Physical fitness and sports are inexorably connected and there should be no exception for the outdoorsman. Most hunters take steps to stay safe while on the hunt. Dropping a pretty penny on expensive gear to keep them in a tree or visible from miles away. It’s probably money well spent, but many hunters overlook their personal health. This seems to be especially true when it comes to physical fitness. If you do a quick Google search on hunting and heart attacks, you will find numerous preventable tragedies. To get you started, I want to outline what I do to stay ready for the hunt. Before implementing a new exercise regimen, make sure to consult your doctor and, if available, a professional trainer before starting. Do not over do it; start slow.
Hiking - Frequency: Every Day
Slow pace exercise is the cornerstone of my workout routine. If Rupert and I are not out hunting, we walk. We walk everyday - rain, shine, sleet or snow. I have planned a route that is about two miles in low traffic areas. I walk at a pace that is comfortable but not slow. If Rupert and I are having a bad day, this always seems to help. Rupert gets time to learn about how to behave on a leash and I get time to listen to my favorite podcast or plan my next hunt.
Is hiking too easy? Trust me, if a hike is too easy, you just are not going far or fast enough! That said, I ramp up my hikes to get prepared to haul the 50 pounds of gear I bring into the woods for deer season. I load up my day pack with 50 pounds of weight that I strap on for the two miles. If you can prepare your body, you will have more success with run and gun stand strategies. Hiking into locations that most hunters are too lazy to get to is very rewarding. Being able to get there, and not be tired or covered in sweat, is invaluable.
Yoga - Frequency: 2-3 times per week
I know what you’re thinking: Look at Scott taking nature hikes, picking flowers, and doing some stretching when he gets home. Laugh all you want, but the benefits of a good yoga practice will not only increase physical fitness but it will make you a better hunter. Not to mention my wife loves flowers.
I practice Ashtanga yoga which can be done at home. It is a very physically challenging yoga referred to as a breath practice. This means that the pace and rhythm of the workout is based on your breath. Breath is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of hunting. Everyone has heard the tales of “buck fever” but few offer practical suggestions for dealing with it. The most important step to eliminate buck fever is breathing. In through the nose - you can feel the energy, out through the mouth - you can feel the relaxation. In police and military circles this is referred to as combat breathing. It’s time tested and it works. I have tried many methods to improve my breathing, but yoga has been far and above the best teacher.
The ability to be comfortable in uncomfortable positions could be the edge that lets you take the shot of a lifetime. Doing yoga will put you in these positions and you will learn to breathe, relax and be active in these positions. It will also teach you the limits of your flexibility. Understanding this will make you more confident in those awkward positions where others may not be able to safely get a shot. As you continue with yoga, your flexibility will increase and you will be comfortable in more and more positions. Not to mention many of those minor aches and pains will be greatly reduced.
The final benefit that I’ll mention about yoga practice is increased capacity for meditation. Chris Eberhart, in his book “Whitetail Access”, mentions how he passed the numerous hours spent hanging from a tree. Chris described it as a “Hunter’s Meditation”. A state where you are aware yet comfortable, conserving energy yet ready to spring into action. Chris went on to say that he imagined this was a shared experience between hunters going back to the beginning of human history. Ashtanga yoga is done in silence with just you and your breath. You get lost in the meditative routine. This state gets easier to reach the more you practice. Yoga will improve the mental stamina that is needed for those long sits in the woods.
Kettlebells - Frequency: Once every 7-10 days
Kettlebells are far and away my favorite form of exercise. I have never enjoyed traditional weightlifting. I find the repetitive workouts boring and uninspired. The first time I tried a kettlebell workout I was hooked. The workouts are challenging and the movements are fun and keep your whole body in motion. Kettlebells can have a dramatic change in your strength and conditioning. Making every physical activity easier and you will notice the improvements when you are dragging or packing out your next harvest.
I usually do a circuit of 3-4 exercises. I always start with Turkish get ups. I love this exercise and you could do a whole workout with only Turkish get ups. A few months after I incorporated this exercise, our late dog Jethro and I were out on our daily walk. It was about 10 degrees below zero and everything was covered in ice. I hit a patch of ice so slick I thought that Macaulay Culkin was home alone. I fell flat on my back but instantly recovered and was back on my feet before I even decided to get up. The Turkish get up was burned into muscle memory and my body knew the correct position to be in as I fell preventing injury. The increased strength I gained allowed me to get back up from the awkward position instantaneously, all while on a slick icy surface, with little effort.
The next exercise in my circuit is the kettlebell swing. This exercise is great for conditioning and will burn off any of that natural insulation you may have collected. I like this exercise because it is simple yet extremely challenging. With very little weight 50 pounds (male) 35 pounds (female) you can get an exhaustive workout. One great benefit of this exercise, and kettlebells in general, is increase grip strength. I have seen numerous people squeezing those spring loaded handles over-and-over, day-after-day. I am sure that they increase grip strength, but how boring! Grab a thick handled kettlebell and start swinging the thing around. Your body will experience the importance of grip in a dynamic and fluid movement that mimics real world circumstance.
I usually complete my circuit with a round of kettlebell swing clean and presses. I love the explosiveness of this exercise. Exploding up to get the kettlebell to your chest. Then exploding to get the kettlebell high over your head. Need a little explosive power to lift that monster buck into the bed of the truck? This exercise will get you there. I am 6’1” and about 180 pounds. Most people would say that I have a skinny frame and probably don’t expect me to be especially strong. That is until I grab the 50 pound bag of dog food off the ground and effortlessly swing it to my shoulder one handed. This is what I love about kettlebells, they give you functional strength. Simply put, they help you use your body better.
Make it your own
The philosophy behind my workout routine was stolen from Mark Sisson’s book, “The Primal Blueprint”. Mark uses a pyramid to describe his perfect workout schedule. The base of the pyramid is move slowly frequently (daily). The middle is lift heavy things (2-3 times per week), The top is sprint (once every 7-10 days). I have adjusted my preferences in types of exercises to match this. That said, what works for me might not work for you but you need to do something. There are tons of great resources out there to help you. Countless times I have found myself on Youtube looking for new exercises or was to perfect my technique and form. Remember to start slow and seek professional guidance if you can. The most important step to take is starting.