Hunting season may only last a few months, but staying in shape for hunting is a year-round commitment. Waiting until the end of summer to get ready is a recipe for failure. The answer is bigger than consistency too. So how do you stay in shape for hunting all year then?
To stay in shape for hunting year-round, focus on functional workouts specific to movements you would need during hunting; breathing in high altitudes, traversing deadfall, carrying a heavy load, etc. This will include cardio, strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance training exercises.
We train with thousands of mountain athletes and backcountry hunters every day, so we know that everyone's fitness challenge is unique. But that doesn't mean there aren't common threads. In this article, we'll explore shared factors to year-round hunting fitness. We'll start by looking at why training all year matters, then we'll touch on three of the biggest mistakes hunters make when training, and lastly, we'll help you map out your full-year training calendar for hunting.
Why Year-Long Hunting Fitness Matters
It's easy to get caught up in the idea that your rifle or bow is what brings glory around hunting season. They matter, and how skilled you are at using them matters. However, we stand firmly behind the idea that the weapon you hold in your hands is the least important of weapons needed in the backcountry, somewhere around 7th on the list to be more specific.
The 6 Most Important Weapons in Hunting
It might sound cheesy to think your rifle or bow isn't the most important weapon when hunting, but anyone who has completed a successful multi-day hunt can vouch that your body, mind, and conditioning are what determines the result.
In no particular order, we believe the 6 most important weapons you can possess in hunting are the following:
Long-range rifle shots and archery accuracy are important for taking game, but if you don't have the motor to get to that point, what good does it do? Being able to push your body for miles in difficult terrain day after day is where hunting success comes from.
Whether you're reaching the summit of a mountain to glass for elk or quartering back and forth across a basin looking for mule deer tracks, having the muscular and cardiovascular endurance to handle it all is paramount.
This is your body's foundation. It's the literal and metaphorical backbone that supports every physical requirement of hunting. And it needs to be strong to get the job done. Your chassis is the ability to be able to maneuver quickly and safely in any environment, carry heavy loads for long distances, and stay stable while shooting.
How efficiently you can suck down air at higher altitudes is the difference between a successful hunt and a painful failure. The ability to adapt quickly to changing oxygen levels by training your heart to pump more blood with less work is perhaps the most valuable weapon western hunters could have.
No matter your game, having a strong core and a high degree of balance is directly related to success. Balance helps you hold your rifle when shooting off sticks or being able to traverse through thick brush without wasting energy to maintain your balance. Balance is the weapon that controls how your body moves and reacts in the constant unknowns of a hunt.
If endurance is how far you can hike at a normal speed, then stamina is how long you can go at a serious pace. But we like to think of it a little bit differently than most though, where the real weapon lies in stamina is how quickly you can drop your heart rate. It's having the ability to push hard but recover quickly.
This might be the ultimate weapon for hunting success. Being mentally strong means having the fortitude to stay focused during long hours of glassing, and the guts to take a shot in tough conditions.
It's also the mental strength and emotional stability that allows you to push through pain, long hikes, and grueling days of hunting without compromising your performance. Mental toughness is in the DNA of every great backcountry hunter, and one of the biggest reasons behind athletes sticking through year-long training for hunting.
You can't simply decide 6 days before your hunt that you're going to start working on one of these 6 concepts. These take months and years of work, and they form the pillars of a MTNTOUGH athlete. Even though you can make progress in any of our programs, reaching one finish line starts a new race. That's why it's essential always go after it throughout the year.
Now that we've got you thinking differently about the weapons needed for a successful hunt, and really, why you should focus on training year-round, let's take a look at 5 of the biggest mistakes hunters make when it comes to tackling these weapons/pillars.
5 Hunting Fitness Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
While mastering each of the 6 concepts above can take a lifetime, there are several common mistakes that hunters make extending that timeline even longer. The worst part is these are highly avoidable blunders. Once you know what they are, you'll be less likely to commit them. So let's get to it.
1. Cardio Crazy
Let's debunk the myth that cardio is king. Don't get me wrong, cardio is essential for any fitness regimen, but nothing can rule the backcountry - not even incredible cardio. Losing the tone a bit, you could have the most amazing cardiovascular system in the world thanks to living on an elliptical or stair master for 12 months straight, but if you haven't incorporated strength training, agility exercise, and functional movements for hunting into your training, get ready for a less-than-stellar hunt.
Just look at the 6 pillars in the section above. Focusing on cardio checks one of the boxes, but you'll get destroyed in the others unless you take a balanced approach to hunting workouts. So mix up your routine, focus on functional movements, and incorporate strength training. Sure, keep cardio in the mix, but don't make it the only way you're getting ready for hunting season.
By doing so, you'll be better equipped to handle the rigors of the wilderness and enjoy your adventure to the fullest.
2. Strength Heavy
It's the other side of the prep coin, where some focus on cardio others live in front of the mirror and stare at their growing muscles throughout the year. While strength training is important for hunting, too much of it can leave you sore and slow, and unable to handle the long haul.
Just like with cardio, there needs to be a balance. Strength training without agility work and proper mobility will lead to one-dimensional hunters who are vulnerable in the backcountry. You want strength and power. So mix up your routine with other exercises such as core strength moves, plyometric drills, agility work, and cardio training.
We've all been guilty of starting something with the intent of completing it, only to lose steam halfway through the program. It's like a marathon runner grabbing their car keys at mile 14. Inconsistency has many culprits; availability, willpower, soreness, etc.
But the moment you make it okay to miss a day for whatever reason, that's the moment you train your mind that commitment to your health and hunting fitness isn't a priority. On the physical side of things, training year-round is a formula of compounding growth. Mess with the formula and end up with the wrong answers to the test. You'll feel it most when things get tough hunting.
4. Failure to Focus on Mental Toughness
This one is right up there with consistency. Mental toughness isn't something that's developed overnight. You don't get the medal of mental toughness by doing 100 push-ups a day or running miles and miles without fail. It's built over time, through adversity, and consistent effort in your training and your life outside the gym doors.
Mental toughness doesn't come in the form of a quick fix or an elixir. It's earned through hard work and dedication. The best way to develop mental toughness is to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and stay driven time and again.
The moment you feel it's time to give in is the perfect moment to stick it out. That struggle is the only way mental toughness is born and matured. When you feel like skipping leg day is fine, or keeping a program going all year is too taxing, know that doing so puts your mental toughness in jeopardy.
We help our athletes build mental toughness at a cerebral and physical level. It's the "learn, teach, do" concept coming to life. We want to make sure anyone who starts a MTNTOUGH program understands mental toughness.
One way we do this is through the MTNTOUGH 10 Day Mental Toughness Program, which is akin to having a professor of mental toughness work through the science and physiological components of resilience, then puts you to the test.
Except this professor doesn't wear bowties - rather, he's a badass. His name is Phil Kornachuk; Phil's a husband, father of 8, retired US Army Ranger and Green Beret, certified trainer with a focus on functional fitness, and has a master's degree in mental toughness.
You'd be hard pressed to find a more qualified person to help you understand mental toughness. Phil knows you can only forge mental toughness in a blast furnace, that's why he gets you ready for the fire before you're work-hardened with the hammer of MTNTOUGH programs.
5. Imbalanced Program and Routine
It's hard to tell which has the greater influence - an athlete choosing which areas of fitness to focus on or choosing a program that only improves their fitness in one direction. In this subsection though, we're talking specifically about hunters who prep for the season by incorporating a style of training that's far too narrow to handle the wide reach of the mountain.
Again, this is about balance. If you dedicate your training time to one program and stick with it, you'll look great and feel great, but you'll only be able to do one thing great in the backcountry. That's dangerous and not a recipe for hunting success.
You need a program that incorporates movements from a wide variety of exercises. Something that gets you sorted based on goals. And every exercise should ladder up to improving your functional capacity.
There's comfort in sticking with one program throughout the year, and it's difficult to find a setting where programs pull from all over to build you into a mountain-conquering machine. We get that. But that's also where we can help you. Find comfort in the mix of workouts that will help you take the mountain and make it easy by letting MTNTOUGH's planned programming get you there.
A balanced approach and an unshakable mindset will help you avoid the pitfalls that keep hunters with the best intentions from reaching peak hunting fitness throughout the year. Let's leave these mistakes behind and look at your calendar for the year.
How to Stay In-Shape for Hunting All Year
And now the crescendo. So far we've covered the importance of year-round training for hunters, taking a balanced approach to hunting fitness, the mistakes that have become too common, and a few reminders to keep us from being our own worst enemies. Now it's time to talk about hunting fitness in its most practical sense - a simple calendarized view.
The following phases are pulled from our actual backcountry hunter programs, which cover the entire year of training. There's a lot to say about each, but the purpose here is to guide your thinking and training purpose throughout the year, and how it should shift as it relates to hunting season.
And whether you choose to join us for backcountry hunting training or not, we hope the purpose of each timeframe assists you in adding direction to your training.
May-Aug: Backcountry Hunter Preseason Prep
If there's a program we're famous for, it's this one. We believe that preseason training for backcountry hunting leaves no less than 12 weeks of physical and mental preparation. That's why we've made it 16 weeks.
The goal of this program is to take whatever hunting fitness level you start at on day 1 and end day 80 of the program at a level you've never reached in your life. That's the prep that makes you confident enough to take on the mountain.
Along this 16-week journey, you'll find 3 phases of development that will check every box of the 6 pillars approach to molding a MTNTOUGH athlete.
It starts with a focus on neural recruitment, which is all about getting your body to understand what you're asking it to do with proper movement patterns. In this phase of the Preseason Prep the workouts lean into high-intensity and low-weight exercises.
The next 8 weeks are spent in a strength and power phase, where you'll break your strength down to build it up, and gain useful muscle and mass specific to backcountry hunting needs. This is done carefully as it focuses on lean mass to not interfere with stamina and endurance gained in the process. And closest to hunting season, this program shifts into the third phase which is tailored to the full breadth of conditioning needed for backcountry hunting. It tackles agility, flexibility, balance, endurance, mental toughness, power, and any other attribute you can imagine you'd need hunting, and forges them through high-intensity training in combination with dynamic and ballistic movements. Plus it's all related to functional hunting demands.
This rigor is why we're confident that hunters completing Preseason Prep will be ready for the backcountry. Under this same line of thinking, your training for preseason should have you walking away with the greatest confidence in your abilities, believing in your power and conditioning to handle the season ahead.
Sep-Oct: Backcountry Hunter In-Season
Hunting season beginning isn't the end of training. And this is commonly where you'll see programs trip up. They put a ton of emphasis on preseason preparation but do not mention actual hunting season training. This further compounds inconsistencies, reduces the effectiveness of all the gains made leading up to the season, and leaves you less prepared throughout the hunting season. This approach doesn't make all that much sense - think of it this way - as the season goes on, the environment becomes more grueling thanks to the incoming winter, yet at the same time your lack of training maintenance means your losing your edge daily.
Your goal in this phase is maintenance, it's a modified approach to training you did preseason - one that doesn't distract from hitting the mountains on the weekend but keeps you ready for them during the week.
Keeping your strength and cardio condition intact will not only lead you to more successful hunts but also reduce your risk of injury. Remember - consistency from the 5 mistakes. That applies to in-season as much as off-season hunting fitness.
When the NFL season ends, the best teams get their players in the gym to start preparing for the next season. All the public attention happens during the season, but the regular season isn't where players make massive leaps in their skills and abilities. That all happens off-season, behind gym doors and domed fields.
The same is true for backcountry hunters. Post-season fitness for backcountry hunters should focus on pushing your strength and mobility over 16 weeks. That's why our post-season program has the word "strength" in it. This is about adding the clay to start the sculpture, it's still purposeful, but its purpose is to lay the foundation for the new cycle.
We love our metaphors - so running with the sculpture reference, this is the phase where you grab the chisel. It's time to turn the foundation into something useful. The goal in spring training is to retain as much of the post-season strength and mass as possible while cutting. Anything that reduces mobility or makes grabbing oxygen difficult in-season has to go in this phase.
Remember, strength alone isn't all that helpful on the mountain. We need to cover a range of disciplines to be ready for hunting season. So this 8-week phase keys in on endurance and aerobic conditioning. The result is a lighter and more conditioned mountain athlete that moves with power. Which is the perfect entryway to the cycle starting anew as you enter preseason training. It takes all your fitness and makes it hunting fitness caliber.
Training All Year Isn't Easy, But Neither Is Hunting
Despite the unpredictability of hunting, training for it should be consistent, comprehensive, and purposeful. Look at each phase throughout the year, it should have a specific goal in mind. As a whole, the phases form a cohesive plan for year-round training that gets you ready for the rigors of the backcountry. We firmly believe this approach is what will help you have the most success in hunting season.
Try to avoid the pitfalls of focusing on one area or style of fitness in your training, because you'll need strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, and a hellish amount of mental toughness come September.
You have to put in the time and effort to get results - and that's true no matter what sport or activity you're striving for. We'll get you started on your all-year training journey by covering your first two weeks with our free 14-day trial. Get a taste of what it's all about. We're confident you'll see your potential in that timeframe.