Get in Shape for Elk Season

Two years ago I wrote a blog on training for hunting. The post focused on the need for flexibility and stability. I included body weight exercises and some trail running as well. Having hunted for several weeks at 10,000 feet each of the past two seasons my approach has become more focused on injury prevention and cardio. The workouts also replicate the demands of elk hunting. Instead of lifting heavy weights for lower reps, I include higher rep exercises with less weight. These lifts also require better cardio, which pays off during the season. Lastly, I focus on functionality through cross training. This means I include a variety of different workouts to increase flexibility and stability and to reduce the chance of injury.

Somewhere between a Lionel Messi and Jocko Willink

Which professional athlete would make the best elk hunter? I’d argue Lionel Messi. Here’s why: Soccer players travel 7 to 9 miles per game during which they walk, jog and sprint (nydailynews). During elk season hunters cover roughly the same amount of ground  each day with varying levels intensity. Soccer players also train to cut side to side well without pulling muscles or rolling ankles. Western terrain requires ankle strength and hip flexibility to climb over ridges and sidehill along slopes. However, soccer players don’t have to carry packs. Thus, my workout has become a hybrid between Navy SEAL training and Ronaldo’s workout plan. Each week includes lateral movement exercises such as plyometric jumps and side lunges while also including back squats and lunges to prepare for the pack out.


The most crucial moment of the hunt comes when forced to take a shot with your heart pounding and your arms shaking from a lack of oxygen. It can be difficult to reproduce that feeling in training. Most hunters don’t live at 10,000 feet, but they can train their hearts to recover faster. Exercises such as high-rep squats, burpees, bulgarian split squats and sled pushes will allow you to reach your target heart rate several times per workout.

As for cardio-specific exercises, I include mountain biking, trail running and interval training. StairMasters burn your quads, but won’t target your core or lead to improved  stability. The same repeated motion will  reduce flexibility and increase the chances of pulling a muscle during a hunt. In addition to working your core, hiking on uneven terrain will also increase your ankle strength.

During my interval training workouts I jog 30 seconds sprint 30 seconds walk 15 seconds repeated for 15 to twenty minutes. Once every week or two I take a longer slower 45 minute trail run to prepare my knees and back for the pounding they take during the season.

Longevity and Injury Prevention

I’d like to hunt elk into my sixties. I don’t need to push my workouts to the limit at the risk of pulling my hamstring or throwing out my back. The workout includes mostly high reps with low weight, similar to an average day in the woods. I deadlift and back squat to strengthen my core, shoulders and legs for the pack out. Compound exercises using free weights and a full range of motion provide the best workout while building balance.

Overuse injuries can derail a hunt. I prefer mountain biking to running. My family has a history of foot and knee issues developed from running too often. If you plan to run, trail running causes less damage than concrete. Aside from overuse injuries, I hear more complaints about pulled muscles and rolled ankles than anything else. Remember to stretch out after workouts. You may have to take a shot from an awkward position and greater flexibility will allow you to perform better.


Flexibility will matter more during elk season than overall strength. Ensure that your strong in every direction, and don’t worry too much about any one-rep max. Elk hunting will undoubtedly shock your system, but cross training and functionality-focused lifts will limit the chances of injury. Good luck with training, Stu

Weekly Schedule

Day 1: 45 minute mountain bike, shoot bow ½ hour

Day 2: Legs

3×10 Deadlift 135-155 lbs

3×20 Back Squat 95-135 lbs

3×10 Bulgarian Split Squat/Lunges/Step Ups 40-50 lbs

Day 3: Lift Chest or Rock Climb (Not elk related could be used as a rest day)

Day 4: Leg Day/Cardio

-Interval Training Jog, Sprint, Walk 20 minutes

-3×20 Squat Jumps 0 lbs

-3x 20 Lunges 0 lbs

-3×10 Lateral jumps

Day 5: Lift Back and Core or Rest Day

Day 6: 45 Minute Mountain Bike or Trail Run

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s