The word “fitness” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I personally use it to refer to physical fitness, as I believe most do, but for the sake of understanding how broad the meaning of “fitness” really is, let’s review its definition:
the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.
an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.
Notice that fitness is not a look. It’s not an age, weight, or height. The only thing specific about fitness is the outcome, but the means by which the outcomes are achieved are largely (if not entirely) subjective.
These three things refer to: 1) How well you execute your responsibilities? 2) How long are you able to fulfill those responsibilities? 3) How do you ensure the ongoing success of your kind?
Translated to apply specifically to paintball, these 3 things could be fairly revised to mean:
How well do you fulfill your role as a player on the paintball field?
How well do you stay alive each game?
What impact are you having on the success of paintball?
Being an expert in physical fitness and not on the ins and outs of marketing a sport, it is outside my expertise and therefore the scope of this article to advise on how to help paintball succeed (grow the sport, support local fields, etc.). Since physical fitness can actually influence points 1 and 2, those are what I will be aiming to help you improve by giving you a comprehensive guide on how to exercise for paintball.
Now let’s state the obvious and point out the fact that far more than physical fitness goes into your ability to play paintball well. As I see it (and I could be wrong), the independent skills that influence your performance as a player fall into one of three categories, each necessitating individualized, targeted training techniques to improve because they are developed very differently from one another.
“Paintball Fitness” is…
2. Paintball Skill
3. Physical Fitness
It might seem odd to admit there are skills that influence your paintball fitness that I am not qualified to help you with, but I clarify this point to first make sure you know how important each of these 3 dimensions of paintball performance are, and secondly to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example if you are a high-level player and wonder why you are struggling to win more events, perhaps you (and your teammates) need to address your communication. If you haven’t been intentionally working on your physical fitness, maybe you’re getting gassed early in the day and losing points simply because you’re exhausted earlier than you should be. While fitness takes time to improve, teamwork and communication can be very quickly enhanced with minimal physical strain, so for anyone disheartened about the commitment physical fitness takes, be encouraged that you can work on the other 2 facets of paintball fitness without having to uproot your lifestyle. You and your buddies can easily work on these things together when you’re at the field as usual, setting aside time to be intentional in your drills to improve as players and teammates while still having fun playing paintball.
That being said, it is also impoortant to recognize that improving your snap shot will not improve your teamwork. Increasing your stamina will not improve your accuracy. Getting to your bunker faster will not improve the decisions you make during games. You get the picture. Teamwork, sport-specific skill, and physical fitness are quite independent of one another, and must be trained accordingly.
The best source for instruction to develop the 1st and 2nd facet of paintball fitness is going to be higher level players and coaches. To develop the 3rd facet of fitness, however, you are going to want to listen to someone with a professional background in physical fitness, exercise science, nutrition, as well as experience applying those expertise to people in the real-world. Lucky for you, you have me (and my online fitness programs that make everything you’re about to learn completely effortless to start).
My years of experience as a personal trainer and strength coach coupled with two nutrition certifications and extensive knowledge of the human body give me a highly advanced understanding of the physical intricacies paintball demands of its participants. By studying the athletic performance of the most elite-level players, as well as playing competitively myself, I have compiled all of the anatomical positions paintball requires, as well the movement patterns your body may need to make from those positions. Understanding these foundational necessities will give you the ability to isolate which positions and patterns are your weakest and strongest, allowing you to prioritize and train appropriately.
Anatomical Positions in Paintball
This will probably come at no surprise, but paintball is a fantastically unique sport. Equipment and format aside, the movements and positions its players have to consistently execute are unlike any other sport in the world. For this reason, it should make sense that the exercises we would perform to train for this sport would look unlike that of any other exercise program. That being said, it is still possible to catalog all of the movements into basic skeletal patterns. After all, paintball players still have the same anatomy as any other athlete. We are all using ankles, knees, hips, shoulders etc., each with their range-of-motion limitations. So if we simply compile all the anatomical positions, and the movements made into, within, and out of those positions, we can then break down all possible combinations into fundamental postures and patterns that will create a foundation on which to begin training to enhance sport-specific performance.
Let’s first look at the foundational positions players find themselves in while playing paintball.
Lying flat, face down. This is most commonly seen in speedball when playing the snake, but it is also very common in woodsball when players are taking cover behind small objects (stumps, stick piles, etc.) or blending into the foliage (camouflage).
Moving on all four limbs. In paintball this is more of a transitional position, used to get low to peak around a corner or to get back up after diving, but regardless, its a position you will use and therefore one you should train.
Sitting on our calves with knees on the ground. This position allows players to conserve energy at the expense of limited mobility. For this reason it’s more commonly seen in recreational play than in tournament paintball.
Most weight is supported on a single leg bent into a squat position while the trailing leg is mostly straight, serving somewhat as a kickstand to assist with balance. This is the most versatile but energy-intensive position in paintball, allowing us to play on our feet in most bunkers.
Body is folded very small, knees close together (crotch protected), both feet on the ground but weight is primarily supported through the toes rather than the heels. Crouching allows us to quickly get small while keeping our knees in front of us, rather than beside us like we would see in a squat.
Body is folded, knees are wide, and both feet planted with weight primarily supported through the heels. Because paintball players do their best to keep their limbs inside of their gun , the squat should not be a primary position to play from. However, the squat can be a great instinctual position to take while walking through the woods and needing to get small while out in the open, or off the break in speedball trying to both get small and make a lob shot across the field.
Upright on both feet. When standing in paintball we are nearly always staggered stance, slightly bent at the ankles, knees, and hips, and leaning to one side or the other. It is the position all games start from, and it’s our most powerful and versatile position because from it we can very quickly duck, jump, run, or move as needed any any direction.
Now that we have covered the static positions paintball players can expect to find themselves in, let’s go over the movements we might perform from these positions. For example, crawling is a movement pattern that can be performed from both the prone and quadruped positions. Lateral flexion is often performed from every position. Don’t stress trying to train every possible position + movement combo. Functional carryover means adaptations of a movement in one position will transfer to the same movement from another position. So what’s most important is doing each movement once, and each position once (per week). As long as your body is being exposed to each, all the exercises will connect as they should, and everything will improve.
Moving on all fours. This movement will originate from either the quadruped or prone positions. Variations include moving from the hands or elbows, knees or feet, and forwards, backwards, or sideways.
We listed the static end-range of the lateral lunge above but the movement into and out of the lateral lunge as well as the forward lunge are crucial movements to the sport of paintball. Forward lunging is useful when players need to stay as low as possible while moving up field. Lateral lunging allows us to stay on our feet while transitioning between the edges of the bunker we are playing. The stress pattern of lateral lunges also carryover well into running, since players often run routes that are nonlinear.
The squat is both a movement and a position, so it’s important not to neglect that up and downward movement our hips and quads have to make to get us out of, or guide us into a static squat position. While the squat is not a commonly recommended position to take in paintball, it is a fundamental human movement pattern that the more we exercise and improve, the healthier our joints, muscles, and even nervous systems become.
Running in paintball looks more like running in football or soccer than it does a marathon or 100m sprint. This makes training running a bit tricky, as most gyms can not accommodate the space needed to run in 360˚ of motion like we might on the field. However, improving our running endurance and speed with traditional forward (proper) technique in the gym (e.g. on a treadmill) will transfer to multi-directional running as well. To train running specifically as it’s executed in paintball, conditioning drills should be standard practice when at the field drilling to improve your sport-specific skills.
More goes into an exercise program than most realize. It is incredibly important to understand who is doing the program. What are their limitations? What are their preferences? What equipment do they have? What will their schedule be? What are they doing outside of their workouts that might affect program efficacy? These questions only get us to a starting point. From there, trainers must select the most appropriate movements, the appropriate volume, intensity, range of motion, tempo, order of exercises, and then the best warmup for each day and cool-down afterwards. All of this gets us just the first week. The following week will need to be progressed, at which point every variable needs to be reconsidered.
It’s important to mention that no two coaches will ever write the exact same program, despite having the exact same information. It’s also worth mentioning that just because they’re different, it doesn’t mean one is any better than the other. In fact, the best exercise programs are often useless because a program is only as good as its adherence, and most people simply won’t do the best programs because they’re hard. Don’t worry, good coaches don’t take that personally. Behavior patterns and psychology are yet another dimension good trainers consider when writing their programs. We understand that forming new habits is hard, and therefore making things more simple and accessible is worth sacrificing some marginal benefits if it means you’re much more likely to stick to the program for months, rather than days.
So how might all this translate into a viable exercise program for the paintball player ambitious enough to train to become a better player on the field? Well as previously stated, no two trainers will offer the exact same answer, so rather than provide my specific suggestions I will instead help you interpret the aforementioned positions and movement patterns so that you can use your own creativity in coming up with the best solution for you.
1st: Pick the Positions
Contrary to what we might think, we don’t actually move that much in paintball. If you watch a few games of any format and calculate how much time players spend moving between bunkers and compare it to how much time they spend in place behind a bunker, you will quickly realize that we spend more time in static positions than we do running, lunging, diving or crawling. So for that reason, I would first make sure your weekly exercise program covers as many of the foundational paintball positions as possible. Just once a week per position is fine. This is going to make you more and more comfortable, as well as more powerful in each of these positions, so when you’re playing different bunkers that require one or more of the different positions, you’re going to play better.
2nd: Pick the Movements
Once you know what positions you are going to train, you will need to decide what movement you will do from that position. For example, from the prone position you might stay flat on the ground and perform a swimmer or superman to hit the back, glutes and hamstrings. Or you might press up into a more active prone position, like a plank, so you can strengthen the arms, chest, and abdominals. The former is both easier and better for those with back issues; the latter is more difficult and more sport-specific. Neither is right or wrong, it’s all about where you are and what is most appropriate for you.
In some cases the position itself might be the exercise. Holding the bottom of a squat, lunge or crouched position can be cumbersome for a deconditioned individual. Even leaning out of a bunker (lateral flexion) can be a burden on someone’s back, especially when holding a lane as long as possible. If you know any of these positions are difficult to get into, much less maintain, make the exercise all about getting into the position and holding it for :30, :45, then :60-seconds. Then add weight. Then either add more weight, or more metabolic stress by repeatedly alternating the hold with another exercise to increase cardiorespiratory demand.
From most positions you are going to need to be able to do two things well to see performance improvements on the paintball field: get up, lean out, and lean back in. So as much as you’re improving your ability to move within each position (e.g. side-bending from the half-kneeling position), make sure you are also working on your ability to move out of those positions as well (e.g. reverse lunges)
3rd: Don’t Neglect Conditioning
We all know how distracting, even disorienting it is when we race to bunker and struggle to take charge of it because we are panting desperately for oxygen. Your aim is all over the place because your entire torso is moving up and down, your heart is beating out of your chest, and all you can hear is the echo of your breath inside your mask as you gasp for air. This is why conditioning is so important – playing a sport well is impossible if you do not have the energy to do so. Training your endurance, stamina, and recovery capacity in your workouts will get you to your bunkers faster, make you a more powerful player while you’re there, and have you recharged in seconds so you can be ready to make the next move.
The higher the level of paintball, the more intense the conditioning should be. Therefore, less conditioned players should begin training by focusing on endurance (i.e. how long you can last). See how long you can jog before stopping and work on increasing that time each run. Once running 1-2 miles becomes pretty easy, start working on your stamina (how well you last). For example, suppose you were running 20 minutes before stopping, now see if you can still do that but 10% faster. Then 20% faster. When your speed starts feeling optimal, start training recovery times by doing interval training at high intensities. Sprint for :10 – :20 seconds, rest for a minute and repeat. Over time, start decreasing the rest and increasing the total number of intervals.
Metabolic conditioning (aka ‘conditioning’) will almost certainly be the single most game-changing facet of your (physical) fitness that you notice makes you a more powerful player. Just a few weeks of consistent training will produce drastic improvements to your on-the-field performance. Despite this fact, I still recommend prioritizing the positions you play from the bunkers because as I said, that is where you spend the most time while playing, so it makes sense that you should prioritize your comfort level and work capacity from the positions you will be playing the most.
In an ideal scenario, you are progressively exercising each paintball position and each major movement at least once per week, and conditioning every workout. For some this will simply be impossible due to time constraints, others because of ability level. Prioritize accordingly, and of course if you have questions please leave them below in the comments.
4th: Pick Your Priorities
To help you organize your creativity, here are a few of the most common ways professional workouts are organized:
Generally speaking you want to prioritize the hardest and/or fastest exercise first. However you should also be prioritizing your biggest weaknesses, and if your weakness is actually a very low intensity, low injury-risk movement (such as a plank), those should be placed after more strenuous exercises. This helps ensure that you have all the energy and focus needed to attack the hardest movements as safely as possible.
This workout structure takes each exercise one at a time, from hardest to easiest, and generally speaking from the highest priorities (biggest weaknesses and/or most performance-influencing exercises) to the lowest priorities (accessory movements that tangentially augment performance). Since most conditioning work is relatively low injury risk, it is generally saved for the end of workouts, but if your conditioning is your number one weakness, it might make sense to prioritize this first (e.g. Workout #3).
This workout format is somewhat of a hybrid of conventional exercise programming and is commonly found in CrossFit and other cross-training classes. Like the first format, it prioritizes the most high-risk exercises first in isolation, but later links multiple movements together into one or more circuits to achieve a metabolic stress-effect in conjunction to the neuromuscular adaptations. This may sacrifice some potential progress within each movement (strength in particular) because the energy strain will decrease total performance output, but in practicality this is a highly efficient workout structure for those who want to get as much work done in as little time as possible. Too many people neglect their cardiorespiratory training, so for most, circuiting movements together with minimal rest allows them to reap benefits from multiple dimensions, making the minor loss of power within those movements very much worth the gain in everything else.
As previously stated, too many people neglect their cardiorespiratory health, so if that is your biggest weakness (or your highest priority) it makes sense to do it first in your workouts to guarantee it gets done. This will obviously drain you of some energy, costing some performance in the maybe more enjoyable movements later in the line-up, but for many that is a sacrifice well worth making. Compared to cardio (conditioning), no other type of training has more health benefits, so for the sake of the health of your brain, heart, lungs, and so much more, make sure you’re getting the conditioning in one way or another. The more the better.
My hope is that you come away from this article with a much more thorough understanding of the many positions used in paintball, the movements we make into, out of, and within those positions, and how to start creating your own workouts that are more specific to paintball. Keep in mind there is also the warmup before the workout, the cooldown after the workout, as well as the volume, intensity, range of motion, duration, and tempo that all need to be considered, but a great starting place is to simply (and safely) wear your self out in each exercise and come back next week with the goal to push just a bit harder. With time and experience, you will begin to dial in the variables that challenge you the most, work the best, and/or keep your training most enjoyable.
Frequency, duration, etc.
Everyone wants to know what they are supposed to do. The first thing people like to ask is ‘what’s best?’. Good trainers know it’s much more about what you can do. If you can go to the gym 3 times a week, hitting all positions and movements so that they are each trained once weekly, that is ideal. However, two workouts is better than one, and one is always better than zero. If you can only go once, go once and do what you can. If you can’t make it every week, go every week you can. Fitness is not all or nothing. If you quit because you can’t commit to the program you wanted, you will never get anywhere. You have to accept that you will miss workouts. You will have setbacks; and that’s OK. Create the habit of going every time you can. Even if it’s only 1 or 2 times a month, if you’re going every time you can, you’re going 100% of the time!
Ideally… Performing three paintball-specific workouts a week is going to be ideal for most high-level players because it affords time to fit in more fundamental fitness days where basic movement patterns can be trained (movements every human needs to exercise regularly). These include bilateral squats, deadlifts, presses and pulls. These are movements that stimulate our entire anatomy (skeletal, muscular, vascular and nervous) in symmetrical fashion, keeping our body in prime working condition in its most universal movement patterns.. This all adds up to 4-5 workouts per week, none of which need to be more than 1-hour. With 1-2 days of paintball mixed in, that should be an ideal amount of activity that keeps the body progressing every week, while still allowing plenty of time to recover and avoid overtraining.
For everyone else (including myself)… Go as much as you can. Try to keep the exercises you do consistent so you get as much improvement as possible. Doing completely different exercises every time you go makes it hard to accumulate any specific adaptations because it can leave too much time between, leading to atrophy. Never going at all guarantees atrophy, which is why it’s so important to make a habit of just going, no matter how infrequent. Go when you can, do what you can, try to progress the difficulty every week, and know that you are making progress. In most cases, a small change in habits snowballs into huge changes to your life. One workout a year turns into one workout per month, to one per week, to 3 per week, and all of a sudden you realize how different you are from a few years ago, all because you simply said ‘Yes, I can do this; I will do this.’
How to Make it Easy…
The easiest way to start exercising for paintball is to follow a program that has already been professionally designed. No guesswork, no downtime, no confusion. From the moment you walk into the gym, everything is laid out for you. An app walks you though the warmup, the workout, and the cooldown. Videos show you what each movement should look like, instructions explain what to feel, focus on, etc. This is what you will get from one of my pre-written paintball training programs.
I have already plugged in all the positions. Programmed every variable. Organized every movement. Planned all the progressions. For less than $1/workout, everything is already done for you, and you even get an app that tracks your progress, let’s you message me directly, and even let’s you send videos if you want me to check your form.
My templates guide you on how to target relative intensity, meaning anyone can follow them because the intensity is tailored to you. If you want a custom program where the entire workout is written for your gym’s equipment, your personal preferences, your specific strength levels, your specific performance metrics, you should consider working 1-on-1 with a professional coach, such as Paddy Gleason at Off The Leash.
If you’re curious (or skeptical) about how effective an online professional program can be without a coach immediately present, you should at least try one of my pre-written programs. I back all my programs with a money-back guarantee, so it costs you very little up front, and nothing if you’re dissatisfied. What’s most likely to happen is you’re going to realize just how much better it is to have all your workouts laid out for you, allowing you to get more done every hour at the gym, and more results every week, which is going to get you hooked on professional training and make you want to work 1-on-1 with Coach Paddy once you’ve completed my pre-written workouts. Like I said, you’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
No matter what route you go, I can promise you that once you start training consistently and specifically for paintball, your game is going to elevate. You’re going to feel the difference. Your friends are going to see the difference. Your opponents will even fear the difference. I hope you will save this article for future reference, share it with your community, apply it as much as possible, and most of all I hope it helps you play better paintball.