Why shooting is definitely a sport: Q&A with an Olympic gold medalist


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Jamie Gray won the gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, in the women’s 50-meter rifle three position category. Photo by Tim Hipps/U.S. Army IMCOM

Shooting is sometimes overlooked as a sport, but it takes more than just squeezing a trigger to be a good shooter. So what exactly are the physical demands of shooting? Hellawella sought out answers from a pro: 2012 Olympic gold medalist in women’s 50-meter rifle three position Jamie Gray.

What makes shooting a sport?
There are many different ways to define sport, which makes this question quite difficult. Shooting takes lots of mental and physical preparation to be great, which is the case in any sport, regardless of how one defines “sport.”

What are the physical demands of shooting?
Shooting is a precision sport and takes great balance, as well as endurance. Shooting is a static sport, so when we have an injury, it tends to be more from doing the same thing over and over again. We put our bodies in unnatural positions, which takes a toll on the body physically. In rifle and shotgun shooting, one is holding a 10- to 14-pound rifle for extended periods of time. Where this doesn’t take a huge amount of strength it does take endurance. In pistol shooting, one is holding their arm out in front of them for extended periods of time while holding a 5- to 10-pound gun. Shooting is a precision sport; therefore, having a lower heart rate can be an advantage. This is where cardiovascular exercise can come into play.

How do members of the U.S. Olympic shooting team train?
This depends a little bit on who you talk to and how they train. We typically spend about three to six hours on the range, which consists of working on your shooting techniques (e.g., position, triggering and hold). Outside of the range, there is time spent doing some kind of cardiovascular exercise (swimming, running and cycling are common) and mental training (visualization, muscle relaxation and mindful meditation are some examples) and strengthening (weight training, thera-band training or body weight exercises). All together anywhere from four to eight hours of the day is focused on something that is advancing the body or mind for shooting. We also have to make sure the guns we are shooting are performing to our standards so there is some time spent on testing. (This varies between shooting sports and individuals, but guns are tested about once a month in general.)

Gray in action at the 2012 London Games. Photo by Tim Hipps/U.S. Army IMCOM

What are the common workouts for specific areas of shooting, such as archery, clay and pistol?
For rifle shooting, cardio is very popular, as well as some weight training focused more on toning the muscles rather than getting bigger. For rifle, there is a custom suit you wear, and there are many regulations on it; therefore, if you grow, the suit could actually become illegal. There is also a lot of time spent on balance exercises and focus on the balance muscles. Back injuries are common in rifle shooting, so there is focus on the core as well.

For pistol shooting there is a little more emphasis on strengthening the shoulders and grip. Cardio and balance are also quite important in pistol shooting.

I am not quite sure specifically what archery shooters work on since we don’t really spend any time with the archery team, but I would think they do very similar workouts as a pistol shooter. They are having to hold the bow up with muscle; therefore, those muscles must be strong and have good endurance. Also, in archery, you are having to draw, so having strong arms and shoulders would seem to help. Of course, balance is an integral part.

For shotgun shooting, reaction time is very important. This can be practiced on the range but also off the range. The shoulders are important to strengthen and maintain, especially since shoulder injuries are common.

I would say many of the workouts are pretty similar as far as cardio and balance go, and then each discipline has some specific areas where they can strengthen and concentrate on what pertains to their sport more than another.

In addition to winning the gold, Gray set two Olympic records. According to the Associated Press, her final score was 691.9 points, topping the previous total Olympic mark of 690.3 set by China’s Du Li at the 2008 Beijing Games. Gray’s qualifying score was 592, also an Olympic record, besting the 589 set by Renata Mauer-Rozanska of Poland at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Visit USAshooting.org to learn more about Gray.