April 29, 2014
By Adam Holt
If I could go anywhere in the world each year to hunt, it would be the Western U.S.
There's beautifully diverse territory as wild and remote as you can handle. There's a ruggedness to the landscape that also brings extreme difficulty. And if you think you can just roll out of bed and stroll through the woods, you are in for a big surprise.
I grew up hunting whitetail in Illinois and remember how shocking my first Colorado elk hunt was. I had been living in Colorado for years, climbed a dozen 14,000-foot mountains and was in great shape. But it was still incredibly hard.
Climbing or traversing terrain where the only trails are made by animals is taxing, to say the least. You have to climb over and under trees, up and down muddy slopes, and through scree fields. Going one mile in the woods out West at elevation is harder than any 5-mile trail hike I have been on in more forgiving environments.
If you're planning a DIY hunt, then everything gets more difficult. You are now responsible for setting up camp, packing out your own game, carrying food, and so on. But even if you are planning a guided hunt, you need to be in much better shape than you think. Ask any guide service and they'll tell you: The odds of success drastically decrease with out of shape clients.
Keep in mind that you're probably going to be at altitude out West. If you are a flat lander coming to hunt at altitude, you need to work on your cardio all that much more. After all, do you want to spend your whole trip grabbing your knees every 20 minutes to catch your breath? Or do you want to enjoy your hunt and cover more ground, giving you a greater chance at success?
In order to make the best of your Western hunt, here are 10 great workout routines to get you in shape.
Balance Board Pause and Touch
You'll need strong ankles to hunt out West. I always throw this exercise in my routine because I've never sprained my ankle and I certainly don't want to get my first one in the middle of a hunt. Your lower leg muscles will gain strength and your balance will get a lot better doing this advanced exercise.
Reps: 2 sets of 1-minute on each leg facing each direction
Put one foot in the middle of the balance board with one side on the ground.
Balance Board Pause and Touch (Part II)
Move the board in the opposite direction.
Balance Board Pause and Touch (Part III)
Try to pause for 2 seconds in the middle then touch the board to other side.
Barbell Step Ups
This exercise is perfect for hunters simulating walking up a hill. I like doing this exercise with a bar instead of dumbbells to get my body used to having my spine directly loaded as if carrying a pack.
Reps: 4 sets of 15/leg
Find a box that puts your knee near a 90-degree angle when you step on it. If your box is too high it will put undo stress on your knees and if it's too low the exercise will be too easy. Before you begin, set your core by squeezing your back and your abs. Place your foot all the way in the middle of the box, not on the edge.
Barbell Step Ups (Part II)
Keeping your core set, step all the way up until both feet are on the box. Go all the way down and repeat on the same leg until finished.
Take a 30 minute rest, and then do the other leg. I like to do this exercise one leg at a time because when you alternate your cardio becomes the limiting factor in the exercise.
We have plenty of cardio to do later in this workout; this exercise is for strength.
Adam's Circuit Training Cardio (Part III)
30 heavy cardio rope slams: Simply grab the cardio ropes, lift them high at the same time then slam them down hard 30 times in a row as fast as you can. Use your whole body and not just your arms.
This is my favorite core routine because it covers the entire core in one series of exercises. Your core will not only keep your back healthy, but it will support you while carrying your pack and moving around in awkward positions that hunting out West often requires.
This routine is a complex of different core exercises mixed together. Switch exercises as quickly as you can.
Reps: 3 sets of 35 seconds for all six exercises
1. Start with a plank on your elbows. With all front and side planks, think about sticking your chest out, squeezing your abs, and keeping your low back flat.
Plank Complex (Part II)
2. Move into a side plank.
3. Back to a front plank.
4. Move to a side plank on the other elbow.
5. Back to a front plank.
Plank Complex (Part III)
6. The last exercise is a superman. Hold arms straight out in front of you with legs straight behind you. Lift hands and feet as high as you can and hold.
Step Mill Wearing Your Pack
Reps:One-minute slow, one-minute fast, 30-60 minutes
I love to do this routine a few weeks before my hunt to get used to carrying my pack. A lot of my cardio routines don't take very much time but this one I do closer to the hunt because it develops a little more applicable endurance.
Never hold on to the handles unless you have those where you hunt (I don't). Make your fast interval as fast as you can climb and your slower interval a recovery interval, i.e. 115 work and 80 slow. Repeat one-minute fast and one-minute slow as long as you can.
Adam's Circuit Training Cardio (Part VI)
Farmer walk wtih 24 kg kettle ball. I walk 1/12th of a mile with them in this routine. Keep your posture, don't hunch over.
If you can finish three sets of all this in under 30 minutes, you are a stud.
Adam's Circuit Training Cardio (Part IV)
100 skips on the jump rope.
Step Over and Under Rope
After my first elk hunt, I started adding this exercise to my routine. I remember being on an 8-day hunt and in that time I must have stepped over 15,000 trees. This exercise is excellent to not only develop strength in the small muscles in your core and hips, but also to create more flexibility.
Reps: 3 sets of 20 times; 10 each way
Set your band or rope at hip height.
Step Over and Under Rope (Part II)
Face sideways to the band and step as high and you can over the band. Keep your core tight and stay tall.
Step Over and Under Rope (Part III)
Next, get as low as you can and step under the band. After you do 10 of each, turn around so you are stepping the opposite direction.
The Romanian deadlift works the muscles in your all-important posterior chain. Your posterior chain is comprised of your low back muscles, glutes and hamstrings. The posterior chain is rarely used in daily life properly and often weak in most hunters.
Reps: 4 sets of 15
Grab the bar shoulder width, with feet hip width and set your core.
Romanian Deadlift (Part II)
Initiate the exercise by moving your hips back and keep moving them back until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings. When you feel that stretch come back up by activating your glutes and pushing your hips forward.
It is vital that your back stays flat throughout. If your back does bend at all, simply lighten the weight until your core gets stronger.
Spin Bike Sprints
This is another routine that every hunter should be able to do. I enjoy doing sprints on the spin bike because I can feel how different it is for my legs. You will gain a ton of lower body strength that will help you get up those mountains on your hunt.
Reps: 30-second sprint, 1-minute rest; 10-15 minutes
After your warm up, find a resistance on the bike that is so hard you can barely pedal. Then stop the bike and give yourself a 30-second rest. To start this routine you're going to sprint as hard as you can with your bottom still in the seat for 30-seconds. Then completely stop for one-minute.
Repeat this for 10-15 minutes. Work on trying to increase the resistance of the bike as you progress.
Adam's Circuit Training Cardio
This is the hardest, toughest, and most fun cardio that I do. I perform this routine once a week and keep a log of how long it takes me every time. I always try to improve my endurance or speed every single workout. Keep in mind that you may not have all of this equipment at your gym, and that's OK. Keep the theme of this routine in mind and substitute the things you can't do with another exercise that is comparable.
Two suicides in a row (going back to the old middle school basketball days). For those of you who didn't have to do a million of these growing up, you start at the baseline, sprint to the free throw line and back, mid court line and back, opposite free throw line and back, then the other baseline and back.
I do this twice in a row without stopping. 1:00 into this workout you will feel like throwing up.
Treadmill Walking Intervals
I organized these routines in order of easiest to hardest for all ability levels. You will notice they are all interval workouts. Intervals are much better for your cardiovascular system, you will burn more fat, and they are much more applicable to hunting. Bowhunting is a series of intervals, i.e. walking up and down steep hills.
For all routines do a 5-minute warm up of your choice.
Reps: 1:00 fast / 1:00 slow; 15-minutes incline, 20-30 minutes total
This is a cardio routine that everyone can do. It doesn't take much time and it's highly effective for hunters. I most often use a 15 incline because it's the hardest way to use the treadmill, it's safer for your joints and you will gain more strength in your lower body.
Your "fast" speed should be very difficult for you to complete and the slow speed 1-1.5 mph slower to allow you sufficient recovery.
Sprints on Level 15 Inclined Treadmill or Hill
Reps:20-seconds on, 40-seconds off, 10-20 minutes total.
This is a much more advanced interval but also much more effective. After your warm up, get the treadmill going as fast as you feel comfortable for your sprint interval at a 15 incline. Grab the front handle of the treadmill, hop on, and sprint for 20-seconds.
Make sure to grab the handles before you step off leaving the treadmill running. Take a 40-second rest and repeat.
Adam's Circuit Training Cardio (Part V)
Up and down two flights of stairs four times with 40-pound dumbbell on your shoulder. I love this exercise because it loads your spine and only using one dumbbell makes you engage your core. Alternate shoulders.
Adam's Circuit Training Cardio (Part II)
Up and down two flights of stairs three times with 27.5 lbs in each hand. Go up every other step holding dumbbells in each hand. Always walk down normally. If you only have one flight of stairs, do it six times.
Balance Board Pause and Touch (Part IV)
Do this on both legs front to back and side to side.