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Hunting seasons are fast approaching and with the right preparation you will be reaping the joys of a successful hunt. When preparing for hunts, it can be easy to overlook one aspect: Your fitness. Physical fitness is just as essential to hunting as practicing shooting. Without fitness, you very well might be going home empty handed. So what are some things you can do right now to get ready got the upcoming hunting seasons? There are two elements of physical fitness that are necessary for hunters: Cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.
Cardiovascular Training Techniques
When considering how to train for cardiovascular endurance, you have to think about how you hike while you are hunting. Typically, it is a series of pauses followed by short bursts of hiking, then pausing again. It is essential to "practice how you play," or in other words, train the way you hunt. That is where high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) and tabata training come in.
H.I.I.T. is a form of cardio that focuses on sprints and active rest. With interval training, the sprinting portion of the workout is done at a high level of exertion. This should last for about 30 to 60 seconds, based on your fitness level. The active rest portion is done at a slower pace in which you are still moving, but slow enough that your body is able to recover; this period last for about one to two minutes. A typical H.I.I.T. workout should last around 20 minutes, cycling between sprints and active rest. You can do any cardio exercise you prefer; however, you should try to focus on those exercises that will emulate hiking (stair-stepper, jogging on an incline, etc.). H.I.I.T. cardio will train your body to be accustomed to the drastic changes in exertion that take place during a hunt. If you are new to this type of training, start with two minutes of warm-up, followed by eight cycles of 30 seconds of sprinting and 90 seconds of active rest. Finish up with two minutes of cool down. As your fitness level increases, increase the duration of time you are sprinting while decreasing the duration of your active rest.
Now that we have an understanding of H.I.I.T., we need to look at tabata training. Tabata training is a shorter, time efficient form of H.I.I.T. Tabata training is often used with one multi-joint cardio exercise (burpees, high knees, mountain climbers, etc.) and should last between 4 to 10 minutes.
To perform a tabata workout, perform the selected move at absolute full intensity for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, then go right back to full intensity for another 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and so on until your time is up. You should begin by doing this for four minutes until your body can adapt to the training style at which point you can increase the time each week. In terms of intensity during the workout, you should be exhausted by the end of the workout. The active 20-second intervals should be performed at the fastest possible pace while staying safe and maintaining good form. If you feel like you can keep going when the time is up, you either did not give 100% or you need to increase your time. When performed correctly, this is one of the most effective (and efficient) forms of interval training for losing weight and improving your cardio level.
Ideally, you should be performing an H.I.I.T. or tabata workout three to four times per week. You will see the greatest benefit in these workouts by doing them immediately after a resistance workout. Combining H.I.I.T. and tabata training will prepare you for the cardiovascular demands of hunting, especially when hunting at high elevations.
Strength Training – Muscle Groups
Now that we have discussed cardiovascular endurance and how to train for it, let's move on to muscular strength. Muscular strength is developed through resistance training, often with weights but other times with body weight and isometric techniques. However, building muscular strength is not just a matter of building bigger muscles. It is a process of strengthening the foundation of your body and then building from that foundation. This foundation is made up of the posterior chain and core muscles. The posterior chain is the series of muscles that run along the backside of the lower half of your body. They include all of the major muscles and stabilizer muscles in your lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. These muscles are responsible for giving you a solid base. They involve your core (abdominals, obliques, lower back, etc.) and help to stabilize your body. A strong posterior chain will also help prevent injury and lower back pain. Exercises that will help strengthen your posterior chain are often multi-joint exercises that involve multiple lower body muscles (deadlift, barbell squat, lunges, straight-legged deadlift, etc.).
Your core muscles are those muscles around your midsection that stabilize your body (abdominals, obliques, lower back, etc.). Strengthening these muscles is essential to preventing injury, especially when carrying a pack and hiking through hills. Exercises that use the core's full-range of motion (Russian twists, woodchops, decline sit-ups, etc.) will help strengthen your entire core.
Other exercises for upper body muscle groups are also beneficial and everyone has their own flavor for how to train their upper body. Just always remember to use proper form, value functional fitness over bodybuilding, and do the exercises that are going to help you to succeed in the field.
Strength Training Techniques
When it comes to repetitions and sets, lower weight, higher rep sets are always better for the hunter. A one-rep max with 5 minutes of rest is not going to help you on the backside of a mountain, but three grueling sets of 20 reps with only 60 seconds rest between sets will. Sets in the 12-20 rep range will not only help to build muscular strength, they will also increase muscular endurance as well.
Rest between sets is another factor. 2-3 minute rest is primarily used for powerlifting. For our purposes as hunters, the less rest, the better (Remember, practice how you play…). You need a bare minimum of 30 seconds rest between sets to give your muscles time to recover, but 90 seconds should be the maximum amount of rest.
Advanced techniques for resistance training can be great tools for building muscular strength and endurance. Isometric training is a great tool, especially with bodyweight exercises. To perform an isometric rep, raise or lower (depending on the exercise) your body or the weight to the contracted portion of the movement (when your muscles are completely engaged) and hold it for 8-10 seconds. Then slowly return to the rest position. Continue this for 10-15 reps and do 2-3 sets. This is a great tool for promoting blood flow, muscle recruitment, and improving muscle endurance.
One last thing about strength training: Do you remember tabata? It is great for weight lifting as well. To perform a tabata resistance workout, choose a weight for a given exercise that you could do 15-20 times (start on machines until you get the hang of it. Using free weights right away with tabata techniques could result in injury when fatigue sets in). Start the timer and do as many reps as you can with proper form during the working portion, then rest during the rest period. When you reach the point where you can't do full reps anymore, do partial reps. Just make sure you are working until the time is up (I like to use an interval timer app to help me keep track; when I hear the beep, it's time to go again).
Deadlift – 3 sets of 12 reps (90 seconds rest between sets)
Leg press (tabata) – 4 minutes
Wall Squat (isometric) – 3 sets of 1 minute
Dumbbell lunges – 3 sets of 15 (60 seconds rest between sets)
Russian Twist – 3 sets of 30 reps
Reverse crunch – 3 sets of 30 reps
Cardio: 20 minutes on Stairmaster (H.I.I.T.) or 6 minute burpees (tabata)
These are some techniques that you can use to prepare in the next few weeks for the hunts you have coming up this season. Even though you might not have a lot of time left, these techniques will help you make the most of the time that you do have. It is all about preparation; taking the time to prepare now can pay big dividends down the line. Don't let fitness be the reason you came home empty handed. Get in shape, get out there, and get that tag filled!
Stefan Wilson is a First Lite Pro Staffer and the founder of Hunting Fit, a site dedicated to holistic preparation for big game hunting. You can read more of Stefan's articles on fitness, nutrition and strategy at the link above.