The importance of movement in shooting with Dr Matt Zanis

Rhys Plum learns about the importance of movement in shooting from Dr Matt Zanis

Matt worked out that he could help himself to get injured less if he built up his strength

In previous articles I have dived deep into different aspects of shooting and how the experts suggest we can improve our performance. Speaking with some of the top US shooters, for instance, I’ve heard how nutrition, hydration and a stable diet can enhance mental awareness and aid shooting performance.

This has really sparked an interest in the ways that I could improve my own shooting, by preparing myself physically and mentally. As David Radulovich said in his interview a couple of issues back, you need to find things that your competitors aren’t doing, to give you the chance of finishing one or two clays ahead.  

With all that in mind, I spoke to Dr Matt Zanis, founder of Rooted In Mvmnt. Matt is a human movement and vitality expert, helping high performance athletes around the world achieve the best possible physique for their sport – he is currently working with Team USA’s shooting Olympians, Navy Special Warfare, Arizona Cardinals, SWAT and the FBI.

Matt shot clays with his father from an early age

Matt told me a bit about his background: “I grew up on the east coast of the US, in Pennsylvania. From a very early age I shot Trap and Skeet with my dad, but I grew up in a very successful baseball family, and so I truly believed that baseball was in my blood. I thought I should just be naturally good at it.

“I wasn’t a natural baseball player like the rest of my family, but I was a really hard worker, so I threw more and batted more, trying to make myself a brilliant baseball player.

Bare feet enable the shooter to transmit information better

“I kept getting injured – it was like everything in me was telling me not to play baseball. Then when I was 17 I realised that if I could make my body stronger, and move really well, all these little injuries would start disappearing.

That philosophy, of combining strength and conditioning with rehabilitation, followed me as I pursued my Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Duke University and informed the work I did with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Cardinals organizations.”

After a spell working in the insurance business, Matt launched his own practice in 2016, and before long was working with working with the Team USA shooting Olympians, including Vincent Hancock, Kayle Browning and other top athletes.

“That led on to me working with Navy Special Warfare teams,” he explains. “In fact the majority of my clients shoot something at some time, whether that be in competition or in protecting my nation. What I’ve come to realise is that whatever activity you are trying to do, it’s all ‘Rooted In Mvmnt’ as I like to put it.”

Matt creates tailor-made programmes for individuals, but he has also developed a few teaser programmes. “These are designed to give people an insight in introspection – what’s going on inside you – thus exposing your weaknesses,” Matt says. One of his programmes is designed to help with the areas that Matt sees most shooters being deficient in.

Three shooters’ problems 

So what are the biggest problem areas for shooters? “First, look at your feet,” Matt replies. “I don’t just mean look at them, but look at the way the foot works. Try to visualise the foot and understand that your feet are probably not working like feet.

“Most people trap their feet in these big cushioned shoes that aren’t effective at transmitting information from the ground to the body to move efficiently. There are ways I can get a client to start using their feet to produce better movement patterns, and that directly affects the way they handle the gun.

“Similarly, shooting athletes never really practise full movement patterns, where we have to take the knee out over the toe and we start to get limited in the ankles range of motion. That mostly stems from us not using our feet the way that we should be.”

Strength is one part of the equation, but movement is key

The second big deficiency that Matt identifies in shooters is a lack of hip mobility. “Hip mobility gives a shooter the freedom to move the gun in the most efficient way possible,” he explains.

“Having good hip mobility stops shooters from becoming ‘handsy’, which can cause a lot of inconsistencies, because your hands will often take you above or below the line of a target.

“A good connection between the foot and the hip will allow you to transfer the energy efficiently into the upper body and allow the gun to move smoothly, as opposed to being jerky in motion.

“Also, bad hip mobility often leads to lower back pain, which is the most common injury for shooters. If we don’t generate movement from the hips, the brain will resort to moving through the lower back – and that is designed to stabilise the upper body, not to move smoothly and efficiently.”

The third big problem Matt sees in shooters is shoulder and wrist issues. “It’s all down to the way that we mount the gun,” he says. “Commonly, shooters have a lot of shoulder elevation.

“The forward wrist is stuck in an extended position and the back hand in a flexed position to come around the grip of the gun. If you don’t ever utilise these muscles outside of shooting, they will soon become stressed and sore.”

“A shoulder elevation is perfect for shooting, because it allows you to lock the gun into your shoulder. This elevation is triggered by your lower traps [lower trapezius muscles] which is fine – but when the lower traps only get utilised once or twice a week, they too become stressed.

Most of Matt’s clients shoot at some time, whether in competition or serving their country

“I regularly see shooters who even develop headaches and neck pain that come from over-utilising the traps when shooting. It all stems from a lack of movement – so we need to develop a movement pattern that will relieve and utilise these muscles when we aren’t shooting. After all your gun mount is ‘Rooted In Mvmnt’.” 

On top of this, Matt has designed programmes that target specific limitations: foot and ankle, hips, lower back, shoulder and neck. These give strategies on how to improve the range of motion in different areas of the body, and build those into your own movement training programme. 

All in all, I feel that Matt has a wealth of knowledge to help develop an individualised programme for any shooter – and I have just signed up to the three-month programme, which gives me a personalised training programme specific to my body’s deficiencies and my goals. I will let you know how I get on in future issues of this magazine.

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