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Dustin Diefenderfer, MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab | 6.25.2018

Making the Most of Mountain Training

  • Pursuit: Everyday

Why Cardio isn’t Enough to Prepare for a Backcountry Hunt

Hunting the backcountry requires significant leg strength for steep descents and power for big climbs. It demands a strong chassis to handle heavy packs in unforgiving terrain, but most of all, it demands notable mental toughness and self-confidence.

The biggest mistake we see is mountain hunters only doing cardio to prepare for a hunt of a lifetime. Even those that may frequent the gym usually don’t prepare their energy systems, core, and legs sufficiently to handle the demands of the mountains.

Man does push ups to prepare for strenuous hunting.

For over a year, MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab has been building an online program specifically designed for backcountry hunters. MTNTOUGH is a collaboration of dedicated backcountry hunters, and they have assembled an impressive team for this task, including a former Navy Seal, a former Army Colonel who instructed physical education at Westpoint, and couple of certified trainers with decades of experience.

Many backcountry hunters come to work with us after being humbled by the mountains and the first thing we always ask them is how they’ve trained in the past. Usually it’s some form of “I went to the gym, hit the treadmill and ran four days a week.” Or “I just went in and did the stairmaster for an hour every day.” We’ve seen it over and over.

Effective conditioning for the backcountry is about much more than just "cardio." Once you put on a 50-90 pound pack, carry a bow or rifle, and start climbing in elevation on uneven terrain with lower levels of oxygen for 10+ miles per day, your body needs so much more than cardio to be able to perform on a multi-day hunt.

“I Don’t Have Time”

Another big mistake we see is clients believing they need expensive equipment and more time to train. Every one of us has competing demands in our life: family, work, spiritual growth, and, of course, our training. Every one of these things is a glass ball and every one of these things must be balanced in the juggling act that is our life.

The majority of the hunter athletes we work with are extremely busy, working professionals, typically with young families at home. They need effective, 20-30 min workouts that they can do at home or in a hotel room that will prepare them for the demands of the backcountry.

Workouts that will boost their endurance, build a strong chassis, increase their oxygen utilization, develop unstoppable legs and most importantly...workouts that will forge their mental toughness. That’s why all of our workouts are tailored to the busy backcountry hunter, including the one I’m going to share with you today, called “The 22’s.”

The 22’s

The truth is you don’t need equipment to get an effective workout, and you don’t need more than 30 minutes. MTNTOUGH’s absolute go-to workout if we can’t make it to the gym is “The 22’s”. This workout will forge your grit and skyrocket your overall mountain fitness. All you need is a floor and an empty space.

The 22’s is designed to be done as quickly as possible, while maintaining perfect form. Follow these 5 steps with as little break as possible between each step. Track your time. See how fast you can get it done. Our elite mountain athletes are completing this in under 25 minutes.

Step 1) Sprint #1 — 0.5 mile

Step 2) Superset 1 — Lunge Jumps and Push-Ups (Every Round adds to 22 reps)

  • 20 Lunge Jumps – 2 Push-Ups
  • 18 Lunge Jumps – 4 Push-Ups
  • 16 Lunge Jumps - 6 Push-Ups
  • 14 Lunge Jumps – 8 Push-Ups
  • 12 Lunge Jumps – 10 Push-Ups
  • 10 Lunge Jumps – 12 Push-Ups
  • 8 Lunge Jumps – 14 Push-Ups
  • 6 Lunge Jumps – 16 Push-Ups
  • 4 Lunge Jumps – 18 Push-Ups
  • 2 Lunge Jumps – 20 Push-Ups

More pushups for a hunter at his home.

Step 3) Sprint #2
— 0.5 mile

Step 4) Superset 2 — *Jump Squats and Renegade Rows (Every Round adds to 22 reps)

  • 20 Squat Jumps – 2 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 18 Squat Jumps – 4 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 16 Squat Jumps - 6 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 14 Squat Jumps – 8 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 12 Squat Jumps – 10 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 10 Squat Jumps – 12 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 8 Squat Jumps – 14 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 6 Squat Jumps – 16 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 4 Squat Jumps – 18 Bodyweight Renegade Rows
  • 2 Squat Jumps – 20 Bodyweight Renegade Rows

Hunter does a home exercise.

Home training for a hunter.

*Add 10, 15, or 20lb dumbells to the renegade rows if you have access to them at home or in your hotel room.

Step 5) Sprint #3 — 0.5 mile

Man runs in preparation for a rough year of hunting.

Learn more about “The 22’s” and watch the step by step video of the workout.

Not Training with a Heavy Pack

The third mistake we see repeated over and over is mountain hunters not incorporating weighted pack training into their workout routines. You can build a strong core, legs, shoulders and traps in the gym but it is extremely difficult to replicate the demands a 50-100lb pack will place on your body during a multi-day backcountry hunt. Hiking with heavy packs can become significantly easier as you strengthen your core, neck, traps and low back, and the best way to do this is to incorporate a heavy pack workout into your training regime.

The good news is that regardless of where you live, you can prepare for the grueling physical demands of backcountry hunting easily without any expensive equipment or a costly gym membership.

MTNTOUGH has created their go-to heavy pack workout and all you need is your pack, a 60lb all-purpose sandbag, and a set of dumbbells. This is another one of MTNTOUGH's favorite big game pre-season workouts as it will significantly increase your on-mountain performance whether you live in Ohio or Montana.

Download the full MTNTOUGH Heavy Pack Workout.

­MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab, located in Bozeman, MT is the collaboration of lifelong backcountry hunter & National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer Dustin Diefenderfer, Alex Fichtler (Former Navy SEAL), Ara Megerdichian (retired military officer & Army Ranger), and Jimmy Alsobrook (Mountain Training Legend & National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer).