A month ago I wasn’t out of shape. In fact, I was in the gym 5 days a week lifting weights and usually added a couple jogs in there as well. But when I finally decided I was going to go out west and hunt elk with my bow, I realized my normal ritual wasn’t going to successfully get me into “elk shape”. To be a good hunter in the mountains, an individual needs to be able to strap a heavy pack to his back and go up and down steep climbs over 1,000 feet in elevation all day long.
So how does a guy from Minnesota get into elk shape? Let me share what I’ve been doing in preparation for my early September archery hunt.
First off, lifting weights is still an important part of the overall fitness plan. But instead of concentrating on getting stronger on any particular lift, I’ve opted to increase reps by lowering weights. In mountain hunting, muscle endurance is huge. On top of increasing reps, I also do not neglect a major muscle group. Every muscle can be an important part of bushwacking, packing out meat, pulling back a bow, etc.
After I’m done lifting weights, no matter how tired or exhausted I am, I head over to the stair climbers and get a minimum 10 minutes extra workout. I start out with a medium pace and try increasing it as I go. The body needs to be accustomed to the activity of going uphill. The elliptical machine is not going to achieve this, so don’t waste your time on one.
Two-a-days sound like a thing from the past, but they aren’t when you are investing in a western elk hunt. The legs need to get used to trails and hills. That’s why at least three times a week, I get a second workout in that focuses on cardiovascular health. Instead of running on pavement, I started running on trails more often to get my body used to uneven surfaces. Typical runs are about 4-5 miles. I do about 15 miles a week. It’s not uncommon for a hunter to hike 10 miles a day chasing elk. And if he’s trying to get ahead of a moving heard, running might be part of that adventure.
The other cardio workout I do is hill training with a heavy pack. My advice is to find the biggest hill in your area and go up and down it with the pack on. These workouts are usually between 1 to 2 hours in duration. I keep the pace fast and take no breaks. My goal is to make things as painful as possible now, so they are easier during the actual hunt…and less sweaty/stinky.
Throughout your training, goal-setting is an important tool to get better results. The particular hill climbing route that I do took me an hour and five minutes the first time I tried it. My immediate goal was to get this under an hour. This past weekend, when my schedule was more flexible, I set a goal of doing the climb 3 additional times. Goal-setting like this is invaluable when it comes to getting in tip-top shape.
Every hunter starts from a different fitness level, so be prepared to slowly work yourself into the heavy schedule if you have been sitting on the couch all year long. For those in great shape, the process of transitioning to more focused mountain training events should be relatively fluid, but still require a little extra care during the process.
Build the intensity as you go along and plan for the greatest intensity to be two weeks before the trip. This will get your body accustomed to the torture it’s about to endure, but with a week of light training to heal. I think of this like MMA fighters approach fight week. They don’t train hard the final week because they would enter the Octagon with nothing left to give. Same concept applies to the mountains.
Final week should be full of activity, but at less intensity and with adequate rest time so the muscles aren’t overworked. If you have pain in the joints at this point, resting is probably the best medicine. The worst thing that can happen is the hunter starts his journey with an injury.
This is my approach to getting into elk shape. Feel free to share your techniques on this site or on our Facebook page.