Friday, April 8, 2011

Paintball Fitness

There's a lot of confusion out there as to what constitutes proper exercise. Having studied fitness concepts (and followed an exercise program consistently) for the past 15 years, I've seen lots of activities classified as exercise, when in reality they should be labelled as "recreation". The line is getting increasingly blurred by government agencies trying to convince the population to get off their collective asses, and dumbing down what constitutes exercise in their recommendations. Lately it's been getting ridiculous, with statements that activities like gardening or walking your dog count as "exercise".

Now don't get me wrong here; I'm NOT saying that walking your dog down the street or crawling around in your garden won't increase your heart rate, make you breathe harder, and release stress. They certainly do these things, even for most fit people. What I'm saying is that these signs alone don't mean you're getting a real exercise benefit from such activities (they just mean your body's doing some work). Here's the kicker: For any activity to constitute proper exercise, it has to be challenging to your existing physical capacity.

To illustrate, if you're able to lift 50lbs 10 times, but you stop at 9, then you'll never see any improvement. You need to push and try to go beyond those 10 reps, and attempt 11. Conversely, if you're capable of running 5 kilometers at a speed of 6 minutes per kilometer, but never push yourself to go further or at a faster pace, then your endurance won't improve. Getting an exercise benefit from any activity means pushing your limits! The human body is a very conservative organism, in the sense that it won't waste precious resources on something (like improving your strength or endurance) unless you give it a damn good reason to. That's why exercise has to be taxing and uncomfortable, and that's why something like gardening isn't technically "exercise". (And if gardening or dog-walking IS taxing and uncomfortable, then you're probably in extremely poor shape).

And here's where we get to Paintball. Except for in extreme circumstances, Paintball itself doesn't provide much of an opportunity to push your limits. Running 20 meters off the break to cover, taking a knee, and popping up every few seconds to take a few shots isn't very challenging if you're already in average shape. Paintball as it's typically played is recreation, not exercise.

In a bit of a paradox, even though Paintball won't get you in better physical shape, being in better physical shape will make you a better Paintball player. A more physically capable Paintball player will be more agile, faster, and have more endurance. He'll be better able to move quickly and flank his opponents, and duck, dodge, hit the ground, and bunker OPFOR players with more efficiency and speed.

And as I wrote in my recent article on Woodsball Injury Prevention, a Paintball player in better shape will also be better able to resist injuries on the field.

Paintball aside, exercise can dramatically increase your quality of life and well-being, as well as stave off the effects of aging. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let the photo below do the talking. The mouse on the right did no exercise throughout its life, and its old age shows through greying of its fur, fur loss, and poor posture, eyesight, and mobility. The mouse on the left, on the other hand, is the SAME chronological age as the decrepit mouse! The difference is that the mouse on the left exercised on a mousewheel for approximately 45 minutes 3 times a week throughout its life. (Source)

Exercise also keeps humans vibrant and mobile well into old age as well, so you owe it to yourself to get into the habit of regular exercise for life. Like regular contributions to an RRSP/401k or pension plan, consider regular exercise an investment in your future quality of life. Which mouse above would you rather be during your "golden years"?

Ok, now back to why you're likely reading this today: Fitness for Paintball. There are 5 areas of fitness that I feel have some impact on your ability to play Paintball. Generally, improving any of these elements will improve your game:

1) Endurance/Cardiovascular Capacity
2) Strength
3) Flexibility
4) General agility
5) Nutrition and life habits

In this series, I'll go over what I feel are the main elements of improving all 5 areas, and really boil it down to the essentials. I've wasted a lot of time on bogus ideas, flawed methodologies, and expensive products in my quest to get in shape over the years, so consider my advice the result of hindsight through trial and error. I screwed up and wasted my money so that you don't have to!

In the next installment of this series, I'll discuss proper training for cardiovascular fitness. Stay tuned!

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