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Last weekend I shot the 3-Gun Nation Southeast Regional Championship in Clinton, SC. The match included a variety of stage designs and terrain – everything from close-and-fast stages in bays, to a shotgun jungle run through the woods, to a 50-yard sprint up a hill. It tested the shooter’s ability to quickly blast targets at distances of three yards, and to precisely reach out and touch targets at 300 yards – sometimes within the same stage. It tested the shooter’s mental ability to break down and execute a complicated stage plan, and it also tested a shooter’s fitness . . .

Due to the widely varied nature of the match’s challenges, the match can be likened to Crossfit. For those who may not be familiar with Crossfit, the official definition is “constantly varied, high intensity functional movement.” Crossfit workouts vary in style, length, and movements on a daily basis; the only repeat workouts are benchmarks that can be used to track an athlete’s progress. The workouts punish the specialist and seek to forge the most well-rounded athletes in the world, who are prepared for the unknown and the unknowable tests of fitness. Anything, anytime, anywhere.

Similarly, this new style of 3-gun represented in the 3-Gun Nation Regional Series punishes the specialist and requires shooters to be proficient in a wide variety of shooting disciplines and styles in order to be successful. And the fact that the stages aren’t published ahead of time means that shooters have to be prepared for anything when they arrive. There is no time to work on weaknesses, only time to put up your best game based on your preparation beforehand.

I placed 80th out of 184 in Tactical Optics, which to the best of my recollection is my highest finish at a major 3-gun match. While a certain amount of my success is due to increased dry fire and actual trigger time in practice, I attribute a large portion of my success this past weekend to Crossfit.  How?

Here are five ways that Crossfit makes me a better shooter.

  • Performance under stress.  Every Crossfit workout is performed on the clock with lots of people watching.  When I first started, I’d get extremely nervous before each workout as I was concerned how my performance would stack up against my classmates.  Over time, I got comfortable hearing the coach yell “3, 2, 1, go!” before the clock beep.  Then I started competing in Crossfit in front of much bigger crowds and the nervousness started all over again.  Again, with time and experience, I learned to control the nervous energy and channel it into productive output in competition.  The same applies to shooting – once that buzzer goes off, all of your nervous energy is either going to help you or hurt you.  Since I’ve learned to control it in the gym, my nervous energy almost always works in my favor on the range.
  • Core and upper body strength.  This one is pretty obvious, and is especially focused on my fellow lady shooters!  You can’t run your guns if they are running you, and you can’t run your guns if you are weak in your core and upper body.  My FNH USA SCAR 16S weighs 7.25 pounds empty; add an extended rail, scope with mount, and a full magazine, and that beast easily tops 10 pounds.  For many men, this isn’t a tough weight to handle, but for many ladies, this is a significant amount to heft around with any sort of efficacy.  It has only been through the thousands of pullups, pushups, overhead presses, and slamballs I’ve performed at Crossfit that I’ve developed the upper body strength needed to wield my SCAR.  Furthermore, the toes-to-bar, GHD situps, and barbell rollouts have given me the core strength I need both to absorb my shotgun recoil and to make quick, precise transitions from target to target.  Crossfit made me strong, and that strength keeps me in control on the range.
  • Cardio/respiratory endurance.  Last weekend, stage 6 featured a number of pistol targets shot at close distances while running up a hill.  The shooter then picked up their rifle and sprinted to a barricade, where they engaged a total of 11 rifle targets from 100 – 300 yards.  All told, the shooter ran approximately 75 yards.  Many shooters arrived at the barricade just flat-out sucking wind.  They were unable to control their heart rate and breathing from a standing position, so were forced to go prone or kneel off the barricade.  The targets were spread out over a very broad portion of the horizon, punishing those shooters who needed more stable positions because they had to adjust their whole body multiple times to make the full sweep of the targets.  On the other hand, I arrived at the barricade with my heart rate and breathing barely elevated.  I was able to brace off the barricade in a standing position, which made it much quicker for me to transition from target to target.  I controlled my breathing and only required 3 extra shots for the 11 targets.  I finished 25th overall on that stage not because I’m an excellent rifle shooter, but because I have excellent cardiovascular fitness. 
  • Coordination and agility.  Crossfit movements are complex movements that involve more than one body part moving at a time.  Some of the most challenging Crossfit movements are actually the Olympic lifts, the clean & jerk and the snatch.  These lifts require an explosive upward movement from the lifter’s feet to his hips to his shoulders, followed by a rapid downward drop under the bar, and are finished with a rock solid catch that freezes the bar in place.  If you’ve ever watched an elite Olympic lifter, you understand the grace with which these lifts can be completed; if you’ve ever seen a new Olympic lifter, you understand the soup sandwich that results from a complete lack of coordination and agility.  The same with shooting.  Experienced shooters are able to do multiple things at once:  shooting while moving, dumping a shotgun while drawing a pistol, reloading while running, changing direction rapidly, and precisely sticking a position.
  • Pursuit of excellence.  Crossfit is renowned for its soul-crushing workouts.  But Crossfit is also famous for its competitive atmosphere.  Crossfitters always strive for their own personal best, and seek to bring out the best in the others around them.  Crossfit has instilled in me the understanding that there’s no such thing as “good enough.”  There is always a new skill that can be mastered or an existing skill that can be performed at a higher weight. This mindset bleeds over into my shooting practice, because I’m never satisfied with where my skill level is at right now.  My reloads can always be faster; my splits can always be quicker; my target transitions can always be more precise.  I can always be more excellent tomorrow than I am today.

Are you looking to improve your performance in the shooting sports? Take up the Sport of Fitness. While there is no substitute for time behind the trigger for improving your actual shooting skills, the benefits that Crossfit brings to the range are unmatched by any other fitness program. Get out there and get moving in 3, 2, 1, go!

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64 Responses to Why Crossfit Makes Me a Better Shooter

  1. I despise crossfit. I like the underlying ideas and I think that the lack of specialization is a wonderful thing. But they go about it in an extremely dangerous way. It’s all times and there is a huge emphasis on doing as many reps as you can. That would be fine, except that most of the exercises are done with weights (significant amounts if the person is strong enough). Form is critical when dealing with weights, and poor form can lead to severe injuries.

    Naturally, form will be sacrificed for speed. All of this can be mitigated with so wine watching you closely, sure, but the mentality is fundamentally wrong. It doesn’t help that crossfit members have a similar mentality to the incredibly confrontational founder of the movement, basically that if you get injured, it’s because you’re weak an so you deserve it.

    It works incredibly well for those who are lucky enough to avoid injury, but every time you do a crossfit class, you risk destroying your body, and the risk only increases as you get stronger and use more weight. That, coupled with the atrocious mentality with regard to injuries, means that crossfit is dangerous and not worth it.

    • Crossfit would be great if it were not for the corner-cutting on proper form. I’ve actually done their “workout of the day” before when I can’t run due to inclement weather or something. I’ve always kept proper form and not worried about how fast I’m doing it, though. It’s pretty hard stuff, but the emphasis on reps over form is unacceptable.

      But yea, physical fitness should be just as important as marksmanship if you want to survive a violent attack or a SHTF situation, or just compete in 3-gun matches.

    • I agree with this 100%. My BS is in Exercise Science and I am a long-time fitness enthusiast. The truth is any long term cross fitter has probably heard jokes about “Uncle Rhabdo”. This is in reference to rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition involving rapid destruction of skeletal muscle. Normally rhabdo only occurs as a rare complication in cancer treatments, traumatic injuries, etc. However, there is an increased incidince of near-epidemic proportions among crossfit participants due to the push-through-the-pain mentality. This leads to more muscle breakdown than the body can repair, and subsequent intense workouts further the damage. Bits of you that should be inside muscle cells end up outside of them when your cells rupture, and this leads to (among other things) kidney failure. And you can die.

      Don’t get me wrong- pushing yourself is the only way to improve. But the body can only adapt so fast. So, Fitness= good. functional, multi-joint fitness programs= great. Competitive, self-motivated functional fitness programs = awesome. But know your limits, listen to your body, and don’t get caught up in the crossfit mentality. /rant

      • When I went through Navy OCS (Officer Candidate School) there were always 2 or 3 people in each class that would get Rhabdo. I am no SEAL, but I have done a two day workout with SEALs and I have done a few crossfit workouts…the crossfit workout was a cakewalk in comparison. I could barely move for a week following the SEAL workout.

    • it depends how you do it. lots of folks are of the mindset where crossfit is a competition with the other folks at the gym. The competition is between you and the weight. no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day, 200 lbs is always going to be 200 lbs. But there is no reason why you can’t perform repetitions to the point where you start to loose form instead of the point of not being able to continue when using heavy weights. repetitions to the point of exhaustion would be limited to light weights and body weight exercises.

      limited risk of severe injury and still a great workout.

    • “All of this can be mitigated with so wine watching you closely”

      So, wine! 😀 I’m watching wine age as I write this. It doesn’t have much aging potential, and will be gone by the time THE WALKING DEAD is over, tomorrow night.

      She has nice back and shoulder musculature, and I dig shoulders and backs (on women) a whole bunch.

      But crossfit training for shooting? To paraphrase Yogi Berra, shooting is 50% physical and 90% mental. Crossfit’s fine, I reckon, if you don’t hurt yourself, but I struggle with seeing the connection with good shootin’… It’s nice and all to be a great shot; I enjoy seeing Hickock 45 shoot the hell out of whatever, and it’s obvious HE doesn’t do that sort of training… all I really want to do is hit my target, whatever that may happen to be.

      But keep those nice shoulders and backs a-comin’, by all means.

    • I joined a hybrid crossfit gym in dallas that has really worked to correct the problems you mentioned. They might start the class with squats, deadlifts, or other heavier weight exercises, but they emphasize proper form over weight. These exercises are also not recorded. They do timed stuff later, but it’s mostly body weight dynamic movements or ultra high intensity with lighter weights. They constantly work to make sure no one gets injured because as they say themselves, that’s the bad part about crossfit.

    • As someone trying to make a living in physical therapy I love crossfit. or I should say it will keep pt’s in business. I would never recommend it to anyone. Just because something is hard and wears you out does not mean it is good. Risk vs reward. However I do recommend exercising.I don’t think we will see any studies saying crossfit is the best option.

    • As someone who has been working out for going on 35 years: Stronglifts 5×5 is near as perfect a workout routine as anyone could hope for. Just add a few sessions of cardio per week.

  2. Yeah, no crossfit for me either. Here in the heart of the OC, the crossfit demo is bros, more bros, broettes, and MMeatheads. The parking lot looks like a monster truck rally.

    • It really is terrible, huh? Normal gyms are just marginally better, I swear I’m the only one there working to stay fit rather than just look good. Plus I tend to like sleeves on my shirts.

  3. I stared Crossfit many years ago,had to make my own wallball, buy my own Kettlebells and lug them to the gym where nobody ever heard of crossfit……..

    It’s far more then just the met con workouts of the classes. If someone is just doing that,they are not doing crossfit.

    Form is key and crossfit always stressed form. Look at the old videos from Glassman .

  4. I can see how Crossfit can make you a better competitor, no matter what your sport. So might ballet, Brazilian ju-jitsu, pickup basketball, mountain biking or any other fitness regime that increases strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. Sport is sport. Except if the sport is pocket billiards or chess.

  5. I like tennis for IDPA cross training. It develops explosive speed from a standing position, build the shoulders and forearms, as well as the quads and calves. If I’m not shooting; I’m either running, cycling, or playing tennis.

    Really, any other physical activity will work. The squads are usually full of fat (70+lbs overweight) smokers. Of course I like the physically demanding stage with the max movement per the rule book.

    • I’m totally with tennis as cross-training for shooting sports. What else requires the footwork while independently making accurate shots? Singles tennis at a high level provides excellent sprint-form cardio as well. Hit steadily for half-an-hour with three or four cans of balls and a good partner, and pure cardio results. Or did I just watch I-Spy as a kid?

  6. i am young and can run a sub 5 min mile, can bench press more than my own body weight, and work out for 40+min a day for 5 or 6 days a week. now i just need to practice shooting more than once every month.

  7. Go for it, Karla. Fitness can only help. But don’t try to win both events, CrossFit and 3Gun: Winning at 3Gun is an accomplishment. “Winning” at CrossFit, as founder Greg Glassman knows, can simply ruin your body due to rhabdomyolysis. If you don’t actually suffer kidney damage, you may still find torn muscle is replaced by fatty scar tissue. Permanently. Many experts think tying weight-lifting to the clock is a mistake with no fitness benefit. Lifting weights is good. Lifting them for speed can be dangerous.

    Beware of accute rhabdomyolysis, the breakdown and death of muscle cells that leak myoglobin into the blood stream leading to kidney damage.

  8. As a former Illinois State weightlifting champion (1977!) perhaps I can shed a little light on Crossfit. No way I would use overheard exercises(snatch,clean&jerk,puhpress,etc. as the core of fitness. I wrecked my elbow,back,knees etc. I do like strong capable women though. I still workout & see various lunatics doing Crossfit in my gym(with bad form). I do think fears of permanent muscle damage (rhabdosis) are WAY overblown. The human body is remarkably adaptable. Whatever…you’re only going to keep up crazy intensity for so long. I could still lift enormous weights at 50 but not at 60.

    • To the intensity that MOST people do crossfit probably won’t do any damage. Also helps to find a gym where the trainers aren’t nut jobs. It varies of course like all things.

  9. I’m sure Crossfit and 3-gun go together like peanut butter and jelly, but actually having to kill someone is all about mindset and fine motor skills.

    There is no substitute for being fit, but at the same time someone who is relatively out of shape can be a more effective killer than an athlete, at least with a firearm. This is why many people hate guns so much in my opinion, because they feel like firearms violate some kind of natural order. In a sense, they do just that.

  10. Some crossfit is inherently destructive. The flying pull-ups, in particular, contributed to a significant wrist sprain. That was after it ripped the calluses off of my left hand. We had a gung-ho crossfit coordinator at work who subsequently injured himself and gained about 35 pounds. He had to buy new uniforms.

    I would suggest a good chiropractor or physically fit doctor to advise you on your fitness needs. Some personal trainers are just flat – out morons. High impact workouts are great for young folks, but can destroy joints and cause permanent injuries over time. So also can excessive weightlifting. Lifelong fitness is a laudable goal, especially since heart disease and such are always lurking, and no gun can defend you from that.

    • About ‘life long fitness’: At the age of 62 I can tell you that if you overdo impact and joint stress when you are young, you stand a good chance of paying a price in your fifties and sixties. Some examples: I have three life-long friends who did SF PT everyday until their early fifties. Each has serious knee problems. My tennis club’s best players (based on their junior and college rankings when young) have major joint problems, and are getting new knees and hips in their late fifties and sixties.

      High fitness is good. Injuries are bad. The guys you see that are monster in their twenties and thirties will likely not be so monster in their fifties and sixties. Just my anecdotal observation.

      OK, I really want to know: How much high-impact train-to-exhaustion training did Michelek do in his early years. The guy obviously has no major joint problems.

        • Just a guess, Special Forces- no idea what such a workout would involve, but whatever it is, there would probably be a lot of it.

      • I got hit in my left knee by a car (while crossing at a green light!) when I was 56, was on crutches for 14 weeks (and PT most of those), and now BOTH my knees are a wreck. The right one gives me more trouble than the left one.

  11. @jwm
    haha, i can’t run 1,000 fps so a gun can still be handy. and there are many i can’t snap like a matchstick. i have no martial arts training, and I’m skinny. (but i can bench my skinny weight)

  12. I dont quite get how simply varying your training/workouts became a special thing loaded with special people.

    Lift, run, jump. Its been that way since the dawn of time but now its “crossfit” and kewl for 1337 oper8terz.

    Marketing is a helluva thing I guess.

    • I think part of it is the fact that crossfit kind of puts them together more than most other workout plans.

  13. Great post. Back in the day, and in the best shape I have ever been in, I was doing the Nautilus rounds (very old school these days but it worked great) and playing racquetball (talk about eye hand coordination) three times a week both.

    Off topic, You mentioned dry firing and trigger time. What trigger mods if any are in your rifle. I’m asking because I just installed an American Trigger Corporation’s Gold trigger in my rifle and it is outstanding. I did so because of all the great reviews and also because in one of them I read that Jerry Mickulek won the Nationals using it. Not that this is any indication of the quality of the trigger because Jerry is an alien from a planet called “IMissNotWhatever”.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Since I run the SCAR, trigger options are limited: You’ve got the single-stage Timney or the two-stage Geissele available.

      For AR-15s, there are a lot of guys on the 3-gun circuit who are running Timneys now. Hiperfire has recently come on very strong as well.

  14. I am always amazed at how people act like Crossfit is some new thing. I discovered the equivalent naturally back as a teenager: gymnastics/bodyweight training, training with weights, flexibility training, cardiovascular training, etc…you try to gain some level of proficiency in all of them to be truly fit. But then someone named it “Crossfit” and it became some big thing, albeit mass-produced and in an unscientific and unsafe manner.

  15. Thanks for the article. A vastly larger number of shooters die of conditions related to zero physical training than too much. Use common sense and you’ll do fine.

  16. Fitness is good… Whether through crossfit or other sports, I think everyone can find something. Besides the obvious benefit for 3 gun competition, I find exercise is a chance to build physical and mental toughness. If you’re gonna carry

  17. I appreciated how well-written and thoughtful this article was. Thanks for the contribution and keep them coming!

  18. Crossfit must be the opposite of Fight Club, because apparently the first rule of crossfit is “never shut the fuck up about crossfit”

  19. I like the workouts. I hate cross fitters. I built a simple gym in my garage for about 8 months worth of a CF membership. Worth every penny to not hear people doing crossfit talk about how much they love crossfit.

  20. {shrug} Haters gonna hate. I do Crossfit, and I absolutely get my ass kicked at most workouts. You know what? It’s worth it, because after a year-plus I still haven’t lost interest and I’m in better shape than at any point in the last 25 years.

    It’s also been a huge boost to my ability to shoot competitively. So there’s that.

    I’ve had calluses tear off, but I learned how to take care of my hands so that doesn’t happen. I get sore after heavy workouts, but nothing like the first few months after I started.

    Don’t like it? Don’t do it. Want a challenging fitness program that will never, ever be boring? Try Crossfit for six months at an actual gym with trained coaches and see what it does for you.

    • Exactly this. CF is legit. No really please tell me about how dropping 100 pounds and being in the best shape of life is hurting me. I ran a marathon last year without doing anything but CrossFit. CF has made me more focused at everything I do. As AlphaGeek has said: Don’t like it? Don’t do it.

  21. I can’t bring myself to pay $100 a month to work out when I use the great outdoors as my gym, rain or shine.

  22. Karla,

    You inspire me to no end. I wish I could have been there for you in your time of need. Thank you for continuing to write and motivate others to pursue their dreams. You are my inspiration and am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to have met and worked with you in the past.

    Bill T in Hawaii

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