What being a Sniper taught me about fitness and health - Lesson 1

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By Master Coach K

Approximate Reading Time: 3-5 min

 
 
 

What does it take to become a Sniper? For me it was equal parts luck, hard work and a relentless pursuit of a goal.

I spent 7 years in the Australian Army as a Sniper, a Sniper Team Leader and a Sniper Supervisor. I was deployed in overseas combat zones and trained extensively across Australia in a variety of environments and situations. I received top of class on my Basic Sniper Course and Sniper Supervisors Course. Eventually I trained other people to become Snipers. I had done what I set out to achieve.

All this from the clumsiest teen in any given group who used to have separation anxiety, played dungeons and dragons and earned a pretty sedentary degree majoring in computer coding and design.

Why the hell did I want to be a Sniper? Truthfully, it's hard to say; and maybe I’ll explore that in depth in another article but really, why do we do anything?

In a fundamental way I think it boiled down to security. To me that meant feeling safe, becoming confident in my own physical self, being proud of my occupation/achievements, and being part of a strong community.

Growing up I (like a lot of people) felt very insecure, the list of types of insecurity and causes could go on forever. I can honestly say that becoming a Sniper did help me feel more secure but ultimately it was the process of becoming a Sniper that got me there.

What did that process pass on to me?

Sniper Lesson 1: Your first fundamental tool in this life is you (from the top of your head to the tips of your toes) - look after it!

Imagine it’s pitch black with a starry sky above. You’re looking at the world through one eye, a grainy green picture of rocky mountainous desert in front of you. Why one eye? Because you only have a monocular (single eye) night vision goggle so you have no depth perception.

Now you have to go for an all-night hike carrying 50-100lbs of gear. Navigate. Be 'sneaky'. Lead and coordinate with 3 other Snipers. Maintain radio communications. All whilst watching out for explosive devices in the ground and people who might shoot at you. Oh, and top it off with sleep deprivation as well. Prepare for that by being a couch potato and you are one damn big liability and not just because of the physicality of it.

 
Heading out the gate, lovely night for a hike. Credit: M. Bickerton

Heading out the gate, lovely night for a hike. Credit: M. Bickerton

 

Our body is not simply a vehicle for the brain. To separate the brain from the body is a potentially harmful way of thinking. We are a glorious combination of gut bacteria, nerves, fascia, grey matter, muscles, liver, brain tissues, hormones, sensory organs, parental influence, electrical impulses, instincts, cultural history, genetics, our environment etc. that work synergistically to create who we are. We are not our brains, or even just our body, we are product of a huge system.

One of the fundamentals elements of why we have such a complex arrangement of ‘stuff’ is similar to all animals. We move (check out Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert). Appropriate movement is what keeps your brain, muscles, nervous system, respiratory system, hormones, and everything else working in good order (check out SPARK by John J. Ratey MD) .

You stop moving and it all starts to break down. More quickly than you’d like to think. Take it to the other extreme and go hard with no recovery periods and again, it all starts to break down quicker as well. However, if you find the sweet spot, you’ll keep the system replenishing itself and in good working order for longer. Appropriate movement is non-negotiable and needs to be daily. Especially when people (ie; a team of Snipers) are relying on you.

So, I don’t have to hike through the night as a Sniper anymore but I do have to deal with a lot of stressors, similar to you. The great/not so great thing about being human is we don’t even need to be experiencing stress first-hand for it to affect us. We can recall past stress or imagine future stress and illicit a similar stress response!

Being a couch/office chair/car seat potato unfortunately doesn’t help your ability to play and enjoy life with loved ones. It doesn’t help you build new connections in the brain. It doesn’t help you make good decisions. Stress happens; what is one the best tools to deal with it? Appropriate movement.

Every day do something! Go for a walk. Get some aerobic activity in (run, bike, swim, row, hike). Lift, sit less, address old injuries. Be proactive about mobility, balance and restoring proprioception. It will keep you fit and stronger for longer and help you be happier, more connected, and ultimately more secure. Sure, it’s not the only thing that will help you get there, but it’s one of the fundamentals.

My grandfather passed away not too long ago. In his later years he dealt with severe cognitive decline, something for which I might be genetically predisposed. One of the best ways to stave off cognitive issues? You guessed it, appropriate movement.

Don’t be a liability to yourself and your family, friends or team. Move appropriately. If the culture you are in doesn’t support you moving, well it’s time to change things up in whatever way you can. That’s Sniper lesson one done! Be on the lookout for more articles in this series.

Note: want some juicy science citing a bunch of converging evidence? Check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick