Last week Tony wrote an awesome article on staying in shape, rather than getting in shape, and it goes hand-in-hand with my personal schedule for working out. After many years of “cramming” for elk season, I finally caught on to the concept of working out year-round. As we get older, it seems to take forever to get into shape, but it only takes a few days to get out of shape. Working out all year long will not only eliminate the need to “get in shape”, it will also enable you to take your physical conditioning to the next level. If for some reason you haven’t been able to stay in shape since last elk season, however, there is no better time to start getting in shape than right now!
Working out doesn’t have to be 2 hours at the gym 6 days a week. In fact, that kind of a schedule is probably going to be less effective than a well-rounded, varied approach. Since elk season is just around the corner, I’ll concentrate on a great workout program that will have you ready to chase bugling bulls by September.
First, start out with weights 4X/week for 2 weeks. No cardio, just weights. I like a good circuit-style workout, doing higher reps with lower weights with little or no rest in between exercises. I usually aim for 1 set of 15 reps during this 1st 2-week period. This workout is not meant to build muscle mass, but to burn excess fat and trim the muscles you already have. It will strengthen your core, as well as your joints and tendons, making a smooth, injury-free transition into your cardio exercises. We follow a 13-exercise routine that takes 20-30 minutes to complete. A quick video of the lifts we do is shown below:
In week 3, we cut back the weight lifting to 3X/week and add in some cardio, also 3X/week, usually on the same nights we lift. Start out light, but push yourself. I like to run on a treadmill for this first little bit for 2 reasons. First, it isn’t as hard on your joints as pounding your feet into concrete, and second, you can set the speed and force yourself to maintain that rate for a set amount of time or distance. Set a goal for yourself and then achieve it, steadily increasing the distance you are running each time. You should be up to at least a mile by the end of week 4. Be sure you are properly stretching before you lift, before you run, and after you run. You don’t want a pulled muscle at this point!
Week 5, cut the weights and running back to 2X/week. Now, instead of 1 set of 15 reps on the weights, go to 2 sets of 12 reps, still keeping the weights lower. This isn’t a muscle-building contest…you are preparing for elk season. Push hard on your running and add in some form of cross-training 2X/week (not on the days you are lifting), whether it be biking, hiking with some weight in a pack, swimming, etc. I like to get a solid hour of cross-training and have really grown to like swimming. Follow this routine for 8 weeks (until the end of July).
You are now at the beginning of August. You should be running 2-3 miles (2X/week), lifting 2 sets of 12 reps (2X/week), and cross-training (2X/week). Week 9 will be the beginning of tapering your workouts to get you ready for elk season, which is now just 4 weeks away. Go back to 1 set of 15 reps on the weights (2X/week) and get in a light run on those nights. Continue to push yourself on your runs, but don’t overdue it. Cross-train 2X/week, but do something that is related to hunting…i.e., stair-stepper, hiking hills with a weighted pack, etc. Make these cross-training exercises the focus of your workout at this point. Be sure you are stretching before and after every workout…a pulled hamstring at this point will definitely nag you during elk season. Continue with this schedule until you leave for your hunt.
Be sure you are giving yourself plenty of sleep and plenty of fuel during these next 4 months. Your body will respond to whatever you put it through, but the efficiency of your workouts will increase greatly by making sure you are giving it what it needs to re-fuel and recover. Drink lots of fluids, and elk season will be here before you know it! The goal is to come back from elk camp ready to start getting (that is, staying) in shape for next season. Maintain your level of conditioning through the winter, and your conditioning will explode next spring.
Hunting elk is hard work. The better prepared you are physically, the more enjoyable the experience of hunting elk will be from start to finish.