Basic Elk Hunting Workout Program

Mark Skousen_Workout_800x400

Elk hunters who want to consistently harvest elk on public land need to be in top physical condition.  For those of you who have had success in the past, you know that once your elk is on the ground, the real work begins. Typically, the most physically demanding part of any elk hunt is carrying 70 to 100 pounds of elk meat and gear out of the backcountry. Doing this multiple times in a short period will truly test your physical limits.  Bottom line: elk are massive animals that live in rugged country – bring your “A” game and be ready for a challenge!

I realize most of us don’t have time to spend 2 hours in the gym every day getting ready to go on a fall elk hunt. However, no matter where you are on the fitness spectrum, there is always room for improvement and it requires some dedication and determination to get results. When I am out elk hunting, there is no greater sense of accomplishment than spotting an elk or hearing a bull down in the bottom of a deep canyon, and knowing I can go after that elk with no physical reservations. Basically, if I can see it or hear it, I can hunt it.

In this week’s feature article, I would like to introduce you to a basic workout program that will help you build both strength and endurance.  I like this program because it can be personalized based on your current strength and conditioning level and can be done in less than an hour in the gym per workout.   In other words, I believe the results of this program will benefit both those who regularly exercise and those who need to get started. Elk season is less than six month away. It’s go time!

I have used this program for 90 days and it works!  The program requires you to work out three times a week and focuses on only five lifts (Squats, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Barbell Rows, and Dead Lifts). Because of the focus on strength and endurance, all of these lifts are full body lifts meaning they focus on large, major muscle groups rather than small isolation muscle groups.  It is recommended that these lifts be broken up into an A workout and a B Workout (see chart below).

Workout A

Squat – 5X5

Bench Press – 5X5

Barbell Rows – 5X5

Workout B

Squat – 5X5

Overhead Press – 5X5

Deadlift* – 3X5

Since your legs will get you in and out of the mountains, you will be doing squats for both workouts.  You will perform each of these lifts by doing 5 sets of 5 reps with the exception of the deadlift, which you will do 3 sets of 5 reps. If you’re new to lifting, just start with the 45 pound bar. If you have experience lifting, 45 lbs may seem a little light.  However, you will be increasing the weight by 5 lbs every time you complete your 5 sets of 5 reps. I recommend you start with lower weight and make sure your form is correct before you get into the heavier weights.

30 Day Sample Workout

Week 1 – Monday (Workout A), Wednesday (Workout B), Friday (Workout A)

Week 2 – Monday (Workout B), Wednesday (Workout A), Friday (Workout B)

Week 3 – Monday (Workout A), Wednesday (Workout B), Friday (Workout A)

Week 4 – Monday (Workout B), Wednesday (Workout A), Friday (Workout B)

Remember that after you complete all sets for a given workout, increase the weight by 5 lbs for the next workout.  (This means adding 2 ½ lbs to each side of the bar) Technically you will be adding 10 lbs per week when doing the same workout twice in that week.

Explanation and Demonstration of each lift

Squats – Every muscle works when you Squat: your legs move the weight, your abs and lower back stabilize it, your arms squeeze the bar, etc. The Squat is a full body exercise.


Key pointers:

  • Stance – Shoulder width apart with toes pointed slightly outward
  • Keep your back straight.  (Look at the ceiling if you have to)
  • Squat to parallel like you’re sitting in a chair (No need to go lower than parallel)

Bench Press – The Bench Press is an awesome upper-body exercise that builds your chest, shoulders, and triceps.


Key pointers:

  • Position hands so when you lower the bar your elbows are at 90-degree angles.  Closer grip works more triceps and wider grip works more chest.
  • Un-rack the weight and lower the bar just below your chest muscles and then explode back up until your arms fully extend.
  • Use your legs for balance on the floor
  • Ask someone to spot you

Overhead Press – The Overhead Press works your body as one piece. Your trunk & legs stabilize the weight while your shoulders, upper-chest & arms press the weight overhead.


Key pointers:

  • Position hands so when you lower the bar your elbows are at 90-degree angles.
  • Press the bar from your front shoulders overhead until your elbows are locked.
  • Your knees and hips must remain locked through the whole movement.
  • Stance should be shoulder-width apart.

Barbell Rows – This lift will strengthen your upper-back, lower-back, lats and traps.  Translation – all of the muscles you will use to carry a heavy pack of elk meat.


Key pointers:

  • Grab the bar like you would for the bench press.
  • Pull with your elbows
  • Row each rep from the floor
  • Row against your chest
  • Keep your upper back parallel
  • Open your chest
  • Keep your head down

Deadlifts – The Deadlift is the most important exercise next to the Squat because it works all your muscles. Deadlifts will also teach you to pick up an object with a straight back – this will prevent injuries like hernias, which usually result from repeatedly lifting with a round, lower back.


Key pointers:

  • Position feet shoulder width apart
  • Grab bar just outside the width of your legs.  I like the staggered grip as shown.
  • Keep your back flat and your butt up
  • Pull – keep the bar close to your body.
  • When letting down, roll the bar down your thighs and keep close to your shins.  Don’t ever bend over with a rounded back.
  • If all else fails just drop the weight

Once you have been doing this basic program for 90 days, the weight will probably get heavy enough that you won’t be able to complete all 5 sets of 5 reps for a particular lift.  Once this happens you will need to reduce the number of sets to 3 sets of 5 reps. Additional information on this basic lifting program can be found at:

Now that you know what to do, make a commitment and get after it.  Remember a proper diet (previously discussed as a feature article on is a critical component of a successful workout program. Be the strongest elk hunter you can be this fall.  Good Luck!!