What's a hardcore bowhunter? That's hard for me to define — most bowhunters I've met are committed to the sport and are extremely passionate about archery.
I think the term "hardcore" is relative. Some seasoned veterans are going to scoff at the concept of training for bowhunting. Some folks can go out and harvest a big bull each year without a fitness prerequisite.
Not me. I train year-round for hunting out West. I want to push the limits of my performance, and I treat bowhunting as my main sport. I keep a detailed training journal throughout the year, put the right foods into my body and pay close attention to injury prevention and recovery. If you want your best effort each day in the field, you're going to need to prepare for a sport that will test you mentally, physically and emotionally.
The following exercises are for the bowhunter who wants finely tuned mountain muscles. Our goal is a body that can withstand the rigors of hunting with a heavy backpack synched to your body every step of the way. Training is good for the mind, body and soul. It gives direction, adds confidence and squanders doubt that tries to creep into every bowhunter's mind. Put the following exercises to good use. If you're unaccustomed to exercise, consult your physician beforehand.
Step-Ups with Backpack
What You'll Need: All you need is a box to step on. I use a box that is 24 inches in height, and I wear my hunting backpack loaded down with 40 pounds of weight.
Directions: The legs feed the wolf so to speak, so this movement is designed to use your legs and torso. Perform by stepping up on to the box with your lead leg, minimize push off with your back foot, and pay close attention to perfect posture as you step up and down. Alternate legs each step and keep track of your reps.
Reps/Frequency: A great strength and conditioning workout is to perform as many steps as possible in a 20-minute window of time. Sweat will pour off your body and your hunting pack will become apart of you as it is in the field.
Burpee Box Jumps
What You'll Need: Use a box height that is appropriate for your current physical condition — I use a 24-inch box.
Directions: This is a dynamic movement that requires the legs to be explosive and the nervous system to fire on all cylinders. First, perform the burpee where you drop to the deck with your chest hitting the ground. Next, get back to your feet and jump on the box.
Be sure to jump simultaneously with both feet and land soft on top of the box. You may choose to step down or jump down. Pay attention to keeping your knees away from each other on the landing position and maintaining perfect posture.
Reps/Frequency: This movement requires mobile ankles and knees and should not be done until a warm-up has been completed. Repetitions need to be periodized, which means to start with only a handful and progressively add more over time as your body allows.
Front Rack Step-Ups
Directions: Most barbells weigh 45 pounds, so you want to place the bar so it rests on top of your chest, shoulders, and clavicle. Wrist mobility will play a large roll, so hold the bar with a fingertip grip that enables you to drive your elbows high paralleling the ground. Just like the previously mentioned box step-up, the front rack load line adds a greater challenge to the core to hold your torso upright as you step up and down.
Reps/Frequency: I encourage athletes to perform as many step-ups in 5 minutes while paying extremely close attention to posture and keeping knees from buckling towards the midline with each step.
Walking Overhead Lunges
What You'll Need: You'll need a standard barbell. This movement requires not only shoulder mobility but a great deal of core strength and balance.
Directions: Any variation of a lunge must incorporate proper posture throughout the movement — with the knees always behind the toe of the front leg and strides wide enough the back knee can softly kiss the ground. Keep the arms completely locked out overhead and remember to shrug your shoulders vertically throughout the movement.
Reps/Frequency: These lunges can be performed in clusters of 10 steps per leg in a walking fashion for a total body burn.
Probably one of the absolute best movements of all time. We're talking power, strength, coordination, and stamina. Of all the movements listed, this one will suck your oxygen levels down the fastest as it uses all your major muscles in one shot.
Directions: Start in a rack position with your elbows under the dumbbells and pull yourself down into a deep squat. Once you hit the bottom, explosively power out of your squat and finish with the dumbbells overhead, then proceed to pull yourself back to the ground. There is no pause between overhead and back down to the bottom. We're interested in speed in this movement, so spend as little as time as possible in the bottom of the squat and keep your weight on your heels throughout the movement.
Reps/Frequency: Try performing as many thrusters as possible in one minute with a manageable load. I usually use 40-pound dumbbells in each hand and do three to four sets of one minute max effort reps with only 30 seconds of rest between efforts.
Directions: Kneel on the floor with a box or bench behind you. Position your hands on floor slightly wider than shoulder width. Then place your feet on the box and raise your body into a rigid plank position with arms extended. Keeping your body straight, lower the upper body to the floor by bending your arms. To allow for a full descent, pull your head back slightly without arching back. Push your body up until your arms are extended.
Don't make your grip too wide as you will compromise your range of motion — which is our main objective. This will tax your chest, shoulders, and arms as well as core in one shot.
Reps/Frequency: Perform a handful of sets while paying close attention to strong posture.
Bulgarian Split Squats
If you haven't seen this before you're in luck. Bulgarian split squats work like a charm if your goal is to have legs that turn and burn the mountain trail.
Directions: Start by standing about 2 feet in front of a box with the read foot up on the box and the front leg positioned so you can maintain balance. Keep your head up and maintain strong posture throughout. Lower your leg until your thigh is slightly below parallel to the floor.
At this point your knee should be even with your toe and your chest directly above the middle of your thigh. Leading with the chest and hips and contracting the quadriceps, elevate your leg back to the starting position as you exhale.
Reps/Frequency: Repeat for a total of 10 reps per leg. You may do a handful of sets on each leg.
The deadlift can be done numerous ways. For our purposes we are talking about a conventional deadlift that recruits over 80 percent of your skeletal muscle in one shot.
Directions: Start with your shins touching the bar so your shin is perpendicular to the ground, also known as vertical shins. Make absolutely sure that you have a natural "S" curve in your lumbar spine and that your shoulders are slightly over the bar.
In a single movement, pull the bar up along your shins crossing the knee and hugging tight to your thighs as you stand. The end position will have you standing upright with your legs locked out and your shoulders behind the bar. Make sure to reverse the same motion on the way down.
Reps/Frequency: Deadlifts are designed to be heavy so keep your sets and reps low. Also, be sure that technique is dialed before moving large loads.
Directions: Pushing a sled for just 100 yards will have your legs and lungs burning. The sled is an evil creation that produces lactic acid faster than anything seen on earth. You can create your own sled by pushing a truck in neutral in an empty parking lot (use judgment) to get the same effect. I am pictured pushing a Rogue Dog Sled that weighs 100 pounds without any weight added to it.
It's a conditioning piece that builds resistance to that lactic burn that makes many want to quit early, but those that choose to push through the lactic acid pain see many a benefit in the mountains our quarry call home.
Directions: Set up the rower for a 2,000 meter row countdown and perform for time. If you can go sub-seven minutes you're doing something right...and on your way to conquering many mountains in the fall.
Reps/Frequency: There are many videos on the web that showcase proper technique which will aid in your ability to row fast and get the best workout for your time.
This is the second most evil creation on this green earth. The rower for a bowhunter is invaluable, as it uses all your pulling muscles and challenges the legs, core, back and arms in one shot. You can gain serious conditioning strides on the indoor rower. It is also known as an ergometer, so don't get confused. The best bet is to find one in the corner of your local health club. Trust me when I say that no one ever uses this underrated torture device.
About the Author:
Dan Staton is an avid bowhunter from the Pacific Northwest. He owns CrossFit Spokane Valley and holds a Master's degree in exercise physiology. You can find more content from him here.