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Setting a Course for Fitness: Building a Plyometric Box

The irony of one my first posts of the year being about fitness does not escape me. But that’s what I’m going to talk about.

Last year, I wrote a post about the importance of fitness as it relates to marksmanship. Well, I have a confession to make. I know an awful lot about health and fitness because I can sometimes obsessively research topics. But I am not as good about implementing the information that I learn. That habit finally caught up to me last month.

During my physical fitness test for the Air Force, a test that isn’t even really that difficult, I nearly failed due to what I consider poor discipline on my part. My muscular strength was good, and I maxed the available points on those events. But my 1.5 mile run time was a full minute slower than it was one year ago. And, most scarily, the tape measure around my waist, which hasn’t changed in nearly seven years, had grown nearly two inches (yes, they tape measure our waists as part of the test…yes, it’s stupid). This makes sense in a way, because of my previously identified tendency to want to do the things I’m already good at (lifting weights), but not do the things that are not so easy (food discipline and running).

So, I’ve established some personal fitness goals for myself. These are lifelong goals, and not just run of the mill new year resolutions. I’ve spent the last several years teetering back and forth on implementing the information that I’ve learned over the years, and now it’s just going to happen. I refuse to put myself in the position again where my passing or failing a very career-impacting test is not up to my ability to complete the events, but to the margin of error depending on who has the tape measure around my waist and how they hold it.

As part of my fitness goals, I’ve got a particular body fat percentage in mind. There are effectively three things to do in order to meet my goals:

  • Nutrition- the first priority…abs are made in the kitchen
  • Heavy strength training – more lean muscle mass means more daily calorie burn, as well as the metabolic cascade effects from exhaustive lift sessions (reference Dr. Doug McGuff’s awesome Body by Science for more information on that)
  • Conditioning – through both high intensity and traditional “cardio” training

One of the best ways to achieve number three is plyometrics. Plyo, as it’s called, is all about explosive movements in jumping. The benefit comes from the forceful contraction of a muscle to launch you into the air (the concentric movement) and then using your muscles as a shock absorber from the fall (eccentric movement). The Soviets originally formalized the concept in the 80’s, calling “shock training.”

All of the research I’ve seen emphasizes that plyo is an outstanding exercise for developing both strength and speed. The explosive, and highly intense, nature of the movement is also extremely taxing on the cardiovascular system and greatly boosts metabolism. Boosting metabolism means burning fat.

Burning fat is good.

I had a couple days off this week and I built myself a three way plyo box. It gives me three heights I can jump for various difficulties. The one I built has 20″, 24″, and 30″ sides.

The original plans had me just use screws all around the edges to hold the thing together. I placed some 2×4 studs in the corners to give more purchase for the screws (I used #2 decking screws all around). But with my weight, I didn’t trust the wood to hold up across the middle as I came landing down on it. So I used some scrap studs to brace through the middle.

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Once fully assembled, I did a quick workout. Plyo is HARD, and had me huffing and puffing pretty quick. I did not sand the edges or anything before using it, and after the workout my wife and I gave it a name. The plan is to make it a staple in our workout regime, among the heavy lifting days and regular running. I broke out some stencils to mark the various heights, and set about to do some extra decorating.

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Plyo will serve as a great tool this year for shooting, because it will help my conditioning level as well as body composition. A lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure, means that there is less “reticle jump” when looking through a scope (I know that applies more at very long range than the ones I typically shoot at). Better conditioning means that I can better do some form of intense activity and then immediately transition to shooting. This kind of capability is extremely useful to the hunting world, as well as the new crop of sniper adventure races that have been going on.

Additionally, the better body composition means increased flexibility, which is huge for awkward positional shooting.

I know this post was a bit off topic, but fitness is a huge thing this year. Better shooting through better capability.

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