For those used to regularly competing at international level, the idea of winter training is not new and England’s commonwealth games pair will no doubt be executing carefully crafted training plans as I write. For everyone else though, the idea of winter training away from the range may seem daunting or even unnecessary. How many of you though go out for your first shoot of the year and find that things don’t quite feel right but you are not sure why? How many find that over the winter a new ache or niggle has occurred that you haven’t noticed before? In the first in a new series of training notes, Physiotherapist Jackie Davies talks about the effect these small niggles can have on our shooting and easy steps you can take to help prevent them.

If you sustain an injury, the chances are you will seek medical advice and treatment at the time of injury or soon after if it is not settling. However, what about that niggly neck/back/shoulder/elbow/wrist injury that has been lingering in the background for a few months or even years?

It doesn’t really affect how you shoot, and it’s not really bad enough to seek help, but it hasn’t really gone away. Next year, it will have been there for longer, and in order to try and resolve it, your body will make minor adjustments to how you move and do activity. So minor, that you won’t be aware initially. Gradually, something else starts to feel “niggly”, and it’s a little more awkward to lie prone in a comfy position. THEN, your shooting skills may be affected – you have to wriggle more, can’t hold a relaxed position, have to put the rifle down between shots when you might not normally do so etc.

What if you had addressed that niggle earlier? What if it had never happened in the first place, because it was preventable?

Of course, some niggles are not preventable, as they occur from injuries and conditions. However, a big contributor to those insidious niggling injuries is altered or poor posture. This comment conjures up childhood memories of being told to “sit up straight” and “don’t slouch”, but stop for a minute and think about what position you are in as you read this? Is your head poking forwards to see the screen? Are your shoulders rounded forward? Are you leaning on one elbow with hand under chin? Are you peering over the top of a pair of specs to read the words, or tipping your chin up to read through the bottom of bifocals/progressive lenses?

If you work at a desk in the office, you will hopefully have arranged the desk with good screen height, good keyboard position, good chair and chair height etc. So what happens when you go home? Do you do another hour or so on a laptop (whether work or games), sitting slouched at the kitchen table? Do you use your iPad in bed – head propped forward on a pillow?

Once the neck starts coming forward, you work your neck and upper shoulder muscles more. This in turn causes your shoulders to slouch forwards. This puts more pressure on the front of your shoulders and a gradual inflammation of the shoulder tendons (especially rotator cuff) occurs. It’s initially minor, just annoying and a niggle for lifting the arm up and out. So you can still shoot, you can still lift your gear, still play tennis etc., but gradually, it gets worse and now it needs intervention. This is therefore a niggle that you may have been able to prevent.

One common mistake in trying to correct posture is to try too hard. In the simple diagram on the right, it shows normal, versus slouched, but also over-arching in an unnecessarily harsh attempt to “sit up straight”. Try it, it’s uncomfortable!

I prefer to take the goldilocks approach – not too little, not too much but just right! Sit up really tall, then relax 50%. Use the back of a chair if there is one. Not using the back of a chair all day, because you think you should be holding good posture, only increases the work of the back and neck muscles.

So, the next time you are sitting at a desk, or using a laptop, or lying in bed flicking through your iPad, stop and ask yourself if you can improve your position and put less strain on your body.

Jackie Davies has over 30 years experience as a physiotherapist. She has volunteered as a team physio for multiple GB teams since 2004 and in particular has been a key contributor to the GB teams success in major international matches such as the Palma and the Australia match. Through this she has gained a unique insight into the effect that shooting has on our bodies and is always pleasantly surprised by the range of injuries and unusual postures she encounters in the shooting community.

New Training Note: “Just Postulating?”