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DIY STRONG: Getting Fit for Backcountry Adventures.

Don't worry, this isn't another chest-beating, look-at-me, get-fit bowhunting article. It's not about going deeper for elk or higher for alpine mulies, either. What? Not what you were expecting? Good. Let's move on.

In my bowhunting career, I've come to realize the term "backcountry" means something different to everyone. For me, in my little slice of southeastern Colorado heaven, the plains stretch to the horizon. Thankfully, the Creator sprinkled in some silver-tipped sage, a lonely cottonwood and a few cedars here and there. For the most part, though, the landscape is unrelenting. I love it, and so do pronghorns and mule deer.

Daytime temperatures during the early part of the archery antelope season often soar above the 100-degree Fahrenheit mark. Southerly winds carry dust that sticks to every piece of sweaty exposed skin. Miniature mounds of nylon hedgehog cactus and prickly pear hidden by prairie grass bury in the knees and hands during spot-and-stalk attempts. The occasional prairie rattler seeks shade under the cover of a lone sage, always making things a little more interesting. This, for me, is the backcountry.

For my buddy in Illinois, vast, deep stretches of public-land hardwoods are the backcountry. For my other bowhunting partner in the Sunshine State, ancient cypress-filled swamps are the backcountry. Here's the deal: No matter what you define as your backcountry, you'll enjoy it more and come out of it with a meat-laden pack more often when you're backcountry strong. Let's dive in.

Get Physical

Regardless of where you are in your get-fit adventure, remember this: Something is better than nothing. As a side gig, I build custom running plans for a number of people, and my clients are always sending me texts like this: "Got my three miles in at a 9:50 minute/mile pace. Felt awesome. I know it was just three miles, and it's nothing like what you do, but I feel good."

"Just" three miles? Seriously? Three miles at a pace under 10 minutes per mile is an amazing accomplishment. Getting bowhunting-fit is about you and you only. Sure, it's fine to look to others for motivation, but remember, you aren't them, and they aren't you. For those of you already incorporating running into your backcountry prep, and for those that plan to, consider adding the following workout into your routine.

Negative Mile Splits

This workout is brutal, but it really builds the legs and lungs. Remember, only you know where you're at physically, and attempting minute/mile paces and distance runs that you're not ready for will only lead to injury and sideline your bowhunting season.

This workout is all about starting slow and finishing fast. The key thing to remember is each mile needs to be faster than the one before it. Here's a good example:

* Mile 1 @ 9:30 minute/mile pace

* Mile 2 @ 9:15 minute/mile pace

* Mile 3 @ 9:00 minute/mile pace

* Mile 4 @ 8:45 minute/mile pace

* Mile 5 @ 8:30 minute/mile pace

* Mile 6 @ 8:15 minute/mile pace

This run can be done outside or on a treadmill. I know treadmills are the devil, but they make keeping a consistent pace easier and allow you to control the amount of vertical gain. For this particular run, you want to keep it as flat as possible. Always record your run data when you're finished so you can track your progress as you go.

Take a Hike or Bike

Not everybody runs, and that's OK. My wife is a great hunter, and she regularly wears a shirt that says, "I Hate Running." The good news is there are lots of other ways to build your backcountry cardio. One of my favorites is to take the pack I plan to hunt with and load it with a good amount of weight. Start light, then build up pack weight as you go. Lots of people use rocks, but I've found them hard on my pack's interior, so I use sandbags. Sandbags are cheap, flexible and, if you invest a little sweat equity, not hard to make.

The goal of this hike is to hit some hills. Vertical training is a must, and not just for the mountains. The better your legs can handle steep ascents and descents, the better they'll feel when you're navigating extreme terrain, flat ground, rolling hills and packing out game. Toting a heavy pack up and down towering hills, with a few little extra exercises sprinkled in, is just what the doctor ordered for quad, calf and core building. Hit this bad boy once a week to make tackling those backcountry dreams easier.

* Load a pack with sandbags to achieve your desired weight.

* Find a quarter-mile hill (the steeper, the better) or use a treadmill or stair climber. If you go the treadmill route, adjust the incline accordingly; if you jump on a stair climber, maintain a speed that pushes but doesn't destroy you.

If outside, use trekking poles and push hard up the hill until you reach the top. If inside, set the time and appropriate incline for how long and steep you want to climb.

* When you reach the top, stop and do 20 body squats (can do more or fewer). If on the treadmill or stair climber, hop off and do the body squats on the gym floor.

* Your downhill descent is your recovery. If on a treadmill, drop to a zero incline and hit a good recovery walk. If on a stair climber, simply pace around the gym.

* When you hit the bottom, turn right back around and hammer up the hill again. When you reach the top this time, do 20 walking lunges (can do more or fewer). If on a treadmill or stair climber, jump off and hit the gym floor again.

* The goal is to make four quarter-mile trips up and down. That's eight total trips and a total distance of two miles. Remember, work up to this.

I'm not much of a cyclist, but logging some hours on a road, mountain or gym spin bike is a great cardio workout. When I do cycle, I prefer to ride my mountain bike and get out in the hills and dirt. Dirt makes pedaling more difficult, and hills build legs quickly. That burn in the quads is a good thing, and the more times you tackle tough terrain, the more rigorous activity it will take to get the quads screaming. Also, rocky, unbalanced terrain builds the core, as you'll be constantly fighting to keep the bike balanced and upright. Gym bikes that allow you to manipulate tension and make pedaling more difficult are also a great option.

Cool Off

Swimming may be the best cardiovascular exercise out there, and it greatly reduces the risk of injury. I don't really swim, but if swimming's your thing, see if your local college, YMCA or community center is offering water aerobics classes or swim times. In addition to being a great cardio workout, swimming builds the shoulders and upper back, which are essential tools for the backcountry bowhunter.


I'm a big fan of CrossFit and incorporate it into my training a few times each week. The cool thing about CrossFit is that it's so open-ended when it comes to the workouts. You can do a different workout every day, and because each workout is based on high-intensity movements, you can get in a killer workout in 20 minutes or less. Plus, you don't need a gym. I routinely do CrossFit at my house with a few weights and a pull-up bar and at our local park using only the available recreational playground equipment. (Be prepared to get a few eyerolls and weird looks.) As with every form of training, the intensity of the workout should be adjusted to your current fitness level.

Recovery is a Must

Regardless of how much or little you train, you have to take care of yourself and pencil in necessary recovery time. Working out can get addictive, especially as you start seeing results. However, if you don't listen to your body, your new addiction could prove harmful. I know plenty of runners, cyclists, swimmers and Cross-Fit fanatics who went too hard and ended up with rhabdomyolysis (I'm one of them). This is a serious condition that results in the death of muscle fibers, as well as their contents leaking into the bloodstream, which can lead to serious complications such as renal kidney failure. Other potential consequences of not getting enough recovery time include pain in the knees, hips and lower back; swelling in the feet and ankles; and persistent fatigue. Too much training can also result in terrible mood swings. You'll go from finishing a workout and feeling like you can move mountains to feeling depressed and moody. Listen to your body!

I'm not much on diets. There are millions out there that claim to work, and while I'm sure some do, I simply focus on eating as clean as possible and hydrating regularly. When you're training hard, you need to be taking in at least 90 ounces of water a day. Make sure you replace spent calories with good proteins and healthy carbs from fruits and vegetables.

Although few of us do it like we should, another key to recovery is taking the time to stretch and roll out. After a workout, I like to stretch for a solid 20 minutes and use a roller stick on my muscles. These sticks are cheap and really help the legs and muscles feel fresh the next day. On non-workout days, I still stretch and roll out. Part of being a backcountry athlete is being flexible and limber. Plus, a flexible, limber body is more resistant to injury.

Remember, regardless of what your backcountry is, being in better physical shape will enhance your mental edge and allow you to hunt harder, longer and smarter than you ever thought possible. Oh, and one more thing--your trip will be a lot more comfortable and enjoyable because your body has been trained for the task. Get after it!

Sign on the Dotted Line

Training for the backcountry can get monotonous and boring unless you set goals to conquer. One of my favorite things to do is enter a running race. You'll find few things keep you motivated like the competitive spirit. Of course, if running isn't your thing, sign up for a cycling competition or Spartan Race. Train to Hunt and the Alpha Bowhunting Challenge, which blend a variety of physical activities with 3-D archery, are also good. Check out the following websites to find an event:

RELATED ARTICLE: Go Ahead-Supplement.

When it comes to what supplements you take and how often you take them, I highly recommend talking with your doctor or a licensed nutritionist. Taking it too far? Not really. How much money do you invest in bow-hunting gear? Having the right tools for the job is essential, and no tool is more essential than your own body. A doctor or nutritionist can look at your current health and weekly workout routine and then advise you on what supplements are right for you.

Personally, I use products from MTN OPS (, and, yes, I ran each by my doctor. I like the standard Multi-V Men's daily vitamin, and MTN OPS makes one for women, too. In addition, Ignite provides necessary pre-workout energy without the crash (use only before lifting or if you need a midday pick-me-up). The 20-plus-hour-release Enduro contains L-arginine and is great for hydration and post-workout recovery. An ingredient I'm in love with, especially the more I read about it, L-arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps increase blood flow to the muscles and cells of the body. Last year, I ran a 100-mile foot race in the mountains of Colorado and hydrated with only water and MTN OPS Enduro.

Caption: A pack laden with backcountry gear, boned-out elk meat and heavy antlers can weigh more than 100 pounds. Being prepared to haul such a load is essential for those who seek adventure off the beaten path.

Caption: CrossFit trains the muscles and the lungs, and high-intensity box jumps are a great exercise to incorporate into any CrossFit routine. Box jumps build the legs, lower back and core while also working the cardiovascular system.

Caption: Walking for miles holding a 12-pound decoy while hunched over isn't fun. Your back will ache, and your legs will scream. However, the properly trained bowhunter capable of handling such abuse will often earn a shot at his or her trophy.

Caption: The Rocky Mountains are unforgiving, especially when a number of high alpine peaks separate you and your heavy pack from your truck. The better physical shape you're in, the easier and safer the walk out will be.
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Author:Bauserman, Jace
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:May 29, 2019
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