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Why physical fitness is important for gun owners

Mountain Rose Defensive Training NRA classes gun lessons

Anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours at a time shooting at the range can attest to the fact that it's kind of a workout. Whether the weather is hot or cool, you're probably going to work up a sweat. Not only are you focusing on the fundamentals of shooting, running drills that require you to think about what you're shooting at and when, and concentrating on safely handling a machine that delivers a small controlled explosion just inches from your face, but you're also loading and reloading, possibly clearing stoppages, drawing from a holster and carefully re-holstering, pasting targets, and otherwise walking around just doing stuff.

I actually got a little tired just writing that out.

Last weekend I spent a few hours shooting in the hot Georgia summer sun and got so sweaty by the end that my Glock 19 was jumping around in my hand with every recoil. It's scary to shoot a gun that wants to slip out of your hands, so I took a long break to cool down in the shade and chat with my shooting buddy. But even after a good 20-minute break under the canopy with cold drinks, it was back to the old Slip 'N Slide technique thanks to the sweat pouring down my arms and dripping off my hands. I finally bid adieu to my friend and called it a day.

Now before you assume that I'm some kind of overly perspiring monster who lives on footlong pimento cheese sandwiches and pints of Ben & Jerry's, let me point out that I make a habit of running 20-30 miles a week and do a strength training routine designed by the lady who trained Natalie Portman to look like a prima ballerina for the movie Black Swan. (Incidentally, ballet dancers are superhuman beasts and now it's clear why some NFL players swear by ballet as a training regimen.) I like to sweat, I like to work out, I like to push my body as far as it will go, I've run some marathons, and I go hiking nearly every weekend.

Abigail Summar eats a super clean diet, which you can tell from this picture that is totally not a stock photo.

I wouldn't call myself an athlete by any means, but I'm in pretty good shape for my age and enjoy an extremely clean diet checkered only by the occasional glass of wine or piece of birthday cake.

And even with all this working out and taking care of my body, I still find shooting for long periods of time, or even short periods of time but under stress, exhausting. By that I mean it's mentally draining, physically tiring, and sometimes enough to send me to bed before sundown.

So how much harder is shooting well, especially for long periods of time, if you aren't in shape? I've never found a way to delicately ask this question of people who don't appear to exercise much; like how do you phrase it politely when your essential question boils down to, "Hey, Fatty--how tired are you right now after shooting those 5 boxes of ammo on this hot and humid day? More tired than me? Less? Let's compare heart rates. What's your Fitbit say?"

This is just not the kind of research I care to do, nor the kind of questioner I want to be.

But for the purposes of this discussion, I'll go out on a limb and guess that it's harder, perhaps even much harder, when you lack the physical stamina that allows your body to keep up with the mental challenges of shooting well for long periods of time, under pressure, and possibly under observation by a group of serious, experienced shooters who will immediately be able to tell when you're making avoidable mistakes. And how much harder would it be to perform well in a real-life defensive situation, outside the comfort zone of your favorite firing line, without the physical fitness to match your mental acuity?

If your body is weak, how easily can you retain your firearm or pull it from a stiff holster in a panicky scuffle?

If your body is slow, how quickly can you get to your gun after realizing you're in a lethal force situation? How fast can you get away?

If your body is fat, how cumbersome is it to draw from a holster, and how much harder will you fall if you lose your footing? How much harder will it be to get back on your feet? How much harder will it be to find concealment or cover?

If your body lacks endurance, what kind of chance do you stand of outrunning your attacker(s)?

The brief time I spent studying and practicing Krav Maga brutally informed me how crucial it is to maintain the highest level of physical fitness you reasonably can, and how important the proper mindset is for avoiding a potentially deadly fight. But a major component of that mindset is understanding how you look to potential predators, an aspect of self-defense that I rarely see discussed in firearms classes. In short:

You know what a fat, slow, visibly soft person looks like to a predator?



Is a rapist more likely to target the visibly out-of-shape lady staring at the floor and sighing heavily as she lumbers up the subway stairs, or the one who makes immediate hard eye contact, looks like she works out a lot, and might have the stamina and strength to escape?

Is the mugger or thrill-killer more likely to attack the distracted guy with the sagging gut and soft arms, or the one with the trim waist and defined muscles with a hard glint in his eyes?

Mindset is about more than preparing yourself mentally to handle a defensive emergency. It's also about accurately understanding how others perceive you while ruthlessly self-assessing your physical abilities and improving them as needed. If you look soft, you will be perceived as such even if you're the fastest draw in the West. If you look weak, your perceived weakness will eventually be tested by someone who guesses you would be an easy victim.

If you look like food, you will be eaten. If you look like too much effort, the would-be predator will keep looking.

Most of us would prefer to avoid a fight (I sure would), but avoiding a fight means we have to recognize and then avoid those who would do us harm. A defensive mindset, that of refusing to be a victim, requires us to do the distasteful job of seeing ourselves through an attacker's eyes.

As uncomfortable as it might feel to admit this to ourselves, our visible level of physical fitness says a lot about us. I consider a high level of physical fitness an absolute must for anyone who is serious about staying safe. And considering it's one of the few things in life we can actually control, what's stopping you? Eat better, move more, and get healthy. It could actually save your life one day.