17 miles in, things got dangerous

My body was shutting down.


I’m not going to lie: I didn’t train at all for that marathon, but there I was, running next to my wife with less than 10 miles to go.


It was her lifelong dream.


I encouraged her to sign up.  I thought I could handle it. I was young and naive.  


The miles crushed me that day and when we crossed the finish line, I swore I’d figure out this running thing.


And I did...


Later that year, we ran more marathons together.  A few 50 mile ultra marathons. Pushing ourselves further than we ever thought we could go. We went on to run 12 marathons in 12 months. I was completely hooked on the mental side of pushing to the finish line.


It was great for our marriage, but to be honest: it made me weaker in the mountains.  


That hunting season I had lasting multi-day endurance.  But my strength was way down and I couldn’t handle a pack like I used to.  I struggled in the mountains.


So I hit the weights hard the next year, putting the weight back on that I lost from running.


That fall was awful.  


I was too bulky and slow this time.  My strength was back, but my endurance wasn’t there.


All my training was focused on the wrong things, making another hunting season miserable.


That was the year I realized becoming a mountain athlete required way more than just cardio or weights.


That was the year the seed was planted to build MTNTOUGH Fitness Labs and study what it takes to properly train for the mountains.  


And since then, I’ve seen many hunters make the same painful mistakes I did.


MISTAKE #1 - Too Much Cardio


So many guys come to work with us after the mountains crushed them and the first thing I ask them is how they’ve trained in the past.  


Usually it’s some form of “I went to the gym and hit the treadmill, I ran 4 days a week.”  


Or “I just went in and did the stairmaster for an hour every day.”


We’ve seen it over and over.  


Effective conditioning for the backcountry is about much more than just "cardio." Honestly, most gym workouts don't translate well at all to increased performance in the mountains.  


Once you put on a 50 pound pack and start climbing in elevation on uneven terrain with lower levels of oxygen for 10+ miles a day, your body needs so much more than cardio to be able to perform.


The bottom line is: Running or biking or the stairmaster just doesn’t translate well to the backcountry.


MISTAKE #2 - Too Much Bodybuilding


We see this all the time and it definitely has gotten me a few times. Some of my worst hunts ever have been when I got too big and bulky.  Strength is important but training glamour muscles will make you slow and miserable in the mountains.


What you want to strive for as a mountain athlete is the ideal strength to power ratio.  Meaning you want to be as strong as possible and as lean as possible. Lean muscle mass wins in the backcountry, not bulk.


Bodybuilding is not functional either.  Rarely in the real world do we isolate one body part.  This will bite you in the backcountry, you need to train your energy systems to function together, full body.


MISTAKE #3 - Following The Wrong Program


Not many people actually know how to properly train for the demands of the mountains.  Most guys end up doing things like bodybuilding to increase strength. Or they focus on cardio or HIIT workouts.


Running makes you a great endurance athlete.


Bodybuilding gives you strength.


They all have one thing in common: They each have huge positives and will put in you in great shape, but each will also have inherent weaknesses once in the mountains.


Meaning that person has worked hard to build up one area of their body and unknowingly put themselves at risk in the backcountry.  An ideal training program for the backcountry has a balance of things like strength, endurance, oxygen adaptation, stamina, and more.


Without that balance, they have more weaknesses than strengths.


That’s why we’ve developed the 6 Pillars of a Mountain Athlete.  To put a focus on training all the right things to prepare any hunter for the backcountry  


The 6 Pillars of a Mountain Athlete


People often ask us:


“Is this Crossfit?  Is this HIIT training? What are MTNTOUGH workouts?”


MTNTOUGH is focused on building a balanced athlete, one that incorporates the 6 Pillars of a Mountain Athlete.  Workouts like this are different than anything you’ve probably experienced before.


Without training all 6, a hunter will have weaknesses that the mountains will expose.  Weaknesses that could cost them the hunt of a lifetime.


Because of that, elite backcountry athletes have to do workouts that balance these 6 pillars:


1) Endurance - Mountain athletes need to work hard for multiple days, not one day or a few hours


2) Chassis - Building a solid foundation, like the chassis of your truck, everything is built and everything relies on a strong chassis

3) Oxygen Adaptation - Training your body to use all the oxygen you’re giving it, which is critical at high elevations. Teaching your heart to pump more blood each stroke.

4) Balance - The ability to handle uneven rugged terrain

5) Stamina - Similar to endurance yes, but we define stamina as training your heart rate to drop fast, so you can make critical decisions under extreme fatigue & stress

6) Mental Toughness - The ability to push your body beyond what most people are capable of.


Every sport, and hunting is no exception, requires multiple levels of training.


You can go on an high altitude hunt, but you’ll do better if you’ve trained your body to utilize oxygen more efficiently.


You can chase down a big bull, but you’ll chase him further if you’ve trained your muscles to move over long distances.


You can get a clean shot on your target, but you may not hit the shot if you have not trained your mind to settle down, lower your heart rate, and steady your body.


You might get a great kill…but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good if you don’t have the physical strength to carry it out.


And you can go on a multi-day mountain hunt, but it will be miserable if your body is not conditioned for the longer duration and steep terrain.


That is what these 6 Pillars will give you - not just one dimension… but all of them.  


How to Train For the Mountains


The hardest part of training the 6 pillars is that strengthening one can weaken another.


Too much endurance will weaken chassis strength...  


Too much stamina will weaken endurance...  


That’s why you have to train in phases.  


The 90-Day Backcountry Hunter Program was designed to walk you through the training of all 6 pillars, step-by-step, so you’re improving in every area without creating more weaknesses.


Here’s how we do it...


Phase I: Neural Recruitment


We start with a high intensity, low weight, strict form introduction phase to dig deep into the neuromuscular recruitment and prepare them for the intensity of phase II and phase III.


Phase II: Strength


Here we build the solid foundation of strength upon which the dynamic exercises will grow.  This is where we pack on some muscle & size focusing on the key areas mountain hunters demand.  We build serious strength in this phase while carefully making sure you aren’t losing any stamina & endurance.  


Phase III: Dynamic Sports-specific


This phase is where we really build the machine. Having maximized neuromuscular recruitment as much as we could and having built intense strength we now transition to a high intensity, super-set format with dynamic and ballistic movements. This is where we really hammer in on those skills (agility, body control, symmetry (and asymmetry), mental toughness, endurance, confidence, and power) directly related to and necessary for elite level performance in the mountains.


Are You Ready to Become a Mountain Athlete?


If you’re ready to become part of a new type of online training program that’s never been done before… and transform your body into a backcountry athlete, we built a program just for you.


Your body will need to be prepared for altitude, rough terrain, and multi-day endurance. The mountain requires leg strength for steep descents and increased power for big climbs. It demands a strong chassis to handle heavy pack-outs, but most of all, your mind will need to develop greater mental toughness and self-confidence.


That’s why we created the 90-Day MTNTOUGH Backcountry Hunter Program… to help you train the 6 pillars required to conquer any mountain.


Click the link below to read more about the program (enrollment closes on FRI 6/29):


--> Click here to learn more about the program


My Best,

Dustin Diefenderfer


P.S. - This program has been tested for years in “The Lab” on some of the toughest backcountry hunters we know, here’s what they had to say about it:


“MTNTOUGH is intense functional fitness. It allows me to perform at a high level and do what I love in the mountains.” - Ali Knapp


"Literally, every workout has increased my confidence and I've never felt better in the mountains. Whether it's trail running or bow hunting it pays to be MTNTOUGH." - Weston Paul


“MTNTOUGH is what I have been chasing for years. Every workout is an opportunity to explore your own mental and physical limitations alongside a group of like-minded individuals." - Dylan White


“I have no doubt it will pay off in November when I'm hiking up a mountain and questioning whether I should keep going higher and farther -- I know my mind and body will be better prepared to answer, "Hell, yes, keep going.” - Matt Skoglund


“Now I have the confidence entering the upcoming hunting season in fantastic mental and physical shape BECAUSE of this program. I am looking forward to applying it to my hunts.” - Bridger Miller


“The the pain is worth it and there is no better way to get in shape prior to hunting season, especially in a 3 month period.” - Jason Mears