The word “season” has many uses in the English language. If we think about it within the context of change specifically it gives us an excellent frame of reference for how we should think about the “seasons” of our physical training programs. No different than the game species we pursue, as hunters we must adapt to the needs of both our external and internal environment over the course of the year.
Like a post-rut bull elk there’s a time of year when you should take the opportunity to focus on recovery, recuperation and the lessons learned over the past season. Virtually every competitive sport of course has a pre-season, in-season, and off-season schedule and as these “seasons” change, the physical and mental demands, specifically as it relates to training cycles and programming, are adapted to suit the varying needs of each season.
In short, you can’t and shouldn’t go hard year round but you also shouldn’t simply “rest” during your off-season. There is a far more “active” way to approach this critical time of year and in our opinion it is imperative to do so if the hunter-athlete wants to fully utilize their off-season.
First and foremost, as we discussed in the February Mountain Fitness column earlier this year, the off-season is the ideal time of year to conduct a “hot wash” and is the critical first step to an optimal off-season. As an example, if one of the findings in your post-season review is that some form of imbalance, instability or outright dysfunction, like a bum knee or low-back problem, limited your ability to hike and hunt get it addressed ASAP. Own it and fix it!
Assuming your body weathered the hunting season well and doesn’t need some form of involved maintenance, the training component of your off-season should then be analyzed and adapted to the changing demands of the off-season. Many athletes experience a bit of “structure burn out” or what is commonly called “decision fatigue”. All the effort and sacrifice put into the past few months adds up and takes it toll. Right now, there’s a good chance the last thing you want to do is worry about meal plans, programming etc. A much-needed break from a regimented routine is essential, both physically and mentally. But as noted above many people take the “off-season” to mean the “nothing-season” and there is a better way to approach it. This is where the term “active recovery” comes in.
Recovery, as we discussed in the July Issue and again in this month’s Pro Insight column is an absolutely crucial component of an effective training program. The term ”active recovery” is best thought of as keeping the engine idle. Physiologically, the body was designed to keep moving and there is a very long list of reasons to incorporate active recovery into your off-season. Yes of course there is a need for true rest, aka where the engine is turned off, but for the most part that boils down to your sleep. So if you have issues with sleep look into it. Whether that’s through your physician or another health care practitioner there are more professionals paying attention to sleep quality than ever before.
One of the obvious problems we face in the 21st century is a more sedentary lifestyle. Most of us don’t have what we at the JOMH think of as the “luxury” of jobs and careers that actually require physical activity. This is why it is integral to continue to “load the system” (aka keep the engine idle) during the off-season. As noted above, due to the likely “decision fatigue” you’re facing in the aftermath of all the time and effort put into the hunting season you want this active recovery to be as simple and effective as possible. Think of it as “unstructured structure”.
The unstructured component to this is what provides some relief after a long season of training and hunting. There is no need to track or follow any consistent rigid regime. It simply boils down to loading and moving whenever you have the time, but ideally on a regular basis. It helps keep the compass bearing straight.
The structured component to this is based on a simple but highly effective approach to the specific movements or exercises used to load the system and keep the engine idling. There is no need for complexity here, as we wrote in the October Issue there are seven basic human movements that form the foundation of a real-world effective training program. Review the list from that article and start to incorporate some or even better all of these basic movements into your off-season training. The “recovery” part of this boils down to loads (aka weight), reps and intensity and taking a measured and moderate approach to placing stress on the system. Remember, this is about keeping the body moving not setting a personal record so this is not the time of year to double down on the intensity.
As anyone reading this column should know by now, we are huge fans of the kettlebell and whether you are training at home, outdoors or at a gym they are a key piece of equipment. This is a perfect time of year to start to explore new training approaches, so if you’re new to kettlebells there’s no better time to pick one up and get some coaching.
Try and keep reps in the 3 – 5 range for any of the “grind” lifts and at this point, do not go to failure. Grinds are slower lifts or exercises, typically involving heavier loads. Exercises like the strict kettlebell or military press, Turkish Get-Up, deadlift or squat would fall into this “grind” category. For more “ballistic” movements like kettlebell swings, cleans or snatches 8 – 12 reps is ideal. This is not the time of year to be hammering the AMRAPs.
To be clear, we are not suggesting you do all seven movements in one training session. Ideally, take at least 180 minutes/week and split it over 3 days/week. Try to focus on a 70:30 split between true strength training and any form of exercise that gets the heart rate up for at least 60 minutes like hiking, snowshoeing, trail running, backcountry skiing, etc. If you don’t know what we mean by “true strength read this article from our friends at Strong First.
The key here is relative balance, you don’t want to only keep one system running. This is an easy to fall into trap as most of us have a method or modality of training that we prefer and therefore feels the easiest for “active recovery”. Most people train in a way that does not necessarily emphasize pure strength development and as we’ve discussed extensively true absolute strength forms the foundation for the rest of the year. So try your best to take one of the three training days to focus exclusively on strength. If you’re really pressed for time and need to maximize every minute of your valuable training time there are few programs as simple and effective as Simple and Sinister.
So in summary, take the remaining weeks of 2015 to review the season, assess the gaps in your skills and abilities and put an active plan in place for the New Year that incorporates the off-season principles we’ve outlined above. We can promise that if you do, when it comes time to ramp back up in 2016 you’ll be well oiled and primed for success.