The Goal

The Goal

Thursday, 16 February 2017

What have shooting jackets ever done for us?

A member of the UK Fullbore Facebook Page recently asked a superb question, which I paraphrase below:

Isn't the shooting jacket just a convenient place to attach your sling?

Personally,  I really hope not, otherwise I have wasted a serious amount of cash over the years which could have been better spent on bullets or beer; however the questioner has actually got a bit of a point. What do jackets actually do for us and quite why do we spend so much money on them? First, an experiment...

SCATT Practice in the garage. Hard to see from this angle, but the jacket is completely undone.

If you're a regular reader, it cannot have escaped your attention that I like experimental evidence because it tells us the way the world really works, and not how people believe that it should work. In this case, I wanted to see what effect completely undoing my jacket would have on SCATT as some smallbore shooters are known to do in the prone position. As an experiment to see what effect this has on support and stability*, this was done completely on a whim so I don't pretend that it is statistically valid, but it is at least interesting.

While the group was slightly larger, the vital numbers are essentially no different, even taking account of the odd third shot in the second string, as the screen captures of the SCATT sessions below demonstrate.

Ignore shot 3 in the second string. Probably interference.

 Qualitatively, the hold did not feel as secure without the jacket done up, and certainly when not on final aim it did seem to wave about quite a bit. Additionally, the butt of the rifle was harder to place in the shoulder and I don't feel that it would have behaved quite the same under recoil; however this is essentially conjecture without a trial. In conclusion, despite the results from SCATT being essentially indistinguishable I won't be shooting with my jacket undone any time soon!

So, what have shooting jackets ever done for us?

In addition to being an excellent place to attach your sling and make sure that it stays roughly in the same place relative to your musculo-skeletal system, your jacket fulfils a number of other functions in fullbore rifle shooting: it provides support and allows you to maintain the proper position for longer and more consistently as a result; the rubber on the elbows and in the shoulder prevent you from slipping between shots or while in the aim; the stiffness and thickness of the material helps soak up a little bit of the recoil, which reduces fatigue, and it helps to isolate the rifle from your heartbeat; and finally it gives you some protection from the elements that we have to endure when shooting outdoors.

It is possible to shoot decent scores without using a full shooting jacket; I remember forgetting my jacket many years ago, improvising with a greatcoat and a belt as slingkeeper and shooting a 35.5 at 300 yards; AP of Australia won the Corporation of the City of London match at 1000 yards with a score of 50.9 (dropping his last shot to a cooking bull, no less) in 2016 using a harness-like arrangement sold by a well-known UK shooting tailor. Despite this, I would suggest that your scores are going to be more consistent using a well-fitting jacket of roughly conventional design.

* Yes, before you all shout at me, I know that a lot of the stability for the sling position in particular comes from the fit across the shoulders and upper arms.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Why everything you think you know about sports hydration is probably wrong

I would expect nearly most my readers to subscribe to the notions of sports hydration that I once did - as alluded to in Feelin Hot Hot Hot - and which are still repeated endlessly by many personal trainers, sports coaches, and even the medically-qualified. These boil down to three key points:
  • Drink early, drink often
  • Even tiny levels of dehydration can result in a catastrophic drop in sports performance 
  • If you're thirsty, it's already too late
Unfortunately, these principles are probably wrong and likely to result in no appreciable improvement in performance. In extreme cases (not likely in rifle shooting) they can be fatal. The best evidence-based medicine that I have seen is documented in Tim Noakes' superb book Waterlogged, the main point of which can be reduced to one simple message:

If you're thirsty, drink. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

In endurance sports, there is evidence from Triathlons in New Zealand and South Africa, and footraces in South Africa to suggest that the best performances are associated with higher levels of dehydration*. Further yet, there is significant evidence to suggest that there is no link between even moderate levels of dehydration and hyperthermia**. Going even further than this, the issuance of guidelines for athletes by the American College of Sports Medicine*** that they should "drink as much as is tolerable" is likely to have directly contributed to the rise in fatalities from exercise-associated hyponatraemia and exercise-associated hyponatraemia encephalopathy**** which were essentially unknown until the early 80s when the hydration fad started. In summary, the best evidence currently available says that athletes should drink to thirst. Evidence to the contrary is surprisingly limited, quite often flawed and mostly sponsored by the sports drink industry.

OK, that's great for marathons and triathlons but what about shooting?

As far as I am aware there has been no real study on hydration and performance in shooting sports for me to draw on. Most of the things I have managed to find online have quoted general guidelines and no actual backing evidence. The key difference in the case of shooting is going to be the effect of hydration on the eyes; however if you're drinking to thirst then I would suggest that this is unlikely to be a major issue.

It's still always worth having a bottle of water on the range to sip at when you get thirsty especially in warm conditions, but there's no value in trying to drink ahead of thirst. Desperately needing to pee while on the firing point is probably also not good for performance.
* Noakes TD. Waterlogged. Chapter 2. Wyndham CH, Strydom NB. The danger of an inadequate water intake during marathon running. South African Medical Journal. 1969; 43, 893-896.

** Adolph EF, Dill DB. Observations on water metabolishm in the desert. Americal Journal of Physiology. 1938; 123, 369-378. Jardon OM. Physiologic stress, heat stroke, malignant hyperthermia - a perspective. Military Medicine. 1982; 147, 8-14. Noakes TD, Adams BA, Myburg KH. The danger of an inadequate water intake during exercise. A novel concept re-visited. Euopean Journal of Applied Physiology & Occupational Physiology. 1988; 57, 210-219.

*** Convertino, V. A.; Armstrong, L. E.; Coyle, E. F.; Mack, G. W.; Sawka, M. N.; Senay, L. C.; Sherman, W. M. (1996-01-01). "American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement". Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 28 (1): i–vii.

****Noakes TD. Waterlogged. Chapter 10. Nearman S. Drinking too much water can kill you; death of a marathon runner. Metro Competitor. 2003; 24 October. Noakes TD, Goodwin N, Rayner BI, et al. Water intoxication: A possible complication during endurance exercise. Medical Science Sports Exercise. 1985; 17, 370-375.