The spirit of western hunting is built on overcoming tremendous obstacles. From clawing your way up a muddy hill to scrambling a talus slope, and of course, working your way through deadfall - all while carrying a heavy load over long distances. We'd argue the work to punch your tag makes it all the sweeter.
But this is nearly impossible without peak strength, mental toughness, and a heavy dose of endurance. If the latter made you wince, then you're probably the right person to learn which cardio exercise is best for western hunting.
The best cardio workout for western hunting is one that improves endurance, strengthens the lower body, and prepares you for higher altitudes and rugged terrains.
Simulated outdoor activities, such as rowing and skiing, offer full-body workouts in addition to impactful cardiovascular training. Specific to building strength and conditioning for the high-altitude slopes you'll face hunting, stair climbing is an unbeatable exercise.
Not all cardio exercises are created equally, and this is certainly applicable to hunting fitness. This article will show you why each rowing, skiing, and stair climbing are excellent choices for building your cardio fitness.
3 Efficient and Effective Cardio Exercises for Hunters
The name of the endurance game is increasing your ability to perform straining tasks for an extended period. Western hunting goes hand in hand with high altitudes and hiking at ridiculous inclines for hours on end. And if you're not used to breathing well above sea level, you'll feel the importance of good cardio fitness almost immediately.
If you get tired just reading articles about improving your cardiovascular endurance, don't worry, you can change that. Tapping into aerobic exercises can improve your breathing and heart rates, which will boost your endurance as a result. It's not easy, but with the right mental toughness and workouts, you can take control of the situation.
Of the million and one different cardio exercises available to you, we've collected the following 3 because of their dual abilities to crush at cardio while also building strength.
1. Rowing: Lower and Mid-Back Strength
Rowing is an amazing low-impact exercise for cardiovascular fitness. While all cardio exercises should work your heart and lungs, some add unnecessary stress to your joints, which can lead to injury. Rowing, however, is easy on your joints (hence the low impact), but by no means is it an easy form of exercise. That's largely a result of how it engages your muscles for a full-body workout, putting your upper and lower body to the test in four movements surrounding pushing and pulling.
Rowing hits 85% of your body's muscles across 9 muscle groups, but it pays special attention to your lower and mid-back, legs, and arms. Large muscles like your lats, quads, and glutes take the lead in this exercise, and since large muscles require more energy and oxygen - rowing creates the perfect conditions for building endurance.
Back strength gained from rowing is especially important for hunting; making it easier to carry the gear on your back, draw your bow, pull yourself up, etc.
Since western hunting requires hiking long distances through rugged terrain, often at high altitudes, the endurance and strength-building push and pull of rowing is a top-notch exercise to get you ready. Done consistently, rowing can improve your ability to hike, climb, and carry heavy loads, making you a better-prepared hunter.
2. Skiing: Balance and Coordination
SkiErg and other machines that simulate Nordic skiing (think cross-country) have become a staple in nearly every gym, and for good reason. Similar to rowing, skiing exercises are both full-body and low-impact cardio workouts. For hunters, what sets this form of exercise apart is how is first and foremost how necessary it is for any sort of backcountry skiing needed during the day or the familiarity and motion needed for trekking poles, but also its effect on your overall balance.
Skiing across the snow for long distances requires full-body strength since the movement forces you to shift your weight and rotate at the waist. You need a strong core to do this successfully. The core is your body's mission control for balance, a valuable asset in the backcountry.
Skiing works a wide range of muscles in your body, it's full-body after all, but a few you might not expect can help you tremendously while hunting, including:
- Obliques: Located on the sides of your stomach, obliques help you twist at the torso, a necessary motion in skiing, but also while hunting - this supports keeping your balance as you navigate through tough terrain.
- Lats: In Nordic skiing, to move forward you have to dig the poles into the snow and use your arms to pull your body forward. Your lats (located on the sides of your back) are the workhorse behind this motion, and you'll need these in peak shape for countless movements while hunting.
- Pectorals: Nordic skiers aren't necessarily famous for strong chests, so you might not expect to see pectorals in the list of muscles used while skiing. But they play a role, helping your arms and ski poles push forward to grab the snow, the same movement you'll make hundreds of times while western hunting.
The large muscle groups used in skiing require heaps of oxygen and energy to move, this puts your heart and breathing into action, ultimately challenging your endurance. This brings us back to the aerobic benefits of skiing exercises.
Running is great and probably the first exercise people think of for cardiovascular fitness. But if you were to keep your heart rate between 60-80% of its capacity for an hour of Nordic skiing, you would need to run an hour and twenty minutes for the same physical benefits. In other words, Nordic skiing works your heart and lungs harder, making it a more efficient exercise for building your aerobic fitness. Don't take that as a reason to never run again. Running certainly has a role in cardiovascular fitness, and its use and timing like all exercises needs to contribute to a purposeful workout.
3. Stair Climbing: Simulating Terrain
Steep climbs and declines are par for the course in western hunting, that's why stair climbing is a solid exercise for getting your body ready for this type of terrain. Aside from simulating the angles that nature will throw your way hunting, stair climbing strengthens your lower body and boosts cardiovascular endurance. And like ski exercises, stair climbing can also support better balance and coordination.
Stairs require strong legs - so your quads, hamstrings, and calves need to be in top shape. You'll also work your glutes and core in the process, which have the fine duty of helping you maintain balance as you step up.
When you're traversing steep hills or navigating rocky terrain, you need to have the strength and endurance to keep going. Stair climbing can help you build the physical and mental resilience you need to make it through even the toughest hunts. Plus, it's another low-impact exercise on this list, which can prevent any unnecessary wear and tear, or injury.
Cardio Works More Than Lungs and Hearts
We'd argue though that there's another element of cardio exercise that's worth the effort, and that's how it builds mental toughness. When you're hiking for miles and miles, or chasing after game, you'll face moments of wanting to turn back. Maybe you're gasping for breath or just struggling to keep pace.
If you've trained your body to handle the physical demands through working out, and proven to yourself that you've gone through worse than what you're facing while hunting, you'll have also trained your mind to stay focused and push through the tough times.
Rowing, hitting the SkiErg, or climbing stairs might be the last thing you want to do, but you owe it to yourself to not skimp on the cardio. You'll be glad you did as you push through on the hunt.
How To Add More Cardio to Your Routine
You might be filled to the brim with cardiovascular motivation right now, but we'd caution you not to rush to the nearest highrise and climb the stairs to the top. While the ambition is definitely in the right place, we want you to succeed long-term, and that requires a more methodical approach.
Consistency is the secret ingredient to building your cardio capabilities. Rushing into a workout and going all out will leave you sore to the point of demotivation or worse, injury. So consider the following tips if your just beginning your cardio journey:
Start with shorter workouts and gradually increase the distance and intensity of your cardio workout. This will help prevent injury and build endurance.
Mix It Up:
Bake a variety of cardio workouts into your training program to prevent boredom and challenge your body in different ways.
Schedule your cardio workouts into your weekly routine. This is your consistency driver, which is critical for making progress.
Monitor Your Progress:
Track the distance, time, and intensity of your cardio workouts to monitor your progress and make adjustments as needed.
Minimal Gear Daily
Check every box on how to weave your training into your life with MTNTOUGH's Minimal Gear Daily (MGD). No fancy SkiErg or rowing machine is required; the bare minimum is all you'll need. This means you'll be able to build and stick to a routine whenever you want to, where you're at.
From beginner to elite mountain athletes, every MGD includes tiered guidance as you dig through not just cardio fitness, but also a range of motion, flexibility, muscular endurance, and of course - mental toughness.
Straight from our lab to your inbox every week, you'll be able to plan your workouts ahead of time and mark busy 30-40 minutes on the days you want to hit the MGD. Supplemental or entryway, you'll notice results from MGD day after day.
You Need Cardio, Strength, and Mental Toughness
"Making it" in western hunting means you need to be in top shape, and that requires more than just having big lungs and a strong heart. Sure, cardio is important, but it's not the only piece of the puzzle. And that's the true point of this article.
You need top cardio fitness, physical strength, and mental toughness if you want to come out on top. So rather than focusing on one aspect of your fitness routine before you go hunting, if you want to conquer the mountain, you need to train all parts of your body and mind in equal measure. That's where we come in.
At MTNTOUGH, we've got everything you need to become a well-rounded backcountry badass. Whether you're on the hunt for preseason prep or foundational training, we've got the right program for you. We'll be the guide at your side helping you build the mental toughness to power through strength and cardio training, and ultimately get you ready for the hunt of your life.