We’ve devoted a lot of material in this column to the concept of dynamic environments and why mountain hunters must keep this concept front of mind when planning and building their training programs. If this concept sounds new to you, read Training for Dynamic Environments originally published in our May 2015 issue for an in-depth article on the topic.
As a quick refresher, any system characterized by constant change, activity or progress can be called dynamic. In the physical sense, there are few endeavours as dynamic as a hunting expedition deep in the wilderness, backcountry or mountains. Between the weather, the terrain, and the quarry pursued the demands and challenges faced on a day to day basis can vary from intermittent glassing and hiking to heart pounding stalks and multi-hour death marches with over one-hundred pounds on your back.
This is an incredibly difficult “sport” to train for. Most conventional sporting activities are far less dynamic, in the strict sense, than a mountain hunt. A quarter, period, or game lasts a certain amount of time. The field of play (or ice, or pitch) is a clearly defined area with defined rules. Yes of course, there are highly dynamic components to conventional sports, especially team and/or contact sports, but the demands faced are, relatively speaking, well known and well understood. This allows for highly specified training and programming. As we’ve stated before, the very definition of training with specificity for mountain hunting is to train as non-specifically as possible.
Some days you need the legs and lungs of an ultrarunner and on others the brute strength and power of a rugby forward. Building these capabilities concurrently in preparation for the season is difficult. It requires a dedicated and thoughtful approach to every minute you spend training. It takes time, discipline and more than anything else…planning. BUT IT IS POSSIBLE.
Because most of us are forced to train in a gym or home gym setting for a good portion of the year, exercise selection is one of, if not the, most critical factors in this planning process. As they say in the endurance world, there are miles and then there are garbage miles. Very few of us have time for “garbage miles”, be that actual miles out on the trails or figurative miles (aka time spent) in the gym. We’re all busy. We’ve all got plenty on our plates. Let’s not piss around.
Exercises that have no bearing on hunt success do not belong in a program. That is, IF hunt preparation is your primary goal. If backcountry or mountain hunting is not your primary focus (training wise) then go ahead and spend your time however you want. Biceps curls? Why not. Skull crushers? Sure. Seated shoulder press? Be our guest. If you’re primarily training for aesthetics and “gym fitness” there’s nothing wrong with these lifts.Photo Credit: Train To Hunt
If on the other hand your primary focus IS training to hunt, then junk exercises that are intended to isolate a certain muscle or small group of muscles are near worthless. This is a topic we’ve covered extensively in past articles so we won’t belabor the point here BUT there is a topic within this exercise selection discussion that we have yet to cover. A concept that is truly critical when trying to get your head wrapped around what to do in the gym with the limited and valuable time you have available to train.
And that is open loop versus closed loop exercises.
Enter Jim Kielbaso, a world recognized authority on speed and power development who has helped thousands of athletes around the world including pros in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.
In his book, Ultimate Speed & Agility, Jim outlines the key differences between closed and open loop skills or exercises.
Closed-Loop Skill Definition:
“Closed-loop movements are performed with a pre-determined starting point and finish. They do not require the Central Nervous System (CNS) to process feedback from external stimuli to properly perform the movement; they do not require the athlete to react to an opponent or environmental change. Once the movement is initiated, the body reacts to internal feedback but it is not necessary to react to external factors.”
Open-Loop Skill Definition:
“Open-loop skills require the athlete to process information from external stimuli and react accordingly. The individual must take external information, such as positioning of opponents, process it through the CNS, then produce movement patterns that appropriately deal with this information. There is no pre-determined beginning or end to each movement, as this is determined in response to external cues.”
Which of those two definitions sounds more hunting applicable to you? If you need to think about it for more than a few seconds, stop reading right now and go take up lawn darts.
The difference between closed and open loop movements is precisely why we’re such huge fans of the kettlebell. As we move kettlebells through space, especially if we’re talking about ballistic movements like the kettlebell swing or snatch, the KB produces a dynamic and external stimulus that we must react to and control. But this isn’t another article about kettlebells. This is about taking it even further than that.
Yes, many kettlebell exercises fall within a (mostly) open-loop category and as long time readers will know, we’re MASSIVE fans of the KB, so if you’ve been drinking the KB-Kool-Aid then by all means keep it up. But in this article, we are going to propose a variety of ways to incorporate TRUE open-loop exercises into your training program. Exercises or drills that require constant processing of external stimuli. Sound like mountain hunting yet?Photo Credit: Train To Hunt
As a word of caution, we’d consider these “advanced” level exercises. If you’re new to weight-training or have taken more than a few months off, then these should not be included in your program. YET. Give yourself two to three months to get back on the horse and then absolutely include these types of drills and exercises into your program on a regular basis.
The only catch with these is most require a training partner to provide or guide the external stimuli. So, if you’re a home or garage gym aficionado it will be hard to incorporate most of these drills into your program. At worst, and this applies to EVERYONE realistically, when logging cardio time do everything in your power to think along these closed versus open-loop lines. Road running, treadmills, stair-climbers, and step-mills all represent closed-loop environments. GET OUTSIDE. Snowshoe, ski, hike, trail run…anything that gets you into an environment that provides some external stimuli. To take it to another level, try new trails whenever possible or even better get OFF-TRAIL so you’re constantly processing new, external information and reacting to the trail conditions.
Finally, events like Train to Hunt or the GoRuck Challenge are PERFECT pre-season events as they both incorporate open-loop drills, exercises and challenges into the overall event. That said, any event that has unknown demands, terrain and mental scenarios fits the bill.
By no means is the list below complete. These are a sampling of drills that we feel are field applicable but we’d encourage you to come up with your own open-loop ideas to suit your specific hunting or training needs.
Keep the open and closed loop definitions above in mind and let the creativity flow!
Photo Credit: Train To Hunt
Open-Loop Drills for Mountain Hunting
- This one’s simple and can be done virtually anywhere with a training partner. It’s a perfect outdoors option. One person acts as the “drill sergeant” and the other the “grunt”. Pick a given amount of time, ideally something between 90 secs and 3 mins and have the grunt go through a series of bodyweight exercises BUT the “drill sergeant” controls the exercises. Push-ups, pull-ups, core exercises, air squats, burpees, broad jumps, sandbag lifts, stone carries, and log carries are all great options for this drill. The key is to keep it random and chaotic so the “grunt” is always guessing and having to respond to the “orders” of the drill sergeant. Switch roles after the allotted time.
- This drill is for the kettlebell aficionados out there, DO NOT try this if you’re new to KBs. Again, using a partner, pick a weight that you find manageable for ballistic movements but expect to be going for 2 – 5 mins per circuit. Have your partner dictate the movements, again randomly, switching from one-arm swings to two-arm swings to snatches and keep alternating until the allotted time is up. Then swap roles. If you’ve pissed your buddy off recently prepare for some pain on this one!
Med Ball Reaction Drill:
- Think of this like the schoolyard game 500 hundred-up. This can be done in a gym or outdoors if you own your own medicine ball. Ideally use a weight (of med ball) that’s going to be challenging to catch and control. Stand back from your partner and have them toss the med ball in varying directions and varying distances. The goal is to catch the med ball after no more than one bounce, then roll it back to your partner. Do this for a set amount of time, again 2 – 3 mins is a good benchmark, and swap roles after the allotted time.
- This drill is easily done at the gym or outdoors as well. Using your pack, a sandbag or KB/dumbbell/plate have your partner dictate core exercises for an allotted amount of time. We’d recommend 5 min circuits on this one to keep it especially challenging. Russian twists, front and side planks, v-sits, v-holds, flutter kicks (while holding pack/sandbag/weight above body) are all great options for this. Of course, swap after the set time.
Embrace the Hill Suck:
- This is obviously an outdoors option. Find a hill with a challenging incline and sufficient length to make this a real grind to finish. This should be done at near sprint speed or at least the best effort you can manage. To make this especially open-loop, don’t set a time limit, let the partner directing the drill have full control. Start at the bottom of the hill and have one person dictate how the other gets to the top. Think along the lines of short sprints straight-up, then bear crawl right or left, then backpedal down the hill, then walking lunges up or sideways, then sprints again. Basically, make this a real fire-breather drill. The one running the hill should want to a) vomit and b) knock their partner flat on their ass by the time they reach the top. Feel free to incorporate packs or sandbags into this drill.
If you’re a REAL fire breather and want to take these drills to the next level, set-up a few archery targets at varying yardages and at the finish of each circuit, pick up your bow and have your partner call your shots. Shoot 3 arrows at random distances and as quickly as you can. This is obviously an outdoors option unless you go to the best gym on the planet!