It happens every year but it still pisses us off.
Riding the resolution wave, a higher than average number of hunting fitness posts have been popping up on the web and social media over the past few weeks. Some of these are phenomenal and deserve credit where credit is due. Many however sport images of an “athlete” wearing a pack while “training” on a step-mill, stair climber or treadmill. And this is what pisses us off. That’s not training to hunt.
Last time we checked, there weren’t many sheep, goats, elk, moose, muleys or bears walking around the gym. Why in the hell would we get our cardio there?
To be clear, if you’re recovering from an injury or you’re just starting a fitness program after years off then sure, these machines have a time and place and are a necessary evil of returning to sport.
If you’re not, get the f@#k outside. Cold out? Get outside. Snow? Get outside. Rain? Get outside. If you’re reading this you likely have hundreds if not thousands of dollars of outerwear somewhere in your home. Use it. Get OUTSIDE!
Look, we’re not saying that you should never use machines for cardio. There are days when we’re all pressed for time, energy or motivation and the gym is the easiest option. For some of our readers, there may even be days when it’s so cold out that the potential frostbite just isn’t worth it. In these cases fine, use the gym for cardio when you must. But over the winter, do not depend on machines to build the dynamic mountain applicable endurance needed in extreme backcountry pursuits.
Shale, loose boulder fields, and willow and alder choked ascents and descents all represent unstable footing and the kind of terrain that simply cannot be replicated by a machine. Realistically, we could end the article on that note alone.
Outdoor activities like hiking, running, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, and cross-country skiing all create multi-system adaptations. Meaning, you’re not just building your cardio or endurance base when you train in these disciplines. You’re building your endurance yes, but you’re also building strength in concentric and eccentric movements, exposing your body to non-linear (aka dynamic) environments and in the case of hiking, running and snowshoeing in particular building mountain hunting transferable tissue and neuromuscular adaptations.
For many of us, snow covered terrain is a reality for the next few months and in our opinion there are few elements as fun and important to train in as the snow. If you don’t live in close proximity to mountains or even decent foothills, at this time of year snow covered embankments or inclines found in the local park turn into killer training environments. Doing repeats while breaking through crust into soft or deep snow or slipping two steps back for every step forward sucks but has phenomenal transferability to high mountain terrain. Not to mention the fact that when outdoors we’re usually training the musculature involved with both the ascent and the descent, absolutely key for becoming a strong and durable mountain hunter. This is close to impossible to achieve in the gym. Add a pack and now we’re really talking.
Snow has the added advantage of softening ground reaction forces, otherwise known as impact. Most people can hike or run faster downhill when there’s a decent amount of snow on the ground. If you’re someone that battles quad, knee or shin problems when going downhill, hiking or running in the snow is an excellent way to expose your joints and tissues to the eccentric load of descents without the impact.
Acclimatizing your body to cold weather exertion is another benefit. If you hunt well into the late season, this is a must. With the temps below freezing take the opportunity to cold proof both your body and your gear. It’s an excellent way to test and refine your fueling needs when the thermometer drops as well. A key to sustained backcountry performance on late season hunts.
Here on the West Coast the recent snows have made some of our go to routes ass kicking slogs that had us sucking wind halfway to the top. Routes we used to blast up without a break. So while there was snow on the ground instead of avoiding these climbs, we doubled down on these routes. Going fast and light at the absolute limits of our abilities some days and on others wearing a weighted pack and focusing on our “low gear” base endurance.
This isn’t an attempt to show off. Frankly many of these training sessions sucked and kicked the shit out of our egos. But that’s exactly what training is for. Come hunting season, the mountains won’t show us any mercy and our training should, wherever possible, mimic the unforgiving and dynamic demands of the extreme backcountry pursuits each and every one of us lives for. Live it, walk it.
The language we used in this article may have been a little strong for some of you but we’re all big boys and girls and this is a topic that really gets us fired up so you’ll just have to forgive us. Or not.
Either way you know where we stand.
Where possible avoid machine based cardio and start the year with the end in mind. Get the f@#k outside.