You're miles from the nearest road, your gear has weighed you down for hours, and yet your energy and focus feel untouched. This is your gut-check. It’s a measure of your grit, functional strength, and mental toughness. It’s the many benefits of functional training earning their keep.
There are 9 no-nonsense benefits to functional training that resonate the most with backcountry hunters:
Forget the vanity muscles or how much weight you can bench press. With functional training it's all about how well you manage the challenges that hit you square in the face when you’re miles from anywhere.
In this guide, we’ll dig into each of the 9 benefits, some of the science behind it, and share functional exercises that aren’t just for show.
These are purpose-built, field-tested movements that translate directly to the rugged terrains and high-stakes moments of the hunt. Welcome to the first stage of becoming an elite backcountry athlete.
The 9 Benefits of Functional Training: Your Blueprint for Backcountry Dominance
Still on the fence about functional training? Time to jump off. The 9 benefits below could redefine your entire hunting experience, turning you from an average weekend warrior into a backcountry powerhouse.
1. Enhanced Real-World Functionality
Forget the gym mirror - this is about real-world performance. Functional training mimics the exact movements you'll use in the wild, whether you're sidehilling or keeping your head on a swivel thanks to a sudden noise.
Think about the Front Rack Step-Up: confined to the gym, it’s just another exercise. But take the same movement into the wilderness and it becomes a rehearsal for stepping over uneven terrain.
2. Reduced Risk of Injuries
Every step is a risky step when making your way through untouched nature. So making ‘one wrong move’ is inevitable.That’s why a twisted ankle is the most common injury for backcountry hunters.
The difference though is you’re miles from help and thousands of feet above flat land. This can wreck your hunting plans in an instant.
At best, an injury in the backcountry is an inconvenience. At its worst, it’s potentially game over. Functional training places a premium on improving your movement patterns and joint stability to keep you injury-free.
Enter functional training, which zeroes in on joint stability and balanced muscle development. By building a resilient body, you’re less susceptible to injury and other unpredictable situations that might turn your hunt into a chaotic test of survival.
Exercises like hip circles and leg swings are great for this. More than a warm-up movement, single-leg squats and lateral lunges are great for building strength that protects your lower body - they're your insurance policy against ankle sprains and twists.
3. Improved Balance and Coordination
Nobody walks through the backcountry, they more or less balance their way along an endless series of uneven and deceiving ground. It requires a great deal of balance to perform safely. Master it, and each step becomes a calculated move rather than a game of chance.
Adding movements like the single-leg deadlift is one way to build confidence in your feet. This challenging exercise is just what you’ll need when desperate for stable footing. Whether you’re crossing fallen timber or making your way up a hill, training for balance in the wild is a must.
4. Increased Muscle Strength and Endurance
There’s nothing leisurely about walking in the wilderness. You’re always hauling extra weight, you’re never truly certain how strong your footing is, and you’re either ascending or descending - level ground doesn’t exist here.
This makes the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other an exhausting full-body workout.
By design, functional training builds muscular strength and endurance across your major muscle groups as well as those smaller, stabilizing muscles that often get overlooked when hitting the gym.
You can build the right strength and endurance to manage this in a number of ways. But on the scrappier side of functional training, doing squats with a sandbag captures the experience of carrying your pack in the backcountry. You’ll forge legs, core, and back muscles that power you forward and the endurance to keep moving when others would turn back.
5. Better Joint Mobility and Flexibility
From flash floods to wildfires and blizzards, trudging through extreme weather is a given. It creates a landscape that’s always in a state of change. The physical landmarks and holds you relied on last weekend can be completely erased and compromised the next. It’s a place governed by the ability to adapt.
This is key to functional training, and holds significant weight when it comes to your joints.
Whether you realize it or not, every time you move your body in the backcountry, you’re opening yourself up to a flexibility test.
The landscape isn’t always what it seems. A slight misstep or putting too much faith in a foothold can instantly test the limits of how far your joints and limbs can stretch before they crumble.
Putting your joints to the test and strengthening them before you ever reach the middle of nowhere is the best way to handle this.
To do this, try adding dynamic movements like the push up walkout (inchworm) to your routine. This exercise is incredibly efficient. With a simple series of steps, it enhances your fitness for the backcountry terrain:
- Strength: This movement builds strength in your legs, core, chest, and arms.
- Posture and Balance: A bonus to building a stronger core (muscles in your stomach, pelvis, lower back, and hips) is that you’re also tightening up your posture and balance.
- Cardio Health: The push up walkout will kick your heart into overdrive as it works harder and faster to push blood to your muscles across your entire body.
- Mobility and Flexibility: The push up walkout is great for increasing the mobility of your shoulders and spine, ideal for climbing over or crawling under obstacles.
Better joint mobility and flexibility can draw inspiration from any influence, so long as it makes you better prepared in the field. Nothing’s off the table…even atypical practices like yoga.
The average mountain athlete is laughably different from a yoga enthusiast, but if you think yoga poses are just for enlightened yogis, then think again.
Take the MTNMVMT program as an example: engineered for functional mobility, it’s a powerful bodyweight solution that increases your flexibility and stability. On the mountains, you’re left with a fuller range of movement, less fatigue, and more resilience against the elements.
- Pro Tip: The Hip Flexor Factor. Don't underestimate your hip flexors. They're often the unsung heroes - or the hidden culprits - for hunters. Neglect them, and you might find your extended hunts ending earlier than planned. So, when you're working on your mobility, give these muscles the attention they deserve.
Any time you handle a heavy pack, the weight will try to steer your direction and challenge your balance. Losing control of steering your body in already difficult environments is a quick way to tear your joints apart, especially in your shoulders where the common situation is trying to catch your fall but landing an awkward hold in the process.
It’s not the most popular topic of training for western hunting, but it’s an always present force while you’re out there. So don’t skimp on training that increases your flexibility and range of motion.
6. Enhanced Athletic Performance
This is the part of functional training that pipes the nuances of your sport or occupation directly into the conversation. It’s highly specialized: drawing a bow with precision, shouldering a rifle under pressure, or cutting through thick brush like it's second nature.
You don’t even need gym gear to apply functional training to improve athletic performance. Ever tried holding a deep squat while drawing your bow?
With only your bow and bodyweight this drill is going to make you more decisive and boost your shot accuracy in those split-second moments - the ones where your target turns and you have a small window to a broadside shot.
7. Higher Calorie Burn
Hunting the backcountry is the equivalent of a vertical marathon. You need energy. Lots of it.
The average 40-year-old male carrying a 50lb pack will burn through 6,000 calories every single day of his hunting trip.
Functional training, with its compound movements and full-body engagement throws gasoline on your metabolic fire. This is how muscular endurance is fortified. Exercises like burpees and kettlebell swings are the perfect ambassadors for this category, providing sustained energy during those long marches.
8. Improved Posture and Muscle Tone
Securing a 40+lb backpack to your hips and shoulders then hiking for miles is your posture’s version of a trial by fire. Thankfully, functional training stresses core engagement and balanced muscle development. Both help to shape your posture and allow you to carry heavy loads.
Plank variations, like monkey planks, are best suited for the job. In addition to building core strength and better posture, monkey planks also minimize back strain.
With a strong back and an upright posture, you can carry the weight and focus on the hunt, not a nagging pain.
9. Mental Boost and Enhanced Brain Health
Functional training builds muscle and mind in equal measure. Coordination, focus, rapid decision-making. These aren’t just buzzwords, they’re your connective tissue between everything else out there. Helping you connect the dots between the balance of strength and endurance.
Agility ladder drills, for instance, are arguably more about brainwork than footwork. They force you to think on your feet - literally.
Functional training imparts the mental agility to keep a hunter sharp when the stakes are highest.
Equipment and Environment
The name says it all: functional. No fancy gear or high-tech gadgets required. It’s all about what works. Period.
Whether it's resistance bands, kettlebells, or good-old body weight, the tools of the trade are rugged and versatile, the exact qualities you need to adapt outdoors.
Everything you need to know about the equipment for functional training can be found in the name itself: ‘functional.’ Call it practical, useful, handy, or any other synonym, the whole concept is predicated on being adaptive and resourceful. The training tools are no exception.
Gear varies quite a bit based on your goals and real-world application. Resistance bands, stability balls, kettlebells, dumbbells, your own body weight - for backcountry training, you can get a ton of use out of any of those items and even less.
MTNTOUGH created entire programs dedicated to utility and achieving more with less. Why? Because in the backcountry, less is often more. Click to explore several of these programs yourself: Minimal Gear Foundation, Body Weight ON-RAMP, No Gear 60, to name a few.
You don't need a home gym to get started. A resistance band can be as effective as a bow, and a kettlebell can mimic the heft of a loaded pack. This is about training smart, not just hard. And the best part? Your wallet stays as intact as your resolve.
MTNTOUGH Programs: Real-World Training for Backcountry Hunters
Every MTNTOUGH program is designed with purpose. Function is the priority.
Focused on arming mountain athletes, tactical athletes, and first responders with real-world skills, our vast library can help you tag that trophy bull, crush your pre-deployment training, and give you the confidence to regain control in any emergency situation.
Here's how we tailor our training to meet the unique challenges of backcountry hunting:
Let's face it, elevation changes at high altitudes are a whole different beast. The risk of altitude sickness is always looming. That's why our MTNTOUGH Backcountry Hunter Programs are engineered to turbocharge your oxygen adaptation.
Through high intensity training and aerobic conditioning, you’ll acclimate quicker and expend less energy at the hands of elevation.
Carrying Heavy Loads
You're not just hauling gear, you're hauling a lifeline. And if you’re fortunate, you’ll walk out with enough meat to completely fill your deep freezer. No matter how you look at it, the precious cargo in your pack is a heavy burden.
Its contents will stress the body in ways that brute strength alone can’t solve. It demands intelligent movement. Our heavy-pack programs are designed to give you not just the muscle but also the mobility you need to navigate the wilderness efficiently.
The backcountry is a maze of rocky and unstable ground. Our programs incorporate exercises that challenge your balance and key you into your body awareness by enhancing your proprioception. With dedicated training it’s only a matter of time before you’re navigating the backcountry with the confidence of a Dall ram.
Milliseconds can timestamp the difference between a missed opportunity and a prized shoulder mount. In the backcountry, speed and agility matter.
That’s why you’ll find agility drills and plyometric exercises throughout our programs. They’ll sharpen your quick movements and reflexes, decreasing the time between a focused thought and a clean shot.
Every MTNTOUGH program places emphasis on muscle coordination and efficient movement. Both are cornerstones for maintaining your energy levels while moving for long periods.
Functional Training: A Holistic Approach to Elevating Your Hunt
Functional training is the whole package: strength, endurance, grit, balance, flexibility, and mobility. Isolating muscles like traditional strength training will leave you stranded in the backcountry.
True change that matches your purpose comes from integrating every part of your body, training them to work in unison, and challenging them by closely mimicking the real use case.
While the value of the benefits is clear, the functional training process is actually the big reveal. Ready to experience the transformative power of functional training firsthand?
Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or elite backcountry hunter, functional training adapts to your level. It equips you with the tools to dominate your surroundings.
So, take the next step with a 14-day free trial to every functionally designed program from MTNTOUGH, and see for yourself just how powerful this transformation is after all.