Smart prep for crack shot

Mike Johnson

Kiwi Para-Shooting star Mike Johnson hopes a smart acclimatisation plan will help him cope with the Rio heat and give him the best chance of striking gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games next year.
With a high level spinal cord injury, Mike’s nervous system operates differently to an able-bodied person meaning he has an inability to sweat. In hot conditions this leads to his body overheating which can hamper his cognitive ability and impact performance.

The 41-year-old, who landed the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games title in the Air Rifle Standing SH2 event, felt he struggled to cope in the heat at the 2013 IPC Shooting European Championships in Alicante, Spain. Going into the event in prime form, Mike was subjected to conditions on the range of around 29-30degC.

“I felt really hot,” admits Mike of his experience in Spain. “This left me a little bit uncomfortable and frustrated. This impacted on my concentration and affected my vision and aim. It meant I was not operating at 100 per cent. In addition we also wear heavy leather and suede jackets during competition (which aid stability and grip) and this only further bumped up my core temperature.”

Consequently Mike performed below expectations in Spain and out of the disappointment a new heat coping strategy was put into place with the aid of HPSNZ performance physiologist Anna Skipper in an effort to acclimatise the Kiwi marksman to the conditions he was likely to face at the 2014 IPC Shooting World Championships in Suhl, Germany.

The Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games bronze medallist trained inside the heat chamber at AUT Millennium. Mike worked out on a handcycle to raise his core temperature and then underwent a practise session via a computer simulated shooting programme.

It was a process which had huge benefits, according to Mike.

“It took its toll physically and by the end of the week I felt pretty exhausted,” admits Mike. “Yet after about three days I started to notice that the environment was not so hot. My heart-rate, skin temperature, shooting performance and even how I am feeling were all monitored, so I could look back and see an improvement.”

Competing in hot conditions his body coped with the demands much better and Mike won a bronze in the R510m Air Rifle Prone SH2 event.

“I felt it was very useful to have done something to help my performance,” he adds. “If I hadn’t done the work in the heat chamber, it would have put doubt in my mind.”

The next big challenge is preparing for the expected heat he is likely to face in Rio next year and his acclimatisation strategy may be slightly tweaked.

“At this stage we are not sure how it is going to work but it could well be we set up hot conditions in my environment at my home in Waiuku where I have a shooting range,” he explains. “I live one hour and 15 minutes away from AUT Millennium and it is quite taxing on the body to drive there, shoot in the heat chamber and then drive back home. It might be beneficial to set something to replicate the heat at home or it could be that I combine shooting at home with practice at the heat chamber. We’ll just have to see.”