The first casualty of ageing? Flexibility. However, these exercises – which take just seven minutes to do each morning – should improve suppleness in no time
Concerned that you are becoming the rustiest bit of kit on the peg? Fitness, strength and flexibility are crucial for shooting, but suppleness is an early casualty of age and work. Julia Bridges recommends 6 easy shooting exercises, which take just seven minutes, to improve your flexibility for the season.
Keeping yourself fit for shoot day is one thing, knowing what to do once on the peg is quite another. For words of wisdom from 26-time world champion George Digweed, read how to shoot pheasants like George Digweed.
6 EASY SHOOTING EXERCISES
Into the New Year and the birds are in fine fettle. The 4×4 is standing up to the terrain, the gun is sparkling – courtesy of the latest cleaning potion – and you are sporting a splendid new pair of socks. But wait. Your equipment is up together but are you the rustiest bit of kit on the peg? A bit of work spent on your own machinery will add grace and fluidity to your performance in the field. If we consider the physical elements required for the average shooting god or goddess, then fitness, strength and flexibility will be high on the wish list.
Of these, flexibility is an early casualty of age and work practice. Anyone who has ever tried to shoot with too many clothes on under a tight coat notices that bringing the gun up is cumbersome and that the swing range is restricted, to the detriment only of the tail feathers of the bird cruising by. Think about your own muscular coat, shrunk onto you by hours of unremitting computer work and driving miles to shooting estates sited at inconvenient ends of the country. Let’s do some benchmarking to see how shrunk this muscular coat of yours really is.
EXERCISE 1: CHECKING SWING
Stand with your back against a wall and put up an imaginary gun to a 45-degree angle in front of you. Swing to your left and check your range of movement by noting which part of the room that you are pointing towards at the end of this movement. Repeat to the right. If your range is the same both sides you are probably under 12 and you’ve still got acne to look forward to. For most mortals, movement to the opposite side of the outstretched arm will be more difficult – right rotation for right handers. Translate this to a field performance and
you really do not want to be slowing down as you swing through.
EXERCISE 2: BEGINNING TO REMEDY
Now for the remedy. One hesitates to use the word exercise, as this conjures up images of Lycra and the odour of muscle rubs and burning martyr. This approach is more a targeted oiling of the joints rather than using a crowbar on them. As with most things, “bull in china shop” and “good result” are mutually exclusive. What better way to ease yourself into a routine than while still in bed. On the basis of mind/body synchronicity, or even just for fun, a quick burst of poetry on opening the eyes is an excellent way to start.
Omar Khayyam touches the spot:
“Awake, for morning in the Bowl of Night
Has cast the stone that puts the stars to flight
And Lo, the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s turret in a noose of light”.
Already you are in hunting mode. Now, while lying on your back, head supported comfortably by a pillow, point the toes down and up five times and then spell out your full name with your toes. Too bad if it’s double barrelled. Your forefathers should have been more considerate. This routine should abolish or at least mitigate the three-pace shuffle so characteristic of the over-55s on rising from their beds.
EXERCISE 3: AN ELEMENT OF ROTATION
Now to work on the swing. An element of rotation will be spinal. If you look at the vertebrae rather like beads spinning on a string, if you ram the beads up together, which will happen if you drive for three hours without stopping, the individual bead movement is severely limited. A general stretch will restore a little spinal mobility. Still lying on your back – you don’t want to overdo it – bring your knees to your chest and hold them there with your hands, trying to keep the shoulders relaxed. Take a deep breath in and as you breath out, encourage the knees to come a little closer to your chest. Do this five times. You now have a bit of length in the string. Next, introduce some twist. With your knees up and feet flat on the surface of the bed, roll the knees in a controlled fashion 45 degrees to the side. Hold it there briefly and then roll to the other side. Do this five times.
EXERCISE 4: UPPER BODY WORK
Now for some upper body work to loosen that tight-fitting muscle coat. Here, the shoulder joint is the main player but the shoulder blade and the upper part of the spine are the unsung heroes. Standing with the feet apart, in line with your hips, take both arms out to the side and hold for three seconds. Then bring the arms down to the sides and out to the front in a smooth swing and hold for three seconds. Reverse this to end up with the arms outstretched to the sides again. Repeat five times. You can incorporate some leg work by going up on your toes as your arms go forward and dropping the heels back down as you take them back out to the sides.
EXERCISE 5: INCREASE YOUR SCOPE
Unless you are sticking to a horizontal line, unlikely to find much favour with your neighbour on the next peg, now is the time to increase your scope above the skyline. With the right arm by your side, raise the left arm to the ceiling. Slide the right arm down the side of the body and gently push the left arm over the head, while letting the head drop carefully to the side. Straighten up again. Do this five times and then do the same thing going down to the left. Repeat both exercises and marvel at the already improved flexibility.
EXERCISE 6: LEG SWINGS
While standing, hold on to the back of a chair or something at waist height for support. Put the other hand on the hip – not a good look admittedly but you are unlikely to be in a public space. Swing your leg forward and backwards five times, taking care on the backward swing as this can nip some of the tediously vulnerable lower lumbar joints. Then, put feet together and raise the leg out to the side and back to the ground five times. Try to keep your abdominal muscles contracted to achieve the ever-elusive “core stability”. Turn around and repeat the exercise on the other side. Start this one over again and note how much easier it is the second time.
Unless you stick to shooting in Norfolk and, of course, always shoot out in front, neck mobility can be a bit of an issue. Looking up at extreme range produces a phenomenon referred to by Billy Best, who provides high drives in North Wales, as “Vivod neck”. It squashes the little joints at the back of the neck, which are generally a bit tatty anyway, with age, car accidents and falls from horses.
There are better ways to achieve a backward arc than enthusiastic neck wobbling, when the ensuing grating noises give the impression of sand in the joints and the chances of straining something are high. The earlier routines will help neck movement, to a certain extent, as many of the shoulder muscles run up to the head and neck and if they are tight, they squeeze up the joints like tight guy ropes on a tent pole. If you can distribute some of the arching back through the rest of your spine, pelvis and hips, it will take the load off this much-abused region.
A SIMPLE, SEVEN-MINUTE ROUTINE
This really has taken only seven minutes. The time it takes to listen to Thought for the Day and the news headlines on BBC Radio 4. If you go back to your benchmarking a few days down the line (or even directly after the exercises), you will be surprised at how much easier the end of that swing range feels.
If any of these movements are actually painful, there are any number of musculoskeletal specialists out there who can give your machinery a little more targeted mobility. An occasional MOT, much as one gets from the dentist and the garage, is not a bad idea. If you have metal work, zips or broken bits from exposure to fast cars and horses, tailor-made exercises might be of added value.
However, in the general run of things, this simple, seven-minute way to greet the day has got to be worth it for the ease, grace and fluidity with which you dispatch the “bath bird” – the one that you remember while you are enjoying a soak at the end of the day.