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Endurance and Conditioning for those Early Season Archery Hunts
By B4H Trainer: Megan Verbout
As the long-anticipated season openers for antelope and high country mule deer quickly approach, bowhunters will begin flinging arrows down range, planning scouting trips, and buying new gear. Some will begin planning hikes or spending an extra day of the week in the gym in hopes to prepare for the physical feats to come, but many overlook physical preparation.
It’s no secret that western bowhunting possesses characteristics known to humble even the most physically-capable hunters and the top-rated gear; the terrain, the weather, and the altitude will all take their toll. How well you prepare for these factors (as well as luck, of course) will determine whether you walk away with a punched tag and a freezer full of meat or just with stories of the backcountry to share. If you’re looking for a sure way to increase your chances of creating an opportunity this season, search no further than enhancing your level of physical fitness.
The fitness aspect of bowhunting, though growing in popularity, is still often left out of pre-season training. This may be because it is considered an “extra” or “untraditional”. However, there is a reason that gym selfies and nutrition advice have taken over your social media feeds. Endurance and conditioning training will play a crucial role in determining your success in the backcountry.
Picture your first morning out; you have packed your entire camp in on your back and have set up above the timberline where the concentration of oxygen in the air is significantly less than that at home. At first light, you make your way to a ridge where you will sit and glass. You can’t believe it, but you spot your dream buck to heading to his bed, and you know that this will be the day.
You make your plan and start out. There is a long, tough hike ahead of you and it’s already scorching. This is where your endurance training comes in. Endurance is the ability of the muscles to contract repeatedly despite resistance or force placed on them for an extended period of time. Training specifically for endurance will give you the physical ability to make this hike happen and get to your bedded buck.
When people think endurance training, they often jump to running and hiking. While cardio activities can contribute to endurance, your training should include lifting with concentration on the entire body (not just your legs). When you finally reach your buck and have to hold your bow at full draw for 60 seconds before you get a shot, you’ll know why.
Characteristics of endurance training include high repetitions ( 12-25 reps/set, 2-4 sets) with lower intensity (50-70% of your one rep maximum). You should train 3-5 times per week, allowing at least 2 days of rest between working the same major muscle groups. Training under these conditions will cause your muscles to contract repeatedly over a longer period of time, ultimately building your body’s ability to perform prolonged work.
Implementing an endurance focused strength training program can be as simple as taking your everyday gym routine, reducing the amount of weight that you are lifting, and doing more reps. An example of this program may look something like this:
-Strength Training for Endurance 3-5x/week
-Cardiovascular Training 6x/week
Other Tips for Endurance Training:
As you venture toward your buck, balance and stability will be key in moving efficiently and quietly despite the rugh terrain. Balance and stability training can be worked into any strength training program by varying each exercise with dumbbells, cables, barbells and resistance bands.
While barbells may closely resemble the load placed on your spine by your pack, varying traditional barbell exercises (squats, bench press, etc.) with other pieces of equipment will equalize muscle imbalances, place a greater emphasis on the stabilization muscles of your joints, and correct muscle weakness caused by favoring one side. Another way to correct these flaws during your strength training is to isolate the limbs (performing exercises with one leg or arm at a time). These tips will increase your balance and stability, allowing you to navigate the mountains more efficiently.
Adding endurance-focused strength training into your pre-season preparation will only create more opportunities for you to fill your tag this season. You will be able to go where others can’t, make shots happen that you wouldn’t have been able to, and work harder than you knew you could. Even if you can pinpoint a hair on an animal and put your arrow there 100 times, it won’t matter if you don’t have the physical stamina to chase a muley in the high country.