The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Middle-Aged Power Struggle

A Bit Banged Up? An Ex-Navy SEAL Reveals the Mental Concepts to Staying Physically Fit

We're honored to introduce Jeff Gonzales as the guest columnist for this issue's PT. If his dozen years as a Navy SEAL weren't enough, this combat veteran also brings a wealth of tactical pedagogy and extensive research in physical fitness. His knowledge can help boost not only your shooting skills, but also your general well-being.


The techniques, exercises, and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult your physician before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan.

I worked in a “high mileage” capacity for the better half of my adult life. That means I ran the engine in the red most of the time — and as a result I ended up with injuries, deficits, and holes.

Part of living your life as a warrior is a commitment to constant preparation. This never-ending quest to perfect your life takes on many forms, but one area that is often overlooked is peak physical readiness. Call it whatever you want, but it is unfortunately lacking for many — and it only gets worse as you age. You might be getting older, but your opponent probably isn't, as new talent is recruited to replace the ones that have shuffled off this mortal coil. And that disparity needs to be respected. You can make up for it in some ways with tenacity, experience, and being meaner — but you cannot replace being stronger and more powerful.

Seeking and maintaining peak physical readiness is not just a goal, it is a way of life. You have to want to put in the extra hours it takes, develop the discipline to do what the bad guy won't or can't. The dividends are huge. We'll highlight the difference between someone who has that peak condition versus someone who does not, as it relates to shooting.

Get Stronger

Since shooting is a major discipline within the warrior culture, it is always surprising how some folks never figured out the link with physical fitness — truthfully, I just assumed it was the norm. I often get asked by students, “How can I be a better shooter?” Most of the time my response is the same and summed up with two words: “Get stronger.”

Getting stronger has obvious physical benefits that will directly affect your shooting —enhanced recoil management and a more powerful “shooter chassis.” Shooting is a physical activity, and when you can link the muscular chains together, it will greatly enhance your results. Whether faster shot times, more accurate shots, or more stamina, the improvements are impressive.

The Proving Grounds

I was very fortunate to have conducted an experiment over the past year, with the help of a good friend and training partner, John. We developed a worthwhile strength and conditioning program, with an emphasis on understanding my own mission and developing a program around functional movement patterns. For example, I might need to lift something heavy (perhaps a downed man) off the ground. Then I may have to carry something heavy, such as my combat kit and other supporting equipment. I might need to push something awkward and heavy overhead, such as ammo cans, or pull myself up over a wall while wearing 50 to 60 pounds of kit. So, basically we had a bunch of lower and upper body pushes and pulls. Could it be that simple? Hell no, but it was a good starting point.

Because of the program it spawned, I have seen dramatic improvement in my own professional development. As a middle-aged athlete and warrior, I had to work around and through some injuries. But the results of the programming speak for themselves, both in the gym and on the firing line.

Mental Toughness

The other benefit to achieving peak physical readiness is mental toughness. You don't have to go to BUD/S [Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school] or the Q-Course [Special Forces Qualification Course] to learn about mental toughness — you can get a decent primer when staring at the pull-up or Olympic lifting bar. Gut it out and put in one more set — or wander off to the showers. Your call, but either way, you're reinforcing learned behavior. Guess which choice is going to serve you better in a fight.

John's training program got progressively more challenging the further we went. I noticed benefits not just in strength, but across all modals, and there's no reason why someone who put in the same effort would not reap the same rewards. So, when you're on the firing line and you need to ratchet up your concentration, your mental toughness will kick in and zero in on the points of performance for success.

One of the interesting phenomena we have seen with the popularity of Crossfit is that more folks are recognizing this truth. But the really cool thing is working with a new student to the firearms art who is already a gifted athlete. In my observations, the gains on the firing line come sooner, easier, and with better results when they already have some physical fitness nailed down. Add peak readiness and it is truly impressive. Almost cheating.

This mental toughness also directly applies toward an actual fight — not only being stronger, but having that mental toughness will be a huge leg up to winning a fight. As strength and conditioning coach Mark Rippetoe says, “It is harder to kill strong people, and they are generally more useful.” No truer words could have been spoken.



The granddaddy of barbell lifts and the most versatile for everyday activities. Compared to other common lifts, it is the least complex to learn. What I love about the movement is it’s about the team, meaning the recruitment of so many muscles for this one movement requires a true team effort.


Overhead Press:

So, how many times have you had to push something heavy off your chest? Probably the last time you performed a bench press. But how often do you push something heavy overhead? Once you’re on your feet trying to press something overhead, it’s a full body exercise and one with wicked benefits.


Back Squat:

Nothing says power quite like placing a boatload of weight on your back. The synergy of all the muscle groups to, first, protect the body and then, second, move the weight is awesome — and the benefits go way beyond the weight room. If you’re wearing armor all day, you’ll know what I’m talking about.



While you may never have to pull yourself up a cliff to save your life, it’s nice to know you could. That and there’s something about pulling your body up and off the ground that’s a huge mental victory. Do it several times and you’re a stud; do it with weight and you’re a super stud.

About the Author

Jeff Gonzales is a former U.S. Navy SEAL and president of Trident Concepts LLC, which provides clients with the full spectrum of weapons and tactics training necessary to address the challenging needs of modern warfare and personal defense. Trident Concepts' roots come from Naval Special Warfare and bring the same high-intensity mindset, operational success, and lessons learned to its training programs.

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