Back in 2013, I took my buddy Joe on one of his first backcountry elk hunts in Montana. It was almost his last.
He was a diehard passionate bowhunter from Mississippi who dreamed of hunting out west.
Mid 40’s. A hard-working, busy family man.
I tried to tell him to start training early… but he was convinced he could just crush the elliptical machine every day throughout August and be alright.
Our trip finally arrived and we went to this awesome high country spot. We kept pushing deeper into the backcountry looking for elk.
Joe was on an adrenaline high, feeling good, soaking up his first hunt in the high country.
It was a good hunt, we got into elk, but no shot opportunities.
Eventually, it was time to start working our way out. Because we had pushed hard all day, we were deep into some remote basins and the hike out was going to be tough.
Mile 11… that’s when it him.
Mentally and physically, Joe went to outer space.
He was confused about where he was. Mumbling things.
He kept lying on the ground and pulling out his phone, trying to text his wife.
I could see the fear on his face.
That’s when I finally got scared for my friend.
He had hit the wall. His tank was on empty.
And we all started to worry about how we were going to get this guy off the mountain and back home to his wife that day.
We have a name for it… it’s called “Bonking”
It’s that moment when your mind and body completely shut down.
It’s hard to explain to someone if they’ve never experienced it.
It comes out of nowhere. One minute Joe’s good and the next, he’s convinced he can’t make it out.
What scares me the most about bonking is that it’s not really a conventional medical condition that can be treated like heat exhaustion or dehydration. We’ve all had training to handle stuff like that.
Bonking is different.
It’s some kind of dangerous combination of muscle fatigue, exhaustion, and calorie depletion… but the most unique aspect is the paralyzing mental failure that comes with it.
Confusion, fear, and a burned-out body all come together to bring a regular guy like Joe to his knees and convince him he won’t make it out.
This is the kind of thing that can put a guys life at risk. Or send him home off the mountain early, ending his dream hunt.
It’s not something many guys are prepared for. And Joe had no idea what hit him.
We spent hours talking to him trying to get his head right and calm him down. It was hard to get him to eat a snack or drink any water… but we forced him to take down whatever he could to refuel.
After that, it was miles of baby steps.
5 steps then a break. 5 steps then a break.
We got back to the truck in the middle of the night and Joe slept for the next 12 hours.
I don’t mind sharing his story because Joe’s a helluva guy and good friend. I still hunt with him to this day.
The next year he started training way earlier… and incorporated more types of training instead of just cardio.
He hasn’t bonked since. A few years later he harvested an awesome bull in some of the nastiest country I can think of.
How to Avoid Bonking
When you’re short on time, short on energy, and short on specific knowledge you’re just going to gravitate to what you’ve done before to prep for hunting season.
But what’s familiar isn’t always the best...
Bonking can happened to anyone, but the guys who properly prepare their bodies for the backcountry have a much lower risk.
Joe did something so many guys have done, waiting until August to start training for hunting season.
It’s a common mistake… and one that can put you at risk in the mountains.
Don’t wait until August to start training for hunting season.
Sure, any training is better than no training at all… but the mountains are unforgiving.
When we sat down to start developing our Backcountry Hunting Program, we looked at how long to make the program.
Six weeks? Nine weeks? Go to a full 12 weeks or more? We debated this topic for hours...
Based on the 32 years of combined training experience and the science of what we were up against, we came to the conclusion that we needed at least 12 weeks to put together an effective and long lasting program for a backcountry hunter.
It takes at least 2 to 4 weeks of a new type of exercise for your body to get past the neural recruitment phase when you start.
Neural recruitment is basically the waking up of dormant muscles and getting them activated.
The first few weeks are really not necessarily you getting stronger, but your body and your neuromuscular pathways are becoming more coordinated.
So you're using muscles better in groups and you're really lifting more weight because you're coordinated better, not necessarily because you're a lot stronger. And it takes about 2 to 4 weeks for those adaptations to really develop fully.
After that 2 to 4 week point, we can start putting on muscle mass and strength. That requires at least another 4 to 6 weeks to get the muscle gains that are repetitive enough to build the foundation that we want.
Once you have the neuro recruitment down to where it needs to be, and you body has put on a good base of muscle, then you can start another 4 to 6 weeks of building the endurance with that muscle.
In other words, we want you to be able to lift all the weight you're going to lift with a lot less effort than you used to lift it, for a lot longer time than you used to lift it.
This is going to give you things like leg endurance for a multi-day hunt.
To do that, we need to make you strong so you're looking at about 4 more weeks training your body to carry weight over a long distance of time.
So those are the muscular reasons why we need 12 weeks.
Cardiovascularly, you have a similar process.
It will take your body a week to start manufacturing more red blood cells and hemoglobin levels should rise within three weeks, so that requires some adaptation time.
It takes at least 4 to 6 weeks for your heart rate to grow and adapt.
This is what you need to recover fast, for example feeling recovered in 30 seconds versus 2 minutes after a big climb or sprint. Which is crucial for when you need to calm down and be steady for a shot.
That gets you into the phase where you're now ready to start expanding and building on your cardio training.
The Bottom Line: 12 Weeks Is Ideal
Any backcountry hunters we train at MTNTOUGH, we train them for at least 12 weeks if not longer.
They see good gains in the first six weeks. They can make some incredible progress in six weeks, there's no doubt. But to really get permanent, lasting gains, we need to push them over to 12 weeks for those things to start taking effect and staying in their system.
As you start doing this kind of work, your body composition is going to change. And that also requires time for your body to now adapt to the new oxygen requirements it needs.
In other words, you're going to have more muscle mass, more lean mass, and less fat mass. It's going to change how your body utilizes energy. All those systems now have to learn to adapt and your body has to deliver more oxygen.
That's why it takes a little longer for you to adapt on the cardiovascular side because you're pushing more muscle now than you used to.
And so if you go through 12 weeks, you also need to make sure that your cardiovascular system is having time to adapt to your new body composition, as your body composition changes.
So all those things come together inside a dedicated 12 week program.
A period of preparation that makes the transition to hunting season feel seamless.
We'd prefer to train you even longer, so 12 weeks is a minimum we recommend. That's why we did this for three months. And we can do it in three months. If you give us six, we'll make you even stronger.
Don’t Start Training Too Late
We have people approach us all the time to prepare for hunting season or BUDS or a big race and by the time they approach us we’re bearing down on the date with very little time to train.
Training to reach a goal requires time – you truly want to get stronger, faster, and better (and we want you to get there too) – but you want to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt you or force you to sacrifice other things you value, like spending time with your kids.
The science is pretty solid that you need at least 12 weeks to prepare your body for hunting season.
Whether you end up joining our 90-Day Backcountry Hunting Program or working with a personal trainer, start now.
Not in August.
Many hunters wait until the last minute to get ready and don’t prepare their energy production system, core, and legs sufficiently to handle the demands of the mountains.
A "trip of a lifetime" can quickly turn into a nightmare or dangerous bonking situation without proper conditioning.
That’s why we crafted the 90-Day MTNTOUGH Backcountry Hunter Program to be a full 12-weeks… to take you through all the necessary body transformations to best prepare you for the demands of the hunt.
And now is the time to start, so come fall, you’re not “that guy” that bonks and has to rely on his buddies to get him out… all because your body wasn’t prepared.
Here’s the rundown:
It’s a 90-day program...
You’ll get 5 in-depth video workouts each week, delivered to any device through our private MTNTOUGH app.
And you’ll have lifetime access to the material, so you can use this program to prep for hunting season every year, with free upgrades as we improve it over time.
That means you’ll be able to use this program (and it’s lifetime updates) to train for hunting season year-after-year.
NOTE: because this program is for hunting season prep, enrollment is only open once each year. 2018 enrollment closes on FRIDAY June 29th.
P.S. - Here’s more feedback from other hunters that have been through the program:
“The one year I decided I wanted to lift heavy and set some big numbers in traditional power lifting, I found I was the worst in the mountains. My lungs were good but my muscular endurance and functional strength seemed to lack.
This program makes me get more mentally prepared for the workout because I know it’s going to be a grind every time. What helps the most for me is knowing there are other people out there slugging it out everyday too. Competition breeds success and it keeps you accountable for doing the workouts everyday.
I feel better at work, at home, playing sports.
My functional strength and flexibility are what I notice most.”
- Darren Cropley
“I used to focus on either strength or cardio, without a good balance. Flexibility and agility have also received back-burner status.
The most impact received was from the MTNTOUGH program was not focusing on one muscle group or area at one time. Approaching the training in a more methodical way provided (incorporating multiple muscle groups at once) helped maximize gains, and improve overall stability and recovery time.
If you want to be challenged, be pushed farther than you ever expected your body and mind to go in a short time, give MTNTOUGH a small part of your day.”
- Derek M. Burns
“I have incorporated the MTNTOUGH program into my existing schedule. The cardio intense workouts have been most beneficial to me. Living in west Tennessee, there are no mountains so getting conditioned for backpack mountain hunts is difficult. I have particularly liked, and used more often than prescribed in the program, the 22s as a morning cardio routine. My weightlifting has been solid, but MTNTOUGH showed me I was lacking a bit on the conditioning side of things. Can't wait to see how this translates on my upcoming hunts.
Before the program my cardio conditioning was not bad, but now its at another level.
I would definitely recommend to other hunters, even those I would consider already at an elite level (like the guides)! I look forward to giving you feedback after this goat hunt. I think I'm going to be noticeably more comfortable climbing with a heavy pack thanks to MTNTOUGH.
- Jason Weaver
“This program has really changed how I look at my training. It is about more than hunting now. It has made me realize what I am physically capable of, and how to mentally push through any struggle. It has positively impacted my entire life.
I have always had a weak core, which lead to a lot of lower back strains and injuries. I will be honest, that issue is totally gone at the moment. I feel strong. I don't bend over to pick something up and think about how I am going to do it. I just do it. I know this will help me tremendously in the mountains!”
- Kelly McGraw