movements in a narrow base half-kneeling position. In other words, get down on one knee and make sure your lead foot is in line with the down knee as though you’re on a balance beam. Any pressing or pulling movement you do from this position will challenge your stability and you’ll learn to resist rotation.
Finally, cardiovascular endurance. Look, we all know how important it is to have a strong, healthy heart, but the secondary benefit to cardio is learning to function with an elevated heart rate—as you would certainly need to in a life-threatening situation. In active sports like USPSA, it means being able to perform movements repeatedly throughout a day of competition without wearing down.
If general health is your primary concern, walk on a treadmill with a 10 percent incline for 30 minutes at three miles per hour. This is a great low-impact way to improve cardiovascular efficiency. If you have a treadmill at home, combine this workout with practicing your concealed-carry dry-fire drills. I guarantee your draw will become more proficient, and you’ll be doing it physically stressed.
If you want to take it to the next level, you’ll need to incorporate some interval training or circuits. An easy interval example is to run like your life depends on it for 60 seconds, then walk for three minutes. If you’ve never done this, shoot for four rounds your first week. This will teach you how to breathe and function when your body is fatigued.
A quick 30-minute circuit is another example of this. Choose five exercises and do them in a circuit for as many rounds as you can in 30 minutes. For example, try 20 squats, 10 push-ups, five pull-ups, one long farmer walk, and 10 med ball slams, then repeat for 30 minutes. Again, I guarantee you’ll get in better shape and learn how to function when physically stressed.
There are many elements to gun ownership and many facets of training. You need to become proficient with your weapon. Get to the range and learn how to run your gun fast or while on the move. Dry-fire. Take classes. Seek out knowledge, and always have a white-belt mentality.
And without question, get in the gym, pick up heavy stuff and get comfortable being uncomfortable. Improve your General Physical Preparedness because your life and possibly your family’s life depends on it.