Training tips (not intended to be argumentative)

Mike from MO

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Hey all, new member here...started lurking a couple months ago as I began researching my first DIY elk hunt in CO this coming fall. "Adult onset" hunter as I heard it referred to in a Randy Newberg video--no one in my family hunts but I had a good buddy that invited me to deer camp three years ago and I was immediately hooked.

Anyway, I don't have a lot to offer to the hunting community in terms of actual hunting skill or technique, but I do have some insights on the fitness front for anyone interested. My major was Nutrition & Fitness and I worked on a college strength staff and then a speed/performance training center before eventually pivoting away from that and getting into finance (I know, I know...boring AF).

I read through the last several pages of threads on the 'Training Tips' forum and see a lot of well-intentioned, but poorly applied advice on here. Let me first say that I intend this purely to be helpful for anyone that is interested. If any part of this comes across as arrogant, dismissive, or argumentative then please know it was just a failure to communicate well on my part, or something was 'lost in translation' over the interwebs...

Couple caveats:
1. If you are already Fit AF and crushing your backcountry adventures, this is not an attack on whatever your current regimen is. If you've got something you swear by and are seeing results, GREAT, don't change a thing if you don't want to.
2. A lot of what I will talk about applies to people who already have a base-level amount of fitness. If you are currently living a sedentary lifestyle, you need to build up a base level of fitness, of which there are literally infinite examples/programs to choose from.
3. While not exclusive to flatlanders, this is targeted towards those of us that live in areas/regions without access to mountains to train on. If you live in the mountains, you are likely already pretty adept at hunting in the mountains. You can certainly increase your fitness following this advice, but know that the biggest beneficiaries of what I discuss are those of us that live in relatively flat areas and travel west for a hunt.
4. I will do my best to highlight risks or cautions to any of the material or specific exercises I discuss, but just in general please know at all times I emphasize proper form is required well before you ever increase the weight or resistance of any exercise I discuss.

I'm going to break this up into several posts to keep it manageable...stay tuned!

Mike from MO
 
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Mike from MO

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So the first major misconception I have seen is the notion that the best way to train for backpacking is....to backpack! WRONG.

While you are certainly not doing yourself any harm or disservice by training that way, you are not by any means maximizing the efficiency of your training. Consider this...if you live anywhere below, say, 3k elevation and then travel to 8k+ elevation, literally everything you do will be harder at 8k than it was at sea level. So, if you are training for a hunt by simply replicating as close as possible the activity you will be doing at elevation, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Hiking at elevation will always be harder than climbing stairs at sea level. Even if you are doing it with increased weight at sea level.

The goal of any successful training program is to train at intensity levels that are significantly HIGHER than your actual activity. I don't want to be dismissive, but backcountry hiking/hunting is just strenuous walking. There is almost no skill whatsoever to the activity. We all do it everyday (hopefully) and our species has literally evolved to be efficient walkers. We are physiologically designed to walk. Not stand, not sit; walk. All of the skill in hiking/hunting pertains to non-fitness items (following a trail, map reading, reading/recognizing game sign, general mountain safety, survival skills, packing technique, etc.).

I said earlier I am new to hunting...I am not new to hiking/camping. The most strenuous hike is not nearly as cardio intense of an activity as, for example, playing full court basketball at full speed for 1-2 hours. Or climbing several thousand feet of singletrack MTB. Or playing a couple intense games of ultimate frisbee. Or kayaking miles of rapids, etc.

Training your cardio system by any of the above mentioned examples will absolutely have your cardio capacity at a higher level than simply rukking. Again, no argument against incorporating rukking into your regimen.

Just saying, if you think for a moment that a college basketball player couldn't throw on a 40# backpack and hike for 5-10 miles with ease, or if you think an amateur cyclist couldn't hop off the bike and run a 10k at a pretty fast clip without any "specific" training, you have misread the literature.

At the end of the day, backcountry hiking/hunting falls into the general fitness category and will have very significant benefits from all forms of cardio training. There is nothing especially unique or demanding (other than altitude) about hiking that requires you to hike as practice. The reason basketball players practice by playing basketball, or boxers practice boxing, or sprinters run sprints, rowers row, etc. is because they are practicing the unique skills, technique, form, etc. that is demanded by their sport to be at the elite level. None of that applies to hiking. It is just basic strength, cardio, and balance.

Which brings me to the second misconception....strength training.
 
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Mike from MO

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The notion that because hiking is an "endurance" activity you should train by doing lots of reps and light weights is another major misconception I have seen on here.

All other things equal, if hunter A can squat 100# more than hunter B, he/she is going to have a significantly easier time hiking.

The misconception seems to be that you have to choose one or the other and that is just not the case. Strength and cardio are two different systems. Pound them both hard AF and you will reap rewards.

You should absolutely be trying to increase your maximum squat/bench/deadlift as part of your general hunting fitness. As mentioned earlier, this assumes you are already somewhat fit, and that you have proper form on all your lifts, and that you would never try to lift more than you can without keeping very strict form.

But all things being equal, if you increase your squat/bench/deadlift ability, you will be increasing your hiking/backpacking ability.

Even more important for Hiking (and perhaps I buried the lead here) is to be an absolute, unrepentant CORE WHORE in your training. The major lifts will certainly increase your core strength, but there are an infinite number of supplemental lifts to incorporate to your regimen that will absolutely blast your core to smithereens and thus take your backpacking stamina to new dimensions (more on that later).

But to summarize the strength segment, the goal for your training is that the actual backpacking part should be relatively easy compared to what you are normally doing day-to-day. I am not suggesting elk hunting will ever be "easy." The mental effort and fortitude cannot be overlooked and will certainly add to the daily exhaustion. But the physical element of hiking with backpack in rugged terrain need not be overwhelming with proper preparation.

Next up, specific exercises to turn you into a core whore....
 
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Mike from MO

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My personal regimen is I train for strength 3x/week. I rotate between variations of the stronglifts 5x5 and Wendler's 5/3/1 for the core lifts (bench/squat/deadlift) and then constantly rotate my accessory lifts, some of which incorporate cario elements. I will list some of the staples below, but always looking for new ones as well. In addition to the 3 strength-based workouts, I do 1-2 tabata workouts with kettlebells (usually goblet squats into overhead press) and supplement those with more core exercises (russian twists, v-ups, etc.)

Here are some of the core-specific exercises that will take your overall fitness/strength to the next level. Again, please don't try these unless you already have basic level of fitness and PLEASE do not start with heavy weights on any of these exercises. Always get your form perfect and make sure you know what you're doing before adding weight.

Turkish Get Ups with kettlebell or dumbell. Start light (use a gallon of water, or even no weights). When you can do a couple sets of 5 on each side with > 30# your core is rocking!

V-ups. Again, start without weights and then start holding 5, 10# plates. Don't let your feet or your hands touch the ground between each rep. You want tension the whole time.

Hanging leg raises. Here's a good video on progressions. FORM IS KEY. Don't swing wildly. You want to use zero momentum on these otherwise you're just cheating yourself and what's the point?

Russian Twits. Start with your feet on the floor if you haven't done these, and technique needs to be right. I would suggest you do not go as fast as this guy does

superset of Walking lunges with dumbells or kettlebells. 10 deep walking lunges (5 each side) with weights down by your side, then 10 with weights up by your shoulder, and finish with 10 arms extended straight over your head, using your shoulders and core to keep the weight stabilized. Start with very light weight. This is a continuous exercise so you do all of these without stopping. Then try to do the same thing backwards.

Farmers walk. If your gym has a trap bar for deadlifts, this is great to use. Otherwise use dumbells. Take really small smooth steps on this to avoid a lot of swaying. Mix it up with weight/distance. Sometimes the heaviest weight you can possibly carry (SAFELY) for 15ft, other times use lighter weight and try to get up to 100ft (depending where you're at you may have to turn around mid-exercise and walk back the way you came. This just adds to the benefits as long as you are under control when you turn.)

There's an endless variety. Incoporating any/all of these and consistently pushing the intensity levels of your training will pay huge dividends the next time you throw your pack on and head out into the woods!


If you want to see some really insane sh*t, check out @diamondcut_fitness on instagram. If you think that guy can't throw on a 100# backpack and hike for days without any special "hiking training" you are crazy :)
 
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Mike from MO

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Bottom line: You don't need to go out and hike 10 miles with a backpack on, or hike endless stairs to properly train yourself for a 10 mile backcountry hike. The goal is to train at an intensity level significantly higher than what you will actually experience with a 40-100# backpack on your next hunting trip.

The stronger and fitter you are, the lighter and easier that hike will be. Get to where your strength is such that loading up that fresh kill doesn't even register as exertion, and your cardio is at a point where strenuous walking (i.e. hiking) is barely enough exertion to even bump your heart rate into the cardio zone. Don't correlate high INTENSITY exercise with high IMPACT exercise. None of the examples I provided above (aside from playing basketball or ultimate frisbee) are high impact.

Incorporate cardio into your daily life as much as possible:
  • Walk to work if possible.
  • Walk to lunch if you eat out.
  • Walk during work, especially if your office has staircases.
  • Schedule walking meetings if you are a team leader whenever you can.
  • Take the stairs instead of elevators ALWAYS.
  • Take family walks to dinner if possible.
  • If you have young kids, ditch the stroller and carry them on your shoulders.
  • When you do walk during your daily life, push yourself to walk at the fastest clip you can. Simply walking fast in your day-to-day existence will allow you to walk longer at a slower pace on your hike/hunt.
 

WhiteOak

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I don't want to be dismissive, but backcountry hiking/hunting is just strenuous walking. There is almost no skill whatsoever to the activity.
I dont want to be dismissive either but you may be in for a very humbling experience the first time you get cliffed out. Navigating off trail is way different than strenuous walking. Depending on the unit there can be a fair bit of climbing as well. Hiking with a weighted pack is also crucial to conditioning your feet and developing callouses. Its awesome to be in shape AF but if you're feet get torn up on the first day it wont really matter.

I'm all for any fitness tips but the above quote is a but misguided.
 

CBECK61

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I dont want to be dismissive either but you may be in for a very humbling experience the first time you get cliffed out. Navigating off trail is way different than strenuous walking. Depending on the unit there can be a fair bit of climbing as well. Hiking with a weighted pack is also crucial to conditioning your feet and developing callouses. Its awesome to be in shape AF but if you're feet get torn up on the first day it wont really matter.

I'm all for any fitness tips but the above quote is a but misguided.
I think conditioning your joints to the impact of the pack weight as well as getting your shoulders and hips use to a pack is super important. Simple heavy weight reps in the gym will not replicate this. Be as fit as you want but if your body isn't use to the extra weight for a 7 day hunt your going to be miserable.
 
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Mike from MO

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I dont want to be dismissive either but you may be in for a very humbling experience the first time you get cliffed out. Navigating off trail is way different than strenuous walking. Depending on the unit there can be a fair bit of climbing as well. Hiking with a weighted pack is also crucial to conditioning your feet and developing callouses. Its awesome to be in shape AF but if you're feet get torn up on the first day it wont really matter.

I'm all for any fitness tips but the above quote is a but misguided.
Thanks for the comment! Totally hear you, and I think some of that falls into the non-fitness skillset, i.e. picking the smartest/safest lines, identifying hazards/obstacles, etc.

I may have been too extreme, or misstated what I meant, if you thought I was suggesting you should not do ANY hiking to prepare for hiking. That was not my intent. Just making the point there are better ways to train for a majority of what is required from hiking/hunting than just walking with loads.

As for feet, I can only speak for myself but I have pretty nice callouses from cycling and playing basketball regularly. Not by any means to say those are the same exact stresses I encounter while hiking, but I have never had an issue in the past. Proper fitting footwear also plays a major role in avoiding those as well.

If I am lucky enough to have to haul an elk out this fall, and everything I typed above proves to be total BS, I swear to all I will come on here and eat a full serving of crow. :)
 

mdp22

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I think conditioning your joints to the impact of the pack weight as well as getting your shoulders and hips use to a pack is super important. Simple heavy weight reps in the gym will not replicate this. Be as fit as you want but if your body isn't use to the extra weight for a 7 day hunt your going to be miserable.
Walking downhill with weight or even your daypack/weapon is a killer if you are not prepared. Learned that on my first hunt. Also learned that I stepped down everytime with my left leg and it felt significantly worse than my right leg. I was humbled as a 25 year old in decent shape.
 

Ridge Ghost

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The notion that because hiking is an "endurance" activity you should train by doing lots of reps and light weights is another major misconception I have seen on here.
Agree 100%. Use barbells to increase strength (heavy and low reps, 3x5, 5x5, 5/3/1, etc) and use sport specific movement patterns (rucking, step-ups, stairs, etc) to get better at said activity. Light and high rep weight training is ill suited for both increasing strength and improving sport-specific conditioning
 

*zap*

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I would agree that just carrying a weighted ruck is not optimal training for carrying a weighted ruck. One person could do a ruck once a week along with complete body strength training and running and have significantly more gains in rucking ability than the guy who just rucks 4x a week with no other training at all.
 

*zap*

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The thing about gaining strength thru weighted movements is that your movements need to be very correct. You gain more strength by using heavier weight in the movement but you cannot sacrifice proper movement for heavier weight. Heck, even walking with a ruck actually requires proper movement or you will have joint issues.....
I pay attention to people at the gym who are lifting and many are not doing the movements correctly.....now some may want to be doing something differently for a specific reason but most are just not executing proper form...there is a lot of sacrifice of proper form so more weight can be used. I think people who do that are just cheating themselves and they will never see the significant fitness gains that are guaranteed to those who lift as much weight as they can handle while executing proper form and do that regularly over a long period of time, It is not a sprint it is a marathon.
Throw in proper nutrition and proper rest and you are going to be rolling right along....
Then figure out what you suck at and work on that more than what your good at....
 

Bigsteak

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Thanks Mike. Those were well thought out and detailed posts that I found very helpful. When I was playing sports in high school the strength guys were real big on cycling through days with low weight/high reps to other days where you basically maxed out. I don't really follow that regimen anymore and try and find weight that allows me to get about 5-8 reps in but I always wondered if I am being less efficient by cutting out those high rep days. Is there no place for the old 4 sets of 12 reps?

I tend to get in a rut in the gym anymore too where I find myself doing the same damn exercises every day, and I know that's not optimal, so thanks for suggesting a few new options.
 

Poser

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Thanks Mike. Those were well thought out and detailed posts that I found very helpful. When I was playing sports in high school the strength guys were real big on cycling through days with low weight/high reps to other days where you basically maxed out. I don't really follow that regimen anymore and try and find weight that allows me to get about 5-8 reps in but I always wondered if I am being less efficient by cutting out those high rep days. Is there no place for the old 4 sets of 12 reps?

I tend to get in a rut in the gym anymore too where I find myself doing the same damn exercises every day, and I know that's not optimal, so thanks for suggesting a few new options.
For the most part, no, you probably don’t stand to benefit from doing higher rep ranges if your goal is purely performance based. Some strength coaches do like to do short hypertrophy cycles for upper body strength (usually refers to in this context as “power building” as opposed to “bodybuilding”), but 5 reps seems to sufficiently combine just enough hypertrophy with just enough intensity to stimulate sufficient increase in muscle size that is an inevitable part of getting stronger. When you drop down to triples, you’re not getting much of any hypertrophy. In fact, some coaches argue that triples are “expressions” of strength closer to a heavy single or a 1 rep max than that of actual training sets. That could have some variance for individuals, but the fact remains that a person likley wont get very far in their training only doing triples (or only doing singles, for that matter), since you do need a blend of hypertrophy to get stronger and that’s why sets of 5 reign supreme in the strength game. Most established strength programs are built around sets of 5 even if they involve other two schemas.

Higher rep range (aka hypertrophy) is more for increasing the size of the muscle but not necessarily strength (or performance). Not to say that you won’t get stronger, but strength is not the primary outcome of that type of training. If you desire to have a pair of aesthetically pleasing looking arms, beach muscles or the likes, then, yes, you should be doing hypertrophy training in some capacity.

The exception here would be certain assistance exercises such as chins ups, pull ups, curls, tricep extensions etc. those muscles are getting sufficiently trained for strength doing compound movements but may benefit from some extra size since they are relatively smaller muscle groups. For example, chins ups or pullups are accessory movement to the deadlift. Your upper back certainly gets strong performing the deadlift, but your upper back will eventually benefit from some increased size as well. Biceps get sufficiently trained for strength doing virtually everything with a barbell, but a trainee’s elbow health may benefit from having bigger/stronger biceps and/or they may help squeeze out a few extra chinup reps to further train the back. Similar for triceps accessories as they relate to pressing i.e an intermediate trainee might include lying tricep extensions or dips in sets of 8-10 instead of 5s and 3s that they bench press with.

I’ll also add that while variation is tempting, most successful/respected/established strength programs stick to the same basic movements with the variation coming in the form of intensity and volume. If you’re just going to the gym and doing “whatever” (whatever you think, whatever you feel etc) until you’re get bored and then Doing something else, then You are not training, you are exercising, which is fine if that’s what you want to do, but if you want to make the most out of your time in the gym and continue to get stronger over a plane of times, especially as you age, then You should consider finding a quality program and following it as intended.
Variation can be stimulating, but variation for the sake of variation doesn’t tend to produce consistent results. By its own design, it can’t because it’s not Consistent in application of stress.
 
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jorgensen.travis

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Is time being taken into consideration in everyone’s advice. If I had all the time in the world, I’d definitely lifts weights. Seeing that currently I only have my lunch break to workout, strength training is not going to cut it for me. There’s no way anyone is going to convince me that weight lifting with long waits between sets is an efficient (from a time management perspective) way to stay in shape. I don’t care what I can squat, dead lift, or bench. I’ll out hike the world record holder in all three lifts.


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ozyclint

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i used to do the farmers walk for 6-8hrs a day at work. carrying a 28lb bucket of tomatoes on each side up to 100ft then emptying them into a large 'bin' at waist height. around 850-900 buckets would have been the biggest day.

i've often thought that hard labor is the old school 'gym'. think about it, who used to go to the gym in the old days? you didn't need to, you got payed for that.
it is great for mental conditioning too IMO. it's tough at the time but adversity fosters resilience. mentally, if you can do physical labor all day for 'the man', then doing physical labor for something your passionate about comes easy. you can pound that trail to your honey hole no problem.
 
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