Using Your Head to Protect Your Heart and Body on the Range

Participating in the shooting sports can be a strenuous cardio workout. Here are some ways to make yourself less vulnerable to injury.

by posted on February 15, 2023
Yackley Mitigating Injury Risk 4

The shooting sports have more participants than golf and camping. And thanks to the many safety rules to which all shooters must adhere, the shooting sports are also safe activities. Yet injuries can still happen—but not the kind you are thinking! Read on for ways to protect your body if you partake in the shooting sports.

Weighing Your Risks
In my experience, the most common dangers to our well-being on the competition range are injuries that result from decisions to take part in risky activities. Sliding down a steep obstacle, jumping off a tall platform, moving under metal bars in a tunnel, standing in extreme heat all day … parts of “the game” that hold risk. You need to decide whether to put your body at risk, or proceed with extreme caution.

Ways to Mitigate Risk:
—Hydrate. Hydration not only affects your ability to stay in top form in the heat, it also impacts your mental clarity, decision-making ability and your susceptibility to torn ligaments, muscles, etc.

—Take the penalty. If there is a physically dangerous component to a stage or event, consider taking the penalty. Is it worth jumping from a height greater than your own? (Note: Jumping off of something higher than you carries the risk of a spinal injury.)

—Modify your participation. Maybe this means you skip a stage, element, or don’t get full credit. It’s okay to do this and avoid tearing something or ending up in the emergency room.

—Slow down. Taking just a little more time so you don’t miscalculate something can prevent injury.

Warm up and stretch (see below).

Age-Appropriate Behavior
As we age, our range of motion and flexibility also “ages.” More properly, it often becomes limited. How can that affect us in the shooting sports? Fast stops and starts that competitions contain are tough on our bodies. Dropping into prone, getting up from a seated position at break-neck speed, quick sideways movements, manipulating firearms as fast as possible—all of these things require dexterity and flexibility. For older participants, understanding that we cannot do everything the same as a 20-year-old is a fact. So adjust your expectations and work on things to help your Range of Motion (ROM) and maintain your strength. If you’re a young person just beginning this sport, train and gain strength and marvel at the old people who manage to compete! And do things safely to protect your body so you can continue in a sport you enjoy.

You’re an Athlete
While not everyone competes with firearms, anyone who shoots, even recreationally, can benefit from understanding simple concepts from the world of physical fitness that will help us to avoid injury.

1. Warm up. Warming up is about the nature of human muscle. It is “elastic,” meaning “cold” muscle is something like a rubber band and sudden tension and change of direction can cause muscles to tear. Sudden movement in our stationary bodies can induce stress on tendons and ligaments connected to muscle and bone beyond their present capacity to stretch and move. Warming up means activities like gentle jogging, dynamic stretching of our arms, legs, torso in repetitive motions. These are movements that “warm” the body by motion that increases blood flow and oxygen in our muscles.

2. Stretching. Understanding what our bodies are made of will help us to protect it. “Muscles are full of springs. The elastic properties of cross-bridges, and actin, myosin and titin filaments are central to their function. The elastic behavior of these structures has been characterized, and we can predict their mechanical action as springs.”

So our muscles are poised to spring us into action, literally. But if we don’t treat them right, we can damage them. Stretching appropriately matters. Dynamic stretching is best for warming up and static stretching best after activity.Also, stretching throughout the day matters too. We have a lot of standing around during a shooting match, and that can be problematic for peak physical performance. Rolling on a foam rollerin the morning before we leave for a match can help us as well.

3. Cardiovascular health. This is the other area in which I have seen people suffer during shooting competitions, in fact, several cardiac-related deaths have occurred at big events. For some, it’s tough to talk about because they lost a dear friend or family member from something that might have been prevented.

The first thing to know about the risk of heart attack on the range is that strenuous movement from sedentary positions is not good:

Warming up helps you to gradually increase your heart rate and breathing to a level that will be able to meet the demands of your workout. If you start exercising at a strenuous level without warming up first, you will place unnecessary stress on your heart and lungs.”

Inadequate blood supply to the heart isn’t a state you want to put yourself in. Make sure you are not letting yourself become too sedentary during the course of an event. You will often hear the top shooters say that they want to keep going and don’t want to take a break. People have different reasons for this, but it’s a fact that the human body does better under stress (mentally and physically) when it is warmed up and primed for action—not when waking from a state of rest. It’s also safer for the heart. Regular exercise and goals for good aerobic capacity will help protect a person from risks associated with cardiovascular demand. But simply being aware of this fact can help us and those we compete alongside.

Lastly, if you compete in events with older people, run a match, own a range, or are just aging yourself, consider owning an AED. It’s an investment that I’ve personally seen save a life on the range.

So take your physical health to heart when you are on the range. From the most competitive to the most laid-back, your enjoyment is one of the main reasons you are there. But no matter your goals, they won’t be met if you are injured, so be proactive and protect your body by making good choices.


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