The demands of high elevation backcountry hunting can put even the most athletically talented individuals in the dirt. Elk quarters are heavy, sheep country is relentless and unlike many sports, backcountry hunting requires you to maintain your strength, speed, and power for multiple days. Many hunters, even those that may frequent the gym do not prepare their energy production system, core and legs sufficiently to handle these demands. Unfit hunters fall behind fast and a "trip of a lifetime" can quickly turn into a nightmare or dangerous situation without proper conditioning. Effective conditioning for hunting big game in the backcountry of the Rocky Mountain West and Alaska is about much more than just "cardio." Honestly, most gym workouts don't translate well at all to increased performance in the high country. The elliptical or bicep curl machine will not help you cover long distances in unforgiving terrain with a heavy pack for multiple days.
The good news is that regardless of where you live, you can prepare for the grueling physical demands of backcountry hunting easily without any expensive equipment or a costly gym membership. For effective conditioning, all you need is your pack, a 60lb all-purpose sandbag, a set of dumbbells, and your local track. This is MTNTOUGH's favorite big game pre-season workout because it will increase your performance whether you live in Ohio or Montana. You don't need local mountains to climb...a sandbag can be found at your hardware store for $5 and nearly every town has public access to their local high school or University track. This workout is designed to be completed twice per week for 6-weeks prior to your hunt. The workout focuses on Sprint Intervals, Weighted Lunges, Weighted Stair Climbs, and Weighted Planks.
1. 2-Mile's of Intervals
This workout starts with 2 x 400m, 2 x 800m and then 2 more x 400m track sprints. These hurt, but intervals are one of the best ways to boost your cardiovascular fitness. They also test your mental fitness which is crucial for successful backcountry hunting. Many hunters hate running sprints, but they need to be doing them. Sprint intervals will develop your ability to breathe and recover quickly...such as after a steep pursuit when you need to steady yourself for the shot.
Run 400m as fast as you can (1 lap around the track), time yourself, rest the same amount of time it took you to finish, then head out for 400m sprint number 2. Repeat this 1:1 work to rest ratio for each interval.
2. 200 meters of Weighted Lunges
In hunting, the work begins when the animal is down, this workout is no different. You finished your sprints now it is time to go to work. Throw on your pack with the 60lb sandbag strapped in tight. Grab your set of 20lb dumbbells and head back out on the track. 200 meters of lunges with a 60lb pack is brutal, add the 20lb dumbbells in each hand and it is a physical and psychological beast.
This workout will boost your work capacity, strengthen your quads, glutes, and hamstrings...plus condition your body to operate under a heavy load. The dumbbells in each hand train your grip, arms, and traps for carrying bows, rifles, cameras, tripods, etc...
Strap your #60lb sandbag onto your pack. Grab a 20lb dumbbell in each hand. Lunge 200m. Head out 100m and then back (1/4 lap of your track). Carry the dumbbells with straight arms at your sides. Keep your chest and eyes up and focus on a long stride.
3. 10 Minutes of Weighted Stair Climbs
Any hunt in the Rocky Mountain West or Alaska is going to include lots of vertical gains & loss. Might as well get used to it now. After you finish your lunges keep your pack on and dumbbells in hand and head to the bleachers. You have 10 minutes of stair climbing. Set a timer for 10 minutes, get your mind right and go to work. Start at the bottom of the bleachers, head to the top, descend and repeat. Focus on the downhill, this requires a lot more than the uphill step as your body has to absorb the impact. Take your time and focus on good form, not laps. This is an ass-kicker, your legs, traps, arms, core, and shoulders are already burning from the lunges but you have to keep moving. Stay focused, and finish, packing out an animal can require multiple days, you just have to make it 10 minutes.
Go immediately from your lunges to the bleachers, do not remove your pack, keep your dumbbells. Set a timer or check your watch. Go up and down the stairs for 10 minutes with no rest.
4. 30-Second Pack Planks
Core strength helps with everything...backcountry hunting is no different. Hiking with heavy packs can become significantly easier as you strengthen your core and low back. Keep your pack on after your stair climb. Don't take it off, we are trying to accustom our bodies to working under load for extended periods of time. Drop your dumbbells, head to the grass and get ready to plank. Holding a 30-second plank with a 60lb pack is no joke...if you can't complete 30 seconds work your way up to it over time.
Set a timer or monitor your watch for 30-second rest to work intervals. Keep your 60lb pack on and get in plank position. Complete three rounds of 30-second plank holds with 30 seconds of rest. Watch your form and make sure your shoulder stays directly above your elbow. Make sure your back is flat and not rounded or pointed up.
Goal time for the entire workout is 1-hour. Try to complete the circuit faster each week. Enjoy yourself.
MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab, located in Bozeman, MT was founded by lifelong backcountry hunter & National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer Dustin Diefenderfer. www.mtntough.com