Circadian Rhythms – How they apply to YOU as a competitive shooter
We all operate on an internal clock, and each of us has a specific window of time in the average day during which we operate at peak efficiency. This cycle is called the Circadian Rhythm. Groups of people fall into categories depending on the time of day where they perform their best, called Circadian Phenotypes. As a competitive shooter, these rhythms can be of critical importance to your performance.
Since most tournaments happen during the day and the average start time is 9 AM, your Circadian Phenotype can be a real consideration on how you prepare to perform at your best. If you are in the “early” Circadian Phenotype category, the 9 am start time for a tournament will probably suit you just fine. But if you are an “intermediate” to “late” Circadian Phenotype, you may never perform at your peak for the first stage or stages in a match. One study showed that “early” and “intermediate” types had a 7% to 10% variation in their physical performance over the course of the day (which is a pretty serious variation in itself), but “late” types varied by up to 26 %! Mental performance is also very much affected by the Circadian Rhythm. This can be useful information in a sport where everything is measured in fractions of seconds and one mistake can take you from “hero” to “zero”!
What can you do if you are in the “late” category? One thing you can do is modify your strategy to fit your “type”. If you are a “late” type, (you probably know who you are, since the first stage of the day is usually a struggle)…you may want to dial it back during the early part of the day and form a more conservative stage plan with much more emphasis on shooting good points in a reasonable time rather than trying to pull off a risky stage plan with emphasis on speed.
There is another way to work with your Circadian Rhythm and that’s where we (Tactrainers Airsoft Target Systems) come in! Having your own airsoft range at home allows you to set up stages and experiment with how you perform at different times of the day. Shoot the same stages at various times of the day and record hit factors. You will see patterns in performance related to your “circadian phenotype”. (You can, of course, do this with live-fire too. It’s just a lot more expensive and a lot less time efficient in set up between stages, especially if you have a lot of falling steel in the stages you’re shooting. Assuming you even have access to full-size specialty steel like the Texas Star, Polish Plate Rack, Plate Rack, etc…..If you have a Tactrainers Master Bundle set up at home, you can shoot most of those targets any time you want with minimal time to reload your mag/s and reset your stages at very minimal expense).
If you are a “late” type, you will first want to identify what time of day the “cobwebs” go away and you start to enter your “peak” hours where you perform better naturally. Now spend a lot of time practicing more complicated combinations of targets, (especially moving targets like the Texas Star and Polish Plate Rack) during your “off-peak” time of day…usually early morning. This gives you an idea of how to “self-coach” to achieve a solid performance during your “off-peak” time slots. It might be as simple as putting a lot more emphasis on basics like grip, sight-focus, and trigger operation and “self-coach” those things in the “make ready” phase before shooting stages in your “off-peak” time slots.
After you find out what works to give you the best results during your lowest performing time slots, you can practice in those time slots a lot more. This gives you the experience and “feel” of what it takes to perform. You can find out exactly what “pre-stage briefing” to give yourself in “off-peak hours”. It also gives you the experience and confidence that since you shoot at that time of day or earlier during practice on a regular basis, it’s nothing new to do it during a match. Having your own Airsoft range that is steps away instead of miles away, where ammo costs only a few dollars per thousand, allows you to take advantage of this knowledge and practice in a way that will produce a solid performance, even in your “off-peak” hours!
John Linenbach, owner of Tactrainers Airsoft Target Systems, is a Master Class Production Division shooter in USPSA who practices exclusively with Airsoft using Tactrainers products.