The Goal

The Goal

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Periodisation of Training in Fullbore Rifle Shooters

In many sports, training is very carefully periodised - that is, broken down into different phases each with a different blend of training types - to fit in with the sport's events calendar. In shooting, I think that it's probably helpful, if not quite as important as it probably is for, say, elite marathon runners, who will probably race only twice a year and whose training will peak at well over 100 miles per week. Personally, I find periodisation to be important: my results are poor if I do not train or train too little, but if I train very hard for too long a period I feel like I get stale and don't have quite the same edge or desire to compete. I think that this is primarily a mental issue and not a physical one, unlike in many other sports.

Unfortunately, there is little hard empirical evidence I have seen relating to shooting to direct us, so we must rely on judgement and a few principles to be our guide when building an annual plan. I have tried to read around the subject a little bit and pull together something that works for me; although I would be hard-pressed to prove that it is better (or worse) than another approach. Please feel free to pick what you like and discard what you disagree with; or to share what works for you in the comments section.

Building the Plan - Macrocycle, Mesocycles and Microcycles 

Training plans are generally build around a sporting year* (or macrocycle) as most sports have a competitive season centred on series of specific events in the calendar. For most shooters, this is also true and is likely to be based around the dates for the National Championships in your country, together with any other major events such as the World Long Range Championships or Commonwealth Games. In each year, there will generally be three key phases, each of which may be broken down into shorter periods of training, known as mesocycles. At the lowest level of detail are microcycles which correspond to individual weeks in your competitive year.

A fullbore macrocycle - Typical dates for transition, preparation and competition phases

Preparation - General preparation should include building up cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and endurance. Specific preparation for fullbore shooters would include equipment checking, a position rebuild and technical re-training. Typically in the UK, the preparation phase would start early in the new year** and last until April or May. The early part of the preparation phase can often be exploratory, with a lot of experimentation with new pieces equipment and tweaks to position or technique. Given the cost of livefire, I spend a lot more time doing SCATT or dryfiring to try lots of different combinations before I head to the range; however as the start of the competition phase approaches changes should become less frequent and more incremental in nature, and I would expect to do more training on the range. Similarly, emphasis should shift from general preparation to more specific competition training.

Preparation Phase - Early mesocycles focus on kit selection and dyfire, but specificity increases as the competition season approaches

Competition - During the main competitive season, which typically runs from May through to the end of September in the UK, the emphasis of training will shift to maintenance of proper technique and equipment throughout the season. I find that if I don't re-emphasise my technique with occasional SCATT or dryfiring sessions, it can sometimes drift and performance suffer slightly.

During the competitive season the focus is very much on delivering the goods at each match; however it's important to prioritise so if you need to use a competition as an extended form of training you're prepared for it. For fullbore shooters, the highest priority will usually be the national championships; however this is not always necessarily the case. If a Commonwealth Games or a GB Rifle Team tour is looming, you may need to be prepared to sacrifice your Queen's Prize or Grand Aggregate score for a higher cause***. It should be possible for you to maintain a high standard of performance throughout the competitive season if you have prepared effectively, but it may not possible to maintain absolutely the highest levels of performance; although some well known and highly-skilled shooters (also good friends) disagree with me on this point!

The easiest way to plan out the competition phase is to write down in date order, all of the matches and competitions you will be doing through the year. When I was still in the UK, a typical year would have looked something like:
  • April, Army Open Meeting
  • May, English XX Meeting
  • June, Intercounties Meeting
  • July, British Commonwealth Rifle Club Championships
  • July, Imperial Meeting
  • August, Welsh Championships
  • September, Surrey Open
  • September, Commonwealth Shooting Federation (European Division) Championships / LMRA Open
  • October, Ages Match
Typically, I would also have live-fire training weekends in between many of these competitions; however I would also often have a bit of a slowdown between the Imperial and the Welsh Open, but take a day off on the Friday before the Welsh Championships for a final bit of livefire training. This seemed to work well and allowed me to pick back up where I left off on Final Saturday. Other forms of training - SCATT, cardio, PT etc... - continue but generally at a lower intensity than during the preparation phase.

Competition Phase - Training should be very specific, but back off the volume and intensity shortly before the Imperial Meeting, or whichever competition you wish to peak at.

For those whose goals are longer-term, such as being selected for the Palma Team or Commonwealth Games things can be a bit more complicated because of selection weekends, which generally include trials in which you will want to shoot well. The same general principles apply; however these will tend to shift the relevant dates in the season. I didn't always shoot the Ages Match at the end of the year, but always looked forward to it when I did because it was a fun, relaxed shoot to wind up the seasons with. My PBs for Queen's II (150.27) and Queen's III (150.20) were shot over a particularly calm October weekend one year.

Transition -  The final, transition phase is focussed on taking time away from training and competing to rest and recover from the year's exertions. Without time away from sport, motivation to train and succeed can wither over time. Take a holiday. Lie in at the weekends. Drink some gin.

Don't forget that the next season is just around the corner, so it is also a time to think about the past seasons successes and lessons learned so you can plan your next year's campaign. Think about your kit choices in plenty of time, so you can enter your next preparation phase with the kit you think you'll be competing with in the following year.

Transition Phase - Take a break. Have a stiff G 'n' T.

On a final note, this approach has worked pretty well for me. Since moving to NZ I have not actually changed my training cycle that much because I have still shot in the Imperial Meeting every year since (and intend to in 2017) but I know that at some point I'm going to have to shift to an antipodean training cycle. I'm looking forward to a year of travelling around competitions in NZ at some point, but maybe not this year unfortunately.

* For Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes, there may also be a two or four year supercycle based around their major event.

** The start and end of the training macrocycle do not necessarily need to align with the start and end of the calendar yea.

*** I most definitely should have done this in 2014 when it became clear that my re-tailored jacket wasn't working in the run-up the the CWG. Instead of persevering in the Imperial at Bisley, I should have got on a plane to Switzerland so Martin Truttmann could've made me one of his finest jackets. The retrospectroscope is a powerful analytical tool.

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