Ross with one of two 2013 Bulls!

Fitness to Get You Over the Hill at Any Age!

Ross Russell

Before this elk season arrives, I will hit what I mark as the downside of the mountain in age. The OLD man plateau, otherwise known as 50! At this juncture of my elk hunting career it is all about staying injury free, maintaining a solid level of fitness throughout the year and sustaining the muscle that Father Time wants to strip away.  Aerobically I have yet to see a decline in training or while hunting, but where I have seen a change is in my recovery time, the ability to maintain muscle and staying limber.  Muscles don’t recover as quickly the 2nd and 3rd day and my joints feel the pounding of many years in the mountains.

 Ross with one of two 2013 Bulls!

In the off season I spend many days in the gym, both on the treadmill, stair climber and doing various body weight exercises, along with some weights.  After multiple surgeries on one knee, many of the exercises I would like to perform are no longer an option for me.  I use the treadmill and stair climber to replicate the punishing mountains while trying to minimize the impact to my knees. But as we know, nothing fully prepares your body for the mountains like actually getting out and hiking. To prep for the hunting season, I use the workout guidelines below with slight variances and more emphasis on cardio as season approaches.

1.  Three days a week I walk the treadmill with a 15% incline or use the stair climber at a speed that gets my heart rate up as needed.  To gauge my level of exertion, I wear a heart rate monitor. This treadmill does get boring at times, so I mix it up some days with interval training and by wearing a light pack.  A nice variation to work the quads is to do a partial squat while doing the stair climber. The duration of my workouts is typically 45-50 minutes per session.  As season approaches I increase the duration to an hour and add an extra day.  I am looking for a high turnover rate, so my typical speed is 2.8-3.5 mph depending if I am wearing a pack or not.  The key with any aerobic activity is to give yourself ample time to improve and to be consistent. Improving your aerobic capacity typically takes 60-90 days depending on your level of fitness coming in.  During the off season I am active every other day to give my body time to recover.  As season approaches, I increase the frequency with 2-3 aerobic workout days in a row to better replicate the intensity of a hunt.

Stairway to Elk Heaven
Stairway to Elk Heaven

2.  Body weight exercises.  When out in the mountains, whether it is getting from point A to point B, or taking care of a bull elk myself, I want my body to be ready for the task at hand.  Incorporating body weight exercises into your routine offers many benefits.

a. You work many muscle groups at once.

b. They can be done without the need of a gym membership.

c. You will be less likely to get injured.

d. They can be done at a moment’s notice and in many settings.

e. You can work all muscle groups in a small window of time.

My routine includes the following throughout the week.

1.  Pull-ups/chin-ups with a variety of grip styles.  Go overhand, underhand, narrow grip and wide grip, any variation of your grip will work the muscles uses in a different fashion. This is a great exercise for the bow hunters, strengthening your back and arms muscles used in pulling your bow. If wanted you can also work in a variety of core muscle exercises by bringing your legs up in a variety of positions.

2.  As with pull-ups, there are a wide variety hand positions available for pushups. Experiment with raised or lowered feet above the chest or below the chest, form a triangle with your hands, go partially down and hold, to engage both your upper body and core.  Any slight change will work your muscles in a different way and prevent boredom.

3.  Wall squats. Put your back against the wall, lower your rear until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your feet should be far enough from the wall so that legs form an angle of 90 degrees or less and your knees do not extend out over your toes. Hold this position or alternate between raising and lowering your body weight against the wall.  If this is too easy, grab some weights and hold them as you hold the position or raise and lower.  Adding a stability ball in your lower back area will allow you to move up and down on the wall in a more efficient manner while keeping your posture intact.

Wall Squat
Wall Squat

4.  Lunges offer many benefit but can be difficult for individuals with knee issues. Make sure you maintain proper form to achieve the following benefits.

a.   Improved balance

b. Increased hip flexor range of motion

c. Improved glute activation

d. Better core stability         

5.  Plank for core stability. I will do the first set for 2+ minutes and 2-3 subsequent sets for 1-2 minutes. A strong core goes a long way in allowing us to climb hills, pack our gear and stay injury free.  As with pushups there are many ways to mix this exercise up and add some variety.  You can be on your elbows, straight arm, raise a leg or arm. The key is to constrict your abs, hold and fight against gravity. 

Walk the Plank for Core Stability
Walk the Plank for Core Stability

6.  Daily stretching at the end of my workout and while out in the field.  Stretching has become more and more vital as time goes on.  Stretching offers many benefits.

a. Improved circulation which speeds up recovery

b. It helps alleviate back pain by loosening tight muscles

c. Increased flexibility which can help prevent injury

7.  After a strenuous day afield I often ice my knees.  Mountain hunters are athletes and we put our bodies through rigors that many don’t understand unless you have been there.  We all have seen athletes after an event, such as basketball with ice packs or using ice baths.  Icing reduces inflammation, reduces swelling and improves muscle recovery time.  At times during a hunt I have sat in a cold stream at mid-day and when back at camp the knees are iced at night.

Fitness helps Ross get into Meat Mode each fall
Fitness helps Ross get into Meat Mode each fall

As with any activity, achieving results requires a consistent routine that you can fit into your schedule daily, weekly and monthly.  Being fit is one variable that I can control that definitely makes me more successful in the field. Find a series of exercises and develop a routine that works for you.  Good luck in achieving your mountain fitness goals!        

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Ross russell
Ross has resided in the Northwest for 30+ years, grew up in a family of elk hunters and the passion of the hunt was instilled early on when his family would gather in North Idaho for the annual general rifle season. When falls arrives, Ross can be found in the high country of North Idaho and Northwest Montana, with Bow or Rifle in hand. "As long as I am chasing Big Bulls in the backcountry there is a smile on my face. Many would call Elk Hunters an odd lot, as who in their right mind would want to put their body through the trials and tribulations that we do each fall, with no guarantee of success. It takes dedication, perseverance and someone who enjoys hardwork to be successful year in and year out. I like hardwork, so count me in"! Many a fine bull has been taken by Ross' bullet and arrow. To expand his love of the outdoors and his knowledge of Elk, he can be found each spring fervently pursuing Elk Sheds. "Shed hunting gives you an arm up on the quality of bulls in the area, expands your knowledge, is great for training and is another opportunity to be in the great outdoors." Ross resides in Liberty Lake Washington, with his wife Kirsten and his shed hunting companion Magnum.