4 ways that target shooting is like Pilates

Mat Pilates
Source: Sally / Flickr
Shooting 50m prone rifle
Source: Conor McDermottroe / Flickr
Target shooting: kind of like Pilates.... except with guns

Pilates is an exercise designed to align the body and mind. It focuses on centering through the body's "powerhouse" - the core muscles around one's torso. The benefits of this method is now well known in modern wellness circles, but it's been around since the 1920s.

Target shooting is a very varied sport, with dozens of difference disciplines that each focus on slightly different skillsets, such as accuracy and speed.

At first glance, it seems like the two are nothing alike. But as a practitioner of both activities, there have been many times that I've been struck by how much they have in common....

Pilates on a reformer
Source: Darlene / Flickr
1. Awkward looking positions!
On more than occasion whilst undertaking a Pilates class, I have found myself in the kind of slightly embarrassing position that one is normally only subjected to during unpleasant medical procedures! It took a little while for me to get over myself and stop worrying about what the other class members thought of the sight of my lycra-clad butt while my legs were spread-eagled in the straps of a reformer, or the proximity of my shoeless feet to my neighbours' noses, after a hard day at work, in a crowded class!

Several styles of shooting involve engaging targets above, under or around barriers. This requires you to choose a stance that feels the most comfortable and stable to shoot from, although sometimes it's difficult to achieve that, especially when the stages are designed by tall men! Admittedly, some of the poses you end up in are not ones you would post as your profile photo on Facebook (unless you want all your non-shooting friends to comment "What on earth are you doing in that picture?!"), but before long you forget all that when it's time to knock down those targets.

Action shooting stages sometimes force you into awkward spots!
Source: Ole P. Erlandsen / Flickr
2. It's all about the breathing
In both Pilates and target shooting - especially precision shooting - it is true to say that you will perform much better if you are conscious of your breath, and control it. While the breathing patterns used are very different in the two activities (and even between shooting disciplines), the concept is the same - success depends your ability to use your breath effectively.

Mat Pilates looks easy, but it requires great concentration and precision of movement
Source: Sally / Flickr
3. Precision, precision, precision
One of the fundamentals of Pilates practice is precision of movement. The smallest errors in positioning your body can mean that the full benefits of a given exercise are lost. This is why Pilates instructors put so much effort into learning effective cueing techniques. Your instructor cannot always see for themselves whether you have correctly engaged a particular muscle (hello, pelvic floor!), so they must find ways of effectively communicating what to do, so you can self-monitor.

In precision shooting disciplines, and to a lesser extent with action shooting (where the distances are usually shorter), the smallest error in your aim can mean that you miss the target completely, especially at distances of 50m, 100m or 200m.

Engaging multiple targets around no-shoots under a time pressure is tricky
Source: Ole P. Erlandsen / Flickr
4. It's not as easy as it looks!
Some people think of Pilates as a very gentle form of exercise, only suitable for rehabilitation of injuries or pregnant women. I have two things to say to this: 1. That's SO not true, and 2. They are missing the point! Pilates is difficult to do - if you're doing it right. But it's not about strength so much as control. Each exercise requires engagement of very specific muscle groups, as well as integration of proper breathing, focus and flow. Many of the exercises work to strengthen supporter muscles that help your major muscle groups do their jobs more effectively, and aid in preventing injury. Not to mention that many a Pilates practitioner has woken up sore after an intense studio session!

Similarly, to shoot well you must bring together all of the fundamentals, including perfecting stance, grip, sight alignment, mental focus, breathing and trigger control. If there is a weakness in any one area, you may not shoot consistently well. For time-based action shooting competitions you also need to have a strategy for each stage, and it must flow smoothly, to avoid time penalties.

Pilates and target shooting are both challenging and enjoyable activities, requiring great skill to perform well. If you haven't tried either yet, I highly recommend that you make time to give them both a go. Certainly, practicing Pilates will help your shooting no matter which discipline you participate in!

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