What is fitness? Webster’s Dictionary defines fitness as the quality or state of being fit but this is an incredibly simple way to describe a complex concept. Many in the training and fitness world now prefer the term “work capacity” and although this may bring us closer to a real world applicable capability, high work capacity in one discipline rarely transfers to another.
A world-class cyclist is fit but will have his or her ass handed to them in a boxing match. An MMA fighter is fit but will end up more beat up from a mountain ultramarathon than from going five rounds with Chuck Liddell at his peak. Runners are fit but throw a pack on their back and ask them to hike for hours on end and they’ll crumble before your eyes. CrossFitters are some of the “fittest” people walking the streets but ask the average CrossFit enthusiast to swim 50 meters and you’ll likely get a chance to perform CPR.
The fact of the matter is there is no single over-arching definition of what it means to be “fit”. It is entirely dependent on the intended physical, mental, and temporal (time) parameters in question.
In the real world fitness is domain (task+environment) specific, duration specific and energy system specific. As we discussed in depth in Training the Mind back in the February issue, mental fitness must also be included in the equation. There are many, many examples of physically fit and capable individuals simply quitting despite having the capacity to get the job done. Of course the reverse is also true, there are many, many people that don’t appear fit but still get it done when it matters most.
So what’s the point?
When applying fitness to a mountain context, specificity is the challenge. A multi-day mountain hunt often entails unpredictable terrain, prey, weather, and physical demands due to the simple fact the primary factors that drive in-the-field decisions are beyond your control. This is not meant to beat the horse we left for dead in previous articles, simply to re-iterate the key point that specificity is nearly impossible to attain when building a mountain hunting training program. But this doesn’t mean we can’t specifically plan and train in a non-specific, or as we like to think of it dynamic way.
In our opinion, the key to becoming and staying dynamically fit across a broad spectrum of physical and mental demands is focusing on power-to-weight ratio. Mark Twight, the founder of Gym Jones, summarizes the benefits of emphasizing power-to-weight ratio in your training program:
“Power-to-weight ratio is important to the sports requiring locomotion; the cyclist that generates 400 watts of power with a 145-pound frame is more efficient than the cyclist that creates the same force with a 180-pound body. The 200-meter runner who can deadlift 3x bodyweight runs faster than the sprinter who can only deadlift 2x bodyweight. The runner’s size/weight does not determine the one-rep max instead it is the neurological pathways and ability to recruit a greater percentage of existing muscle that are decisive factors. Because of this an athlete may develop the ability to generate incredible power without significant size or weight increase – by simply making the appropriate neurological pathways more efficient.”
And in the mountains, efficiency is key. The day-to-day grind of humping weight up and over mountains, through passes and across steep, unstable slopes can be unrelenting. If you’ve spent any time around sheep guides, this point will hit home. It’s a rare professional mountain hunting guide that sports biceps that would make Arnie jealous, or a squat that would rank them highly at a power-lifting competition or the CrossFit games. But throw 80 – 120 pounds on their back and ask that same guide to ascend and descend thousands of vertical feet multiple times a day, day in and day out, for weeks on end and they’ll leave Mr. Biceps and Mr. Max Squat weeping in the valley bottom below. We call this being MTNSTRONG.
As we’ve discussed in numerous articles and blog posts, the dedicated mountain hunter needs to think outside the box of conventional fitness wisdom when building a program and an emphasis on power-to-weight ratio is integral to in-the-field success. If you want to get “jacked” or “swole” by all means do so, but recognize that this comes at a cost and you better be willing to pay that bill when the season comes. Again, we’ll quote Mr. Twight:
“We each have a finite capacity, and we apply it to what we consider important. Every unit of capacity assigned to one task or activity is spent, and no longer available for other tasks that might compete for the same units of attention and energy. If one trains in a manner that causes muscle hypertrophy (increased size) in order to bench or squat greater weight the ability to run or do pull-ups is compromised.”
In the hyper-connected, modern world you have to be ruthless with your time, it’s the only truly priceless commodity you own. Your training program must deliver where it matters most, in the mountains. Not at the beach, not at the gym and not in the mirror but in the field.
How do you achieve this?
As we’ve made clear, our belief is that a solid base of endurance (ideally hiking and/or trail running) combined with a foundation of true whole-body strength should form the bedrock of your hunt training and preparation. Once this has been established (for clarification, read all previous Mountain Fitness articles if you have not), compound movements, exercises and workouts that emphasize neurological efficiency and field transferable skills and “work capacity” should fill in the blanks. This means your movements, reps, loads, and recovery time should all have this neurological efficiency or a positive power-to-weight ratio in mind and should enhance your movement “skills” in the mountains. This is one of the reasons we do not include the bench or the squat in our Most Important Lifts for the Hunter article. Great exercises for developing power, task specific strength and muscle mass but they provide minimal cross over to a mountain hunting application.
Once you have mastered the 3 Lifts fill in the blanks with compound movements like those listed below, and don’t be afraid to combine these into a circuit style workout. When designing your own circuit, a good rule of thumb is to combine a “big” lift or movement, say the deadlift, weighted carry or sandbag drag with a “small” movement like the pull-up, KB press, battle ropes, or stone or medball toss. The list below is not meant to be exhaustive but they are some of our favourite exercises for developing and maintaining a positive power-to-weight ratio. Be creative, experiment a little and keep your body adaptive and dynamic. We can assure you, the mountains will show no mercy.
We’ll see you at the top.
Compound Movements for Developing Power-to-Weight Ratio:
Turkish Get-Up (TGU)
Deadlift (DL) in all forms (bar/KB/trap bar/sandbag/quarters/big fucking stones)
Farmer’s Carry (KB/sandbags/farmer walk handles)
Stone or medball toss
KB Single-Leg Deadlift (SLDL)
KB Front Squat or Goblet Squat
Sandbag (SB) Clean or Power Clean
KB Step Downs (the opposite of step-ups)
Sandbag (SB) Shoulder Carry
*Note KB = kettlebells if you’re not familiar with this abbreviation