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Female Firearms Fitness

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A Primer on Exercises That'll Help You Maintain Accuracy and Reduce Fatigue

The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult your physician before trying an physical activity or nutritional plan. RECOIL and its contributors are not responsible for any harm or injuries sustained while attempting these techniques

There seems to be endless information out there for men on how to increase their range performance, but what about for women in particular?

Women are getting more and more involved in shooting sports, but resources are limited for us. Being a female shooter can present some issues men may not have. Women have smaller frames than men, and for the most part, many women do not weight train or do manual labor nearly as much as men (sorry to be so broad with this statement, but this is what I've witnessed during my six years in the fitness industry.)

I decided to dig around a little to get some of the leading experts' opinions on fitness and shooting sports. “The better shape you're in, the longer you stay on the range and being fit increases your likelihood to perform at a high level,” says Julie Golob, a multiple World and National Shooting Champion. When asked how she goes about training, she responded, “As an action shooter, my goal is to shoot through stages as quickly as I can. I train hard enough to work out so that I don't feel fatigue while I am shooting so I can perform my best when competing.”

No matter what form of shooting you do, each type presents its own trials.

Bench rest shooting/Silhouette/Shotgun

I am familiar with bench rest shooting as well as hunting, but in order to get some more insight on the fitness as it relates to combat, action, and other forms of shooting applications, I reached out to some professionals from within the industry.

Hanna Bilodeau is a certified instructor in defensive tactics, expandable baton, defensive tactics, firearms and fitness for the SIG SAUER Academy. “You're going to have better performance and longevity behind the firearm if your body is working properly,” Hanna says. “You're going to have more success if you understand athletic body movement especially when it comes to the competitive realm.”

Position, action, and combat shooting all require tons of movement and mobility. Both agility and stamina are imperative for achieving maximum performance, and therefore, muscles in your legs need to be properly trained in order to prevent fatigue. In addition, being fit will help you increase agility, quickness, and reduce the risk of injury.

Combining all of the factors above, I've come up with upper body, lower body, and core exercises that address and strengthen these particular areas. All of these exercises are beneficial no matter what type of shooting you participate in. I'd recommend doing these exercises twice a week in order to see the most results.

Upper Body

1. Rotator Cuff Cable Rotations



For this exercise, you will stand parallel with the cable machine and use the handle attachment. Adjust the cable so it is about elbow height. Bend your arm at a 90-degree angle and turn your arm out and in.

What it does: This exercise is going to keep your rotator cuffs strong to protect against injury while shooting. It will help to strengthen the muscles in your rotator cuff, making it easier to stabilize your firearm.

Do three sets of 12 reps per arm.

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on a bench with a 90-degree angle. Make sure your back is completely straight and flat against the back of the bench. Lift the dumbbells up to your shoulders. This is your starting position. Press upward until your arms are straight then lower back down to your shoulders. This is one repetition. Make sure in the bottom position you pause for one second and get a good, deep stretch.

What it does: This will work your mid shoulder, which is an essential part to any type of shooting. For bench rest, shoulder strength is imperative for consistent shoulder pressure. For position/practical shooting, holding up a firearm for any length of time can burn out your shoulders pretty quickly. This exercise will also help increase muscular endurance.

Do four sets of 10


Core training is one of the most important parts of strength training. Your core muscles stabilize and protect your spinal column, which is the essential part of movement. Having a stronger core will help build more back support reducing likelihood of injury and increasing mobility.

1. Hanging Leg Raises

You can do this while hanging from a pull-up bar or you can use one of the special pieces of equipment where you raise yourself up with your forearms. Straighten legs completely. Lift them straight out in front of you until your legs are about naval height, then lower back down. This is one rep. If you are doing this hanging from a pull-up bar, you're going to notice that you swing a lot while doing it. Part of the challenge is keeping your body from moving throughout the exercise, which will be easier as you strengthen those muscles.

What it does: This exercise targets your lower abdominals, which is often the most neglected part of your core.

Do three sets of 15 to 20 of these.

2. Frogs



Start seated on the floor with your hands flat to either side of your butt. You may need to start with your hands further back on the floor if you are having trouble balancing. Extend your legs straight out in front of you, then bring them back in to your chest. This is one rep. Your feet/legs should not touch the floor throughout the entire exercise.

What it does: This will hit your mid and upper abdominals which also contribute to overall agility and spine support.

Do four sets of 10.

Lower Body

Lower body is perhaps most important for when it comes to agility. When you're moving quickly on your feet from stage to stage, having strength in your lower body will help speed up your movements as well as prevent injury. When I asked Julie Golob what she feels working the most when she is training, she responded, “At the end of long or intense training sessions, I feel it in my legs from squatting and pushing off.”

1. Squats

Ah, squats, the best exercise in the world! To perform these properly, your feet should be shoulder width apart, toes straightforward. Place the bar on a comfortable part of your traps behind your neck. Now when you squat, think about breaking at the hip first, not the knee. So think about pushing back with your butt until your legs are forced to bend. Throughout the entire movement, try to make sure your knees do not go your toes. Your knees should be right over your ankles as much as possible. Make sure you go deep enough — at least to parallel! On the way back up, think about squeezing your glutes and pushing up through your heels.

What it does: Squats are arguably the best exercise for lower body. They work your quads, glutes, and their supporting muscles. Strengthening these muscles will give your legs more endurance so they don't tire out as quickly. Strengthening these muscles will also enable you to better navigate obstacles, increasing agility.

Do four sets, with reps numbering 12, 10, 8, and 6.

2. Step-Ups

For this exercise, get a box or use a bench with a comfortable height. The better you get at these, the higher the box you will be able to use. Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at your sides throughout the whole movement. Start with one leg up on the box, and step up until your leg on the box is straight. The most important thing to think about when performing this exercise is not to push off with the foot on the floor to lift yourself up. Focus on using whichever leg is up on the box to pull you up. Trust me, it changes everything when you do it this way. Do the exercise on one leg, then switch to the other.

What it does: This exercise is the best for working your stabilizer muscles. It requires a lot a balance and you may even notice your leg shakes a ton while you perform it. Working these stabilizer muscles will greatly reduce risk for injury especially in the knees and ankles.
Am I promising you will be the next world champion by following this program? No. But following it will improve your range performance, and maybe even make you look good doing it!

Do three sets of 10 per leg.

Take it Up a Notch

In addition to weight training, cardiovascular exercises can also improve your performance and endurance. When I asked NRA instructor Kristy Titus how she trains, she told me that she participates in cardiovascular activity to “lower heart rate and improve cardiovascular endurance.” She goes on to say, “A heart with a high number of beats per minute does not recover quickly.” This can be detrimental to stamina in shooting sports.

Try adding in two to three cardio sessions per week. Set it up like this:

  • 5-minute warm-up
  • 150-second full out sprint
  • 45 seconds moderate pace
  • Repeat the 15-second/45-second alternation 15 times
  • 5-minute cool down
  • This setup can be adapted to any form of cardio: biking, elliptical, treadmill, etc.

Rookie Mistakes

The biggest mistake I see women make is not lifting heavy enough because they fear getting “bulky.” It takes many, many years of hard, heavy lifting to make a female bulky. Make sure you are going as heavy as you can while still maintaining good form for all of these exercises in order to get the most out of them!

About the Author

Samantha Dawn Smitchko is an IFBB Figure Pro and was 2014 NPC Nationals Figure Champion. She is also Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has worked in the firearms industry for the past three years and is an adamant long-range hunter and shooter.

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