Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paintball Fitness - General Agility

As part of The Grey Ops 10k Challenge, Grey Ops will be running articles this week on how to improve your fitness level for Paintball. Bear in mind that the field of exercise science is vast, and mostly beyond the scope of our humble Milsim Paintball blog. These articles will be very generalized, but will provide enough information to get you started on the right track in your quest to become a fitter and more effective player. For a better understanding, conduct your own research into the concepts discussed in this series.

As always, consult a physician before engaging in any fitness program.

This article in the Paintball Fitness series will discuss general agility, and how it relates to Paintball. We'll also talk about how to improve your own general agility, and how it can make you a better player.

General agility is a bit of an X-factor in fitness because it's hard to quantify. We all know really fit people who are just generally clumsy despite the shape they're in. They can jog for miles on a treadmill or flat surface, or lift a lot of weight on a leg press machine or flat bench bolted to the floor. But watching them climb a ladder or even just scale a 4-foot fence can often be embarassing. Having constantly trained in a completely controlled, "clean" environment, they don't know how to apply their physical abilities in the chaotic conditions of the real world.

This is completely understandable, as in today's modern world most of us spend our days in one of three positions: Standing, sitting, and lying down. When moving, we tend to move in a straight line, from Point A to Point B, on an even floor, sidewalk, or roadway. And unless you work at a trade that involves manual labour, you're probably in a workplace environment where "ergonomics" are held in high regard. Everything is designed and laid out so that you don't have to move much - heaven forbid an employee would have to actually reach out for something, as they might throw out their back!

During their childhood years, people do all sorts of crazy things with their bodies, like jumping from ridiculous heights and rolling with the fall, climbing trees and ropes, and doing somersaults and cartwheels in someone's backyard. Just maybe, throughout their teens they play a sport in high school or college - but even this is dying out, as nowadays a lot of people forego a game of touch football with their friends outside for a game of Madden '11 over Xbox Live. By the time most people are well into their 20s, they're literally a bunch of STIFFS. Things they took for granted in their childhoods, like keeping their balance, swinging around skillfully on a jungle gym, and being able to jump over an obstacle all got lost when they grew up and entered our stable and "safe" modern adult world. Ask the average twenty-something or older person to do a headstand, and they'd likely topple over and get a case of whiplash, IF they could even get into position in the first place!

Granted, most people can get away with being "stiffs" in life, because nothing in their lives challenges them to be agile. But as Milsim Paintball players, we need some general agility in order to play the game well. We often need to dash to cover over uneven terrain, while bent over at the waist to stay low and avoid fire. We need to be comfortable crawling on our bellies through brush, and we need to be quick to dive to the ground when we make contact with our opponents and cover is limited. To be any good at our game, general agility isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.

But how does one develop this long-lost attribute as an adult? What if you're not in the military running obstacle courses every day, or a police officer chasing suspects over fences and across backyards, or a construction worker climbing scaffolding and keeping their balance and footing in risky spots? If you're the average office cubicle-guy, or a department store cashier standing in one spot and not moving much, you'll have to go outside your day-to-day job and experiences to find your inner agile child. Here are some of my suggestions for some activities to quickly improve your general agility:

Get in shape

This isn't a means to better general agility in itself, but a prerequisite. Start by embarking on a fitness program that involves endurance training, resistance training, and flexibility training, because being in better shape will help you prevent injuries while you train for agility. If someone at your office threw their back out bending over to pick up a pencil (every sedentary workplace has a horror story like this), it was because the person was in horrendous shape in the first place. Could you picture a person like this jumping head-first into training for agility? Of course not! If you're going to be training to jump, dive, and roll, then you definitely need the physical capacity to withstand these things first.

Martial Arts

Engaging in almost any martial art can improve your agility. Martial arts like Kung Fu, boxing, kickboxing, and Karate can improve your coordination, balance, reflexes, and footwork. Disciplines like Judo, wrestling, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can improve your body awareness and competence off your feet/on the ground. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which combines both striking and grappling disciplines, combines the best of both worlds.

Functional Training & Suspension Training

A lot of fitness centres are offering programs geared towards functional training. What functional training is really isn't clearly defined in the exercise world (an exercise that's "functional" for a basketball player probably wouldn't be functional for a linebacker), but generally when people refer to it they mean exercise that's more on the chaotic side, and not strict and controlled like a treadmill or Nautilus machine. Often functional training practitioners will go to great lengths to create an "unstable" training environment.

One example of this is the latest TRX craze (the new marketing buzzword for the well-established practice of Suspension Training). Here's an example of some things you can do with TRX:

As you can see, TRX can have you doing some pretty wacky stuff, away from the norm, which is what you want when you're trying to become more agile.

Obstacle Course Training

Practicing navigating obstacle courses is another great way to improve your agility. Climbing fences and ladders, and jumping over and weaving between obstacles improves your reflexes, coordination, and general athletic skills.

You can set up your own obstacle course in your backyard using common household items, or head down to the park to use installations there. Climbing monkey bars, jumping over low obstacles, crawling under and running while weaving between swings or other emplacements are some of the possibilities at the park.


Parkour is running obstacle courses on steroids! Parkour practitioners practice navigating obstacles, rolling with falls after spectacular jumps, and making it all seem effortless. Parkour was initially a European phenomenon, made popular by French founder David Belle. Belle is shown here playing a character in the enormously entertaining French film Banlieue 13:

In recent years it's found a foothold in North America, featured in the Bruce Willis films Cop Out and Live Free or Die Hard. Electronic Arts even released a Parkour-themed game called Mirror's Edge.

Parkour is a little hardcore for Paintball, but if you practice it even at a basic level, without all the high-flying death-defying stuff, your agility in the game will be sure to improve.

Hip Hop Dance or Modern Dance

Now I know this is Grey Ops, a blog for manly men about the manly pursuit of Milsim Paintball, and suggesting our readers take up dance might be akin to me showing up at a Scenario game wearing the pink version of Morning Wood Camo. But the truth is that any style of dance, from Hip Hop to Tap to Ballet, gets you more coordinated and in touch with your body, and therefore enhances your general agility. Dance greatly improves your balance and footwork as well, which also serves to make you more agile.

If you're looking for a form of dance to improve your agility that's also a great endurance workout, Breakdancing is still alive and well after 30 years.

Whatever method you choose to develop your general agility boils down to what you have the most fun doing! The important thing is to just practice it once in a while, so that you keep your agility well into your older years. The real reward comes when you can run circles around opponents in their teens and twenty-somethings on the field...before eliminating them!

In our next (and final) installment of Paintball Fitness, I'll cover the touchy issue of Nutrition and Lifestyle Habits, and how the two impact your results from exercise (and your in-game performance).

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