What Is the Best Cardio for Hunters?

Every hunter knows the familiar burn in the lungs that comes from carrying a heavy pack in the mountains. With each step they can hear their pounding heart echo in their ears.

It's a sensation that can either be avoided as a testament to their readiness or an unwelcome reminder of a lack thereof. So then, how do you make certain you're not the one left gasping for breath? The answer starts with understanding the best cardio exercises for hunters.

The best cardio for hunters uses functional fitness to build physical and mental endurance, as well as terrain adaptability. The training includes a mix of interval, distance, and muscular endurance that mimics the hunting environment, such as rucking, heavy pack workouts, and trail running.

The backcountry doesn't care about your gym membership or how many miles you ran last week. It demands more. It demands functional strength, mental grit, and the kind of cardio that prepares you for the unpredictable rhythm of the hunt. These factors largely determine your hunting fate.

Cardiovascular fitness is not just about hiking further; it's also about thinking clearer, reacting faster, and pushing past barriers that would stop others in their tracks.

Break into the world of hunting cardio with us and discover the best movements to mastering the mountains.

3 Ways to Build Cardiovascular Fitness

Imagine this: you're deep in elk territory, the only sound is your breath and the distant wind. You call out, and after a tense pause, the unmistakable bugle of a bull echoes back. Your heart races, not from exhaustion, but from the thrill of the hunt.

This isn't just any hunt; it's the culmination of months of rigorous training, pushing your body and mind to their limits. Welcome to the world of elite hunting fitness. Welcome the world of being MTNTOUGH.

Cardiovascular endurance is synonymous with heart health. It's the difference between feeling winded after a short hike and conquering miles of rugged terrain with a heavy pack, all while staying sharp and alert.

For a hunter, it's not about the sprint; it's the marathon. They need the staying power to cover miles of uneven terrain while carrying heavy gear and remaining alert to their surroundings. 

Building cardiovascular fitness for western hunting requires more than running on a treadmill three days a week.

It demands a blend of programs that enhance stamina and muscle endurance.

It's essential to have a regimen that's not just functional but purpose-driven. Every exercise should have a clear goal, one that translates directly to the context of the wilderness.

Becoming an elite mountain athlete consists of unwavering discipline and commitment. It's a lifestyle, not 3 gym visits a week.

Elite mountain athletes train year-round, where the purpose of training is geared toward optimal hunting performance. This means pre-season is kicking the body and mind into the best it can be, and just before the season starts, they're able to focus specifically on functional movements they'll rely on in the wild.

If you're gearing up for the backcountry, consider MTNTOUGH's Backcountry Hunting Preseason Prep 2.0.

In just 80 days, transform from novice to elite, mastering skills for challenging terrains and high altitudes. And don't worry, there's plenty of recovery and pre-hab time built in.

Before we dig into the best cardio exercises for hunters, let's quickly level set on the three foundations of cardio training and how each relates to hunting fitness.

1. Long-Distance Training: Building Enduring Stamina

Despite how they're used in most conversations, stamina and endurance are not the same thing.

The clearest difference lies in the goal of each. Stamina is all about sustaining power and intensity whereas endurance is all about longevity. The clearest example is comparing a sprinter with a marathoner.

That said, stamina is a reflection of fitness and not a measurement of health in its own right. That is, stamina is a subsection of endurance.

Bringing it all together, when you're ascending at an extreme angle for hundreds of yards in a stretch, you need significant power just to move forward. But you also need that consistent power the whole way through.

Long-distance running can be helpful in this scenario. It's not just about covering miles; it's about building the stamina to endure those long, unpredictable days in the backcountry.

You need a consistent pace, and that's where stamina comes into play.

But it's not just your body that benefits. The mental grit developed during those long runs is invaluable. It teaches your mind to persevere, even when the trail gets tough.

Benefits of long-distance running:

  • Fortifies your heart, making it more efficient.

  • Boosts lung capacity, ensuring better oxygen supply.

  • Trains your body for sustained effort, a must-have for backcountry success.

2. Interval Training: Emulating the Hunt

The hunt is unpredictable. One moment you're stationary, the next you're stalking while moving at pace. This is where interval training comes in, mirroring the erratic rhythm of hunting.

It's about short, intense bursts of energy, followed by rest, training your cardiovascular system to adapt to rapid change

Exercises like sprints, jumps, and agility drills are perfect.

They simulate the sudden energy bursts needed during a hunt, whether you're closing in on a trophy bull or navigating dense forests.

Regular interval training will boost your ability to shift between high-intensity activity and recovery.

3. Hiking and Rucking: Preparing for the Wild Terrain

The wilderness is not a flat track, so a treadmill won't help your functional fitness. When western hunting, you'll face a mix of uphill climbs, uneven terrains, water systems, and everything in between.

Hiking prepares you for this. Add a weighted pack (rucking), and you're not just training for endurance but also strength.

Both exercises closely resemble the real thing. From carrying gear across vast distances to the added weight of your kill. They're also great ways to sharpen your mental toughness at the same time. You'll need both in the backcountry. 

Before you rush to the gym for a 5-miler to get your stamina pumping, you need to know that some cardio is far more effective for hunters than others.

We've compiled 5 cardiovascular exercises that will set you on the right course to punching your tag this season.

5 Types of Cardio Every Hunter Should Know

The right cardio workout can make all the difference, ensuring you have what it takes to claw your way through rough terrain. In an extreme scenario, it might just mean your survival depends on it.

The importance of cardiovascular fitness can’t be overstated, but don't confuse that for "go out and run for miles."

You have to train with a purpose.

No sugar-coating it here – without the proper training, the thought of quitting will always be looming in the back of your mind.

So let's steer you on the right course, starting with HIIT workouts.

1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): A Dynamic Simulation

In the backcountry, hunting is a game of starts and stops. One moment you're stationary, the next you're closing in on your game.

This is the moment where your heart is pumping and your lungs are on fire - HIIT can help with that.

HIIT, with its intense exercise bursts followed by short recovery periods, mirrors this dynamic. It boosts your cardiovascular endurance but also conditions your body for rapid recovery, prepping you for the unpredictable nature of hunting.

This shift in intensities will boost your metabolism, and improve overall fitness levels. This type of cardio workout is ideal for being ready for the unpredictable demands of the backcountry.

2. Rucking: Training for the Load

Every hunter knows the weight of their gear. It's heavy. Between lifting, loading, unloading, and handling their pack for miles and days, some hunters feel the pain of their heavy pack early on.

And any hunter who has had success knows that adrenaline can only help them get so far before the added weight of their prize starts to take its toll.

That's why rucking, rucksack training or hiking with a weighted backpack, is a great hunting workout.

Rucking improves your cardiovascular fitness and builds the muscle and joint strength to carry that weight over long distances.

It's a low-impact workout which minimizes the risk of injury while effectively conditioning your body for the rigorous demands of hunting.

Your back, shoulders, legs, and core muscles will appreciate this form of strength and endurance training when you hit your 8th mile in a day.

3. Stair Climbing: Conquering Elevations

This one doesn't take much imagination to see its value for hunters - the hills and mountains won't flatten out for you, so you need to be prepared to climb.

Stair climbing replicates the up and down of mountainous terrains, building leg strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance at the same time.

It's easy to forget that descending can be just as challenging as ascending in many situations, and it's certainly harder on your joints than going uphill. It's a skill many forget to train, and one of the contributing factors to ankle injuries, which is the most common injury to plague hunters.

This movement will put your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and even your core muscles to the test. Adding core strength training even helps with agility and stability for inclines and declines.

There's something to be said for the repetitive nature of this exercise; it fosters mental resilience, a must-have for remaining focused during any extended hike.

4. Trail Running: Terrain's Test

The backcountry isn't a smooth, paved road. Trail running, with its uneven terrains and elevation changes, is an excellent way to prepare for the physical demands of hunting.

Trail running strengthens stabilizing muscles while pushing your cardiovascular system to adapt to changing conditions. 

Similar to moving through difficult brush and landscapes while hunting, trail running:

  • Engages a variety of muscles.

  • Fosters better balance.

  • Enhances proprioception - your awareness of your body in the space surrounding it.

In other words, the unexpected and rapid change in environment builds agility, balance, focus, and quick decision-making, all crucial skills in that environment.

5. Isometric training: Precision in Motion

Hunting isn't always about movement. Sometimes, it's about holding still, whether you're drawing a bow or waiting for the perfect shot.

Isometric training use static muscle contractions without joint movement. You can replicate the muscle engagement required during moments of stillness and precision in the field.

Holding positions like the draw of a bow, maintaining a steady aim, or bracing for stability during intense climbs can all be simulated through isometric exercises. 

There are many to pick from, but here are some you can try at home:

Bow Draw Exercise:

By holding a resistance band or cable at chest level and mimicking the motion of drawing a bowstring, you can strengthen the muscles of your back, shoulders, and arms. This exercise targets the rhomboids, trapezius, deltoids, and biceps, all of which play a crucial role in maintaining steady aim and control while you hunt.


Wall Sits:

Many times, hunting is about working to get into the right position, then patiently waiting for long periods.

In some instances, blending in might require sitting in an unusual position - something akin to a wall sit. Leaning against a wall with your knees bent at a 90 degrees, you'll build muscle, namely in your lower body; in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Isometric Planks:

The core muscle group is instrumental in keeping you on your feet, and isometric planks, both traditional and side, build a strong core for greater stability. This exercise will keep your core engaged, working the abs, obliques, and lower back muscles. They make a great addition to stability workouts when you have minimal or no gear.

Isometric Push-Ups:

An isometric push-up will build strength and stability in your upper body. This comes to play in many situations in the wild, but you'll remember it best when shouldering your rifle or drawing your bow for a double lung shot on a bull. To do this exercise, hold the push-up position with your arms fully extended. This will engage your chest, triceps, and shoulders. It's similar to the tension you feel as you stabilize your weapon in the field.

Isometric training is all about maintaining a consistent heart rate over an extended period. It mimics the same controlled breathing and focused intensity you need in those clutch moments leading up to your shot.

Additional Tools for Backcountry Hunting Success

Having a solid cardiovascular foundation is essential for a successful hunt, but it's not the only factor influencing your hunting fate. Although they might be second tier in terms of obvious backcountry challenges, skilled breathing and mobility are just as priceless.

Mastering Your Breath

Hunting at high altitudes presents its own breathing challenges, controlled breathing is the topic of focus here.

This zen-like grip on your oxygen rewards those who practice it. When you're glassing or lining up your shot, controlled breathing steadies your hand, calms your mind, and ensures precision. It's a skill often overlooked but is paramount for a successful hunter.

Precision Breathing Techniques for Hunters

Breath work exercises increase your oxygen intake, physiologically calming your body and mind. Increased focus is the byproduct.

Practicing controlled breathing enhances lung capacity and oxygen utilization while also promotes relaxation and mental clarity. Precision breathing techniques can be seamlessly added to any cardio exercise like running, cycling, or hiking.

Deliberate breath control during cardiovascular stress imitates the focused breathing needed for a precise shot. 

Mobility Training: Preparing for the Unpredictable

Hunting in the remote wilderness is as unpredictable as it gets in the world. A hunter's agility is constantly tested as a result. That's where mobility training comes into play.

Mobility is far more than being flexible (although flexibility is certainly an important component). Think of it more like functional movement, which includes:

  • Improved flexibility.

  • Increased range of motion.

  • More powerful and precise movements.

Combined, this helps you move more efficiently with less risk of injury.

Building mobility training into your hunting workouts adds intention to each step, building confidence and secure footing in the process.

Mobility training comes in many forms; add dynamic stretches, foam rolling, and functional movements to improve your body's ability to adapt to uneven surfaces, obstacles, and sudden changes in direction.

It's a great way to round out a cardio workout.

A Better Cardio Workout for a Better Hunting Experience

Every footprint in the backcountry is a testament to a hunter's grit and determination. The sport pushes athletes to their limits; constantly testing one's endurance, strength, and mental toughness in training and in the wild.

While cardio is critical to success, true prep requires far more.

Complacency? There's no place for it here. Without rigorous training, the stakes are high.

But with the right regimen, one that leads with function and a holistic approach, you'll be able to focus your attention where it really matters.

This type of program understands that backcountry readiness isn't just a factor of cardio and strength training. Rather, it conditions a mountain athlete by also improving their flexibility, balance, endurance (including stamina), and of course - mental toughness.

A hunter that commits to this kind of approach is on their way to becoming an elite mountain athlete. They're serious about being the best version of themselves. To them, hunting isn't a seasonal hobby; it's a lifestyle.

One that demands more than sporadic gym visits. They make sacrifices before, through, and beyond hunting season. The shiny prize arrives during hunting season, but the real reward is building a more purpose-driven life elsewhere.

Ready to level up? MTNTOUGH's programs are waiting for you.

Tailored for every season's challenge, we make sure you're more than prepared; you're dominant. From heart-intense cardio drills to muscle-building routines and mental fortitude exercises (and much, much more), we've got the blueprint.

Beginner or seasoned, our programs aren't one-size-fits-all. They're designed to elevate every athlete at every level, transforming you from standard to standout in weeks.

Still on the fence? Dive in risk-free for 14 days.

Challenge accepted? Then don't settle for average when MTNTOUGH can help you redefine your hunting journey. The pinnacle of your hunting career is just around the corner. Are you bold enough to seize it?