Training As We Age
By Ralph Mroz
I’ve often said you don’t carry a gun to save your life — we all lose ours eventually. Rather you carry one to prolong it. Well, congratulations: you didn’t die young. And if you’ve taken care of yourself you’re probably in better shape at your age than Grandma and Grandpa. While the pundits like to tell us 60 is the new 40, biologically, 40 is 40, 60 is 60 and 80 is 80. Nothing physical gets easier 20 years down the line. So how do you adjust your shooting and training to accommodate your new-found, um … “wisdom?”
Swap out the hardware. Every month in our industry some guy known for decades as a hard-ass confesses to giving up the macho .45 for the “girly” 9 due to the restrictions of age. There’s even been a resurgence in 9mm 1911’s as a result. It makes sense, as smaller calibers hurt less to shoot, particularly with injured, old, arthritic, or even replaced body parts. In the disco era there were real differences in street effectiveness between the common self-defense calibers. But modern ballistic engineering has pretty much eliminated them (make an effort to keep up with the times, won’t ya’ geezer?). And with respect to the .45 vs. 9 — the 9 is cheaper, so your social security check will go further. I’m just sayin.
Modify the software
Accept the limitations coming with age — because they’re real. Do your best to fight them off to a reasonable level for a reasonable length of time, but gracefully accept the inevitable as it occurs. Race car drivers know exactly how much their reflexes and ability diminish with age because they measure them constantly on standard courses. There are no 65-year-old Formula 1 drivers. You simply won’t shoot as well at 70 as you did at 40. On the other hand, unless you were starting from a very high place, you can still improve. Hell, if you’re retired you have the time, and shooting beats watching old Star Trek re-runs. Well, mostly.
Get better at tactics. If your technique is sliding downward you can compensate to a significant degree with better tactics. You know that cliché about the crafty old guy always bettering the aggressive young guy? You may not be able to move as fast, but you can make moving to cover more reflexive. You can learn to take a position of advantage earlier. You can tighten up your OODA loop by getting better at awareness. In short, you can start to concentrate on what has always been a better survival strategy than improving your technique — improving your tactics. Fighting smarter not harder.
Change your technique. There are usually viable work-arounds for your limitations. If you can’t stand in a traditional position, go to another — who cares how you stand? If you can’t see well, get shooting-specific prescriptions and shoot at 8″ circles rather than 3×5 cards. If your strength is limited, modify your grip or platform and get as good as you can with it — also changing your gun and/or its grip as necessary. Change your practice routine to accommodate your limitations, including possibly fewer rounds shot with a better plan. Your best performance envelope may have diminished, but you can still be wherever it’s best at for you now.
Change in equipment? That burly 1911 in .45 ACP (center) might need to be swapped
out for one in 9mm, like the STI (right). Augment it with a good .22 conversion unit —
like the classic Colt (left) and suddenly an “old guy” can shoot more.
Stay strong. If you’ve never hit the gym, now’s the time. Most top competitive shooters consider strength and fitness to be fundamental to their success. Get physical therapy if you need it. Put a set of grip trainers next to the chair you sit in to watch TV. Do something aerobic for 20 minutes or more every other day. Try reasonable-sounding alternatives such as chiropractic or acupuncture. Improve your diet and lifestyle to stay healthy.
Change your game. If you keep using the same discipline to measure your progress, you may see a more-or-less steady decline as you age. But the 55-year-old Bill Rodgers (the runner) didn’t run against 25-year-old world-class marathoners — he started running with local runners. Adopt this strategy. If you were an IPSC shooter and that’s getting frustrating, try something a little easier and more rewarding — maybe IDPA or GSSF. If you were a precision bulls-eye shooter, try a day of cowboy action. Your skills may not be up to snuff compared to your younger self, but they won’t get embarrassing either. “Hey, that old guys shoots pretty darn good!”
Become a tribe elder. There’s tons of young people coming into the shooting sports these days, and most of them need competent advice and guidance. Take a few under your wing — it’s intensely rewarding.