“Fitness is an essential part of being tactical.” Those aren’t my words – they’re the words of my shooting instructor, Jeff Gonzales at the Range Austin, and part of how he introduces his weekend long pistol classes.
Now, keep in mind that Jeff himself is an avid Crossfitter who can probably crush a handful of Brazil nuts barehanded. I am not that person. I am not Ramona Carla, Pauline Nordin, or Jillian Michaels. I’m just a 50-year-old, 137 lb. woman whose level of fitness has ranged from “pretty good” to “nearly dead” over my lifetime. Right now I’m coming back from “nearly dead” after ending up in an African hospital in July and not being allowed to exercise at all for three months afterward.
I’ve probably started or re-started fitness regimes 25 times in my life due to various illnesses and injuries, so I’m writing this as an everyday person who has often had to “begin again” when it comes to fitness, and didn’t even understand what “tactical” meant until fairly recently (apparently these days it refers to anything you do that isn’t standing still on a flat range, but please correct me if I’m wrong about that).
I think of fitness as being a combination of movement habits, diet, and mental attitude. When you haven’t been fit in a long time, doing anything that doesn’t hurt you is a perfect way to start. It can be something like a combination of walking, a gentle exercise class like yoga, swimming or water exercise, or a beginner dance class.
The big thing is to start small and try to do whatever it is regularly, a couple to three times a week. I’m a Feldenkrais teacher, so I’ve often used Feldenkrais as a way to rehabilitate from injuries and after having major surgery, since it involves small, gentle movements that free up your joints and increase your movement options.
I also just enjoy putting on music I like and dancing, which has actually been shown to increase strength and flexibility as well as being fun. Fun should be a part of fitness – it shouldn’t all be grunt work and pain.
Then, once you get into the habit of doing something regularly, it’s time to add strength. Even something as simple as a medicine or inflatable exercise ball that you can get at Academy gives you lots of options, and YouTube is an amazing resource for all kinds of workout routines from light to challenging.
For me, getting my core and back strength up is one of the big things I have to work on to stabilize my spine, prevent back injury, and help me with my shooting posture, especially when shouldering a rifle. I find that as a woman I also need to work on shoulder and grip strength to support firing hundreds of rounds in training courses without fatiguing out. Dance helps with things like unconventional shooting positions, quick transitions, and moving through space with a loaded weapon.
For core and back, I do a very, very modified version of either the program featured alongside the article “Core Myths” in the New York Times.
Both of these are pretty challenging programs, but what I’ve found is that even doing a small part of them even a couple of times a week yields massive results. Both of these have been studied pretty extensively and proven to stabilize your back, unlike a lot of abdominal-only focused programs that can actually damage your back.
I also like the TRX for strength training for core, legs, and upper body. There’s some evidence that suggests that body weight/resistance training exercise gets slightly better results than weights once you’re past 50. It’s amazing the kind of mileage you can get out of a simple system of conjoined straps. There are dozens of good TRX sequences on YouTube that you can access for free. And if weights are what you like, go for it. Both are great.
Then, there’s getting your heart rate up. Swimming, dancing, and a bit of running are all favorites here. It’s good to mix it up once in a while and do something different, too, at least for me.
Diet is probably the hardest part of fitness because you have to be consistent about it in order to get results. It just never works to eat a good diet for a week or two and then fall off. Right now I’m trying a simple approach: I buy all my food at Sprouts. It has to be real food so no junky stuff or sweets. Basic stuff: meat, vegetables, fruit and fruit juice, whole grain pasta and bread; simple foods like what we all used to eat growing up before the food industry started churning out things like turkey chipotle-flavored Doritos or whatever.
It’s been proven that having access to bad food is a huge factor in eating bad food, i.e., if it’s in front of humans we will usually eat it. I believe this is not because we are horrible, weak-willed beings, but because we are descended from about 200,000 years’ worth of hunter/gatherer DNA.
Hunter/gatherers MUST eat what’s available right when it’s available, because it sure isn’t going to be there later if you don’t. Another animal will probably take it from you. At least, that’s my theory right now.
So shopping at a place that only sells reasonably good food cuts down on those tempting, non-real food impulse buys simply because they’re not there to buy in the first place. Out of sight, out of mind so to speak. Let those other animals take those jumbo bags of flaming hot Cheetos home.
In doing research on older (as in over 70) athletes and their daily routines, I found that one thing they all had in common was that they took a daily anti-inflammatory supplement of some kind. Many of them take Zyflamend, so I added that to my vitamin regimen. It’s easier to prevent inflammation from working out than it is to bring it down after it happens, I’ve found, and all these athletes can’t be wrong, so I’m trying it out.
Obviously there’s a ton of detailed fitness and diet information out there these days, content created by professionals that’s easy to find. The big thing with fitness is that it doesn’t have to be an elite or expensive thing. It’s really more a matter of making some time to do a few things, making that time a habit, and keeping it fun for yourself. I’ve known many fit people in my life who never saw the inside of a gym or took a Roomba class. It can be done.
What do you do for fitness at every level of ability?