Firearms and Fitness: You are the Operating System

Sep 25, 2023

When I was in the Marine Corps and would run into casual acquaintances or friends of friends while I was home on leave, I would be treated to stories about how they were “going to join” but didn’t for one reason or another. Yes, that is why I will never wear a USMC T-shirt or hat in public. To this day, people feel the need to tell me about how they were going to join the Marines.

That was the most common story. The other one that I encountered went something like; “Yeah, I could do that, I can shoot.” Or, “I could be in the infantry, I know how to shoot”. If they were really drunk, they would embellish; “Yeah man, I should be in the Marines, I can shoot so good they’d have to give me two guns.”

I share these stories because American men have this innate belief that; A) being born with testicles makes them great drivers, great lovers, and great shooters. I cannot attest to the driving and loving part, but I can say that being born a male does not automatically make you a good shooter. B) American men seem to believe that owning a gun somehow makes up for a complete lack of physical fitness or just good health in general.

One thing that the militaries of the world have understood for thousands of years is that it is the individual soldier that is the weapon. The sword, spear, lance, bow, musket, rifle, etc. are just tools that make the true weapon more deadly.

Regardless of which handgun (or rifle) you have purchased and how many Gucci accessories you have installed upon it, the bottomline reality is that YOU are the operating system for the gun. If the operating system is 50 pounds overweight and cannot go up a flight of stairs without stopping to take a rest, the gun cannot overcome these issues.

Every champion shooter or master shooter in the world has a fitness routine like any other athlete. I’m not saying you need to be able to run a marathon or deadlift 600 pounds, but you need to have some strength in your hands, arms, and shoulders. You should be able to kneel down to take a shot from behind cover and not need two people to help you get back up.

Hand, Arm, and Shoulder Strength

A strong grip comes from picking up heavy objects. You don’t need those spring-loaded grip things, you need to grab some steel and pick it up off of the ground repeatedly. If you are an adult male and you are not deadlifting, you need to start. To be blunt, the older you get the MORE you need to be lifting steel. Some people have deluded themselves into believing that they need to lay off the weights as they age. That thinking is the opposite of correct.

A strength training program is not just for muscles, it is for joints and ligaments and bones. Yes, bones. Taking it easy as you age leads directly to osteoporosis or a weakening of the bones. Conversely, a regular strength training routine, particularly with squatting and deadlifting, will strengthen your bones. Twenty years ago, when I was in my 30’s, a friend in his 50’s said, “If you don’t want to get osteoporosis, you need to lift heavy things.” It is not rocket surgery, it is simple human biology and science.

No, I am not saying that I have all the answers, but I have had some of the best coaches and trainers in the world in my corner. Most people ride the roller coaster of fitness. They get hard and then they fall off the wagon for some reason and get soft. Our goal needs to be that we want to be hard more than we are soft. I have gone through the soft times. When I look back, I don’t like what I see, and I resolve myself to not fall back.

When I was a police officer I injured my left shoulder fighting with and arresting some a-holes. I laid off of it and let it heal. However, everytime I thought it was healed, I would re-injure it. I was at the point where I could not do the push-up or bench press motion. This also inhibited my ability to punch out a pistol with two hands.

I was 40 years old when I experienced the injury and I thought that my days of bench pressing were behind me forever. Years later, I met Matt Reynolds and he showed me how to bench press the correct way. He started me with light weight, but we focused on correct form, as close to perfect as I could make it. Matt put me on a Linear Progression program where I would lift a bit more every time until I was lifting more than I ever had been.

Now, I am in my fifties and I do both overhead presses and bench presses every week. I never had surgery, as some people suggested, and that injury has been gone for years. Our bodies don’t need us to lie around and take it easy, our bodies need us to make them strong.

Handguns require management. The stronger your support system, the better the handgun can function. That’s why a gun will sometimes shoot “differently” with two shooters. It’s not the gun, it’s the “operating system”.

Handguns are simple machines. Every handgun comes out of the factory with inherent accuracy built in. The difference between two people using two identical pistols is not the gun, the difference is the operating system. Is your operating system strong or weak?

Strength training should have three components: simple, hard, and effective. It does not have to be complex to be effective, but it does need to be hard. As I have studied strength training, I have found that it parallels firearms training very closely. A lot of people will dabble in both. If I can offer one piece of advice it is this, you are worth the investment in the time and effort. Get training, get coaching and get stronger today. Remember that you are the operating system.

— Paul G. Markel

Markel is Host/Producer of Student of the Gun

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