Getting Fit = Better Hunting
Why Improving Your Fitness Will Improve Your Hunting Experience
Sean McCosh - PHJ ProStaff - Cincinnati, OH
Imagine how taking five, ten or twenty pounds out of your pack could change the way you feel as hike to your treestand, your blind location, or up the ridge to glass for that big bull. It comes as no surprise that you would probably find the walking less strenuous, you wouldn’t be breathing as hard (and would therefore be leaving less scent in the air), and you’d be less likely to get sweaty — which can make you colder more quickly once you stop moving and start the formation of odor causing bacteria.
Losing weight before the season will lighten your load and provide benefits similar to removing those pounds from your pack. You’ll feel better, move through the woods more swiftly and quietly, and maybe even look a little more svelte in your trophy room photos.
Oh…and all that stuff your doctor and spouse keep telling you about decreasing your risk of disease and living a longer, happier life…well that’s all true too. But if you are as obsessed with hunting as I am, the benefits you will experience while in the field just might be your best source of motivation to lose the weight and improve your fitness.
While you probably already know you should cut back on the biscuits and gravy and get more exercise, you still may not know the best way to start your weight loss adventure. Just like in hunting, to really be successful at managing your weight, you need a plan. You need to be patient. You need to be persistent. And you need to be consistent. Following are some strategies and tips that might help.
Creating a Plan: Planning and preparation are half the battle when it comes to weight loss (sound familiar?). There are three fundamental areas to focus on when creating a weight management plan: Exercise, nutrition and motivation.
Staying motivated often starts with having a goal. So let’s first figure out how much weight you have to lose and set a realistic goal. Every body is different, so you may not know how much extra poundage you are carrying around, or even how much you want to lose. That choice is certainly up to you, but the standard measure the medical community uses for determining a person’s ideal weight is based on something called the Body Mass Index or “BMI”. Calculating your BMI will tell you where you fall along a continuum, ranging from; "underweight" to "normal" to "overweight" to “obese". You can use this Free Calculator to help you determine your BMI. Be warned, you may not like what the calculator tells you. If you are like 66% of American adults, you will fall into either the "overweight" or the "obese" category (32% of American adults are classified as "obese"). If you don’t like the category you fall into, don’t be discouraged. Even a relatively small amount of weight loss (just 5 - 10% of your current weight) may help lower your risk of disease and can improve your performance as a hunter.
Use the BMI calculator to help you determine how much weight you have to lose and set a realistic goal accordingly. To use myself as an example - I am currently 5 ft. 10 and weigh 180 lbs. By using the BMI calculator I see that my BMI is 25.8, which falls just within the “overweight” category. Because I want to get into a healthier range and lighten up for hunting season, I am going to set a goal to lose 10 pounds by October 1st. Based on the time horizon I have, this goal is both realistic and attainable.
How fast should you expect to lose weight? — If you are increasing your activity and eating within the proper calorie range you should expect to lose somewhere between 1/2 and 2 pounds per week. (Techniques that allow you to lose weight much faster than this typically don’t work long-term.) Of course there will be some weeks where you may lose more than two pounds, and other weeks where you don’t lose anything, or possibly even gain weight. Don’t be discouraged. Keep focused on your motivation, and how this effort will pay off come hunting season.
If you’re focused on losing fat and building muscle, the fat that is easiest to lose is stored under your abdominal muscles and is called “visceral” fat - or perhaps more commonly know as “The Beer Gut”, “The Pittsburgh Tumor” or “Dunlop Disease”. This fat is easiest for men to lose because it tends to be more “metabolically active” — which simply means that it is the fat that your body burns first. The bad news about this mid-section fat is that it puts you at higher risk for heart disease. So think of it this way, losing this fat may prolong your life and extend the years you’ll be able to enjoy hunting. That, for me, is some great motivation.
Start Slowly & Build Momentum: If you are just getting back on an exercise program, or starting one for the first time you should be careful not to overdo it. Start slowly and gradually work your way up to the more intense stuff. This can be a hard thing to do — especially for guys. We tend to think back to our high school days when we could bench press a small elk and run the stadium steps non-stop for an hour. For most of us the realities of adult life have set in and we don’t have nearly as much time as we used to for exercise. And as a result many of us have simply lost our momentum and found ourselves several pounds heavier than we should be.
To get your momentum back, focus on starting slowly and consistently, rather than all at once. Think of yourself more like a locomotive taking off rather than a rocket. Although the rocket takes off fast in a violent and powerful eruption, it quickly burns out and falls back to the earth. A train on the other hand starts slowly but builds power and momentum fairly quickly. And it doesn’t fizzle out nearly as fast as a rocket. Taking this approach to your fitness program will help prevent pain and injury, make the experience more gratifying, and help you build lasting habits that will stick around well beyond hunting season.
There are several benefits to doing strength training and we recommend it for all hunters who are trying to get in shape for the season. Some of the best reasons to incorporate strength training into your life include:
Building your balance and stability - The stronger your muscles, the sturdier they are and the better balance they provide when under stress. If you’ve ever walked through the dark woods with a treestand on your back and a bow and pack in your hands, you know how having strength, stamina and balance is important in the field.
Increase calorie burn — strength training increases your metabolic rate, causing your body to burn more calories throughout the day and lose weight more quickly.
Retain more muscle as you age - Adults lose between five and seven pounds of muscle every decade after age 20. Strength training will help prevent this loss of muscle and strength, and help rebuild what you may have lost.
Reduce and Help Prevent Low Back Pain — setting up treestands or lugging bags of goose decoys across a muddy field are not the most “back-friendly” activities. Strength training helps your back handle those stresses and recover from them more quickly, with less or no pain.
The importance of getting regular cardiovascular exercise cannot be understated. It is how your heart and lungs get stronger. And since your heart and lungs are much like your body’s “engine” it is important to keep them running efficiently, or you’ll quickly “run out of gas” when attempting some of the strenuous activities that are part of a successful and enjoyable hunting experience. When you follow a program of regular aerobic exercise, over time your heart grows stronger so it can meet the muscles' demands without as much effort.
Frequency - If you’re just starting a fitness program you should aim for a minimum of 3-days of cardio exercise per week, with more than two days rest in between. You’ll want to work your way up from there to 5-6 days per week. Keeping your workouts consistent, with the proper frequency and recovery in between, is an important factor for weight loss. Do not try to cram all your exercise in on the weekends and expect to lose weight. It simply doesn’t work that way.
Intensity - The benefits of cardio exercise come when you get into your Target Heart Rate (THR) zone. The recommended range of the THR is 60-85% of your maximum heart rate. One easy way to tell if you’re in this range is called the “Talk Test”. Basically this just means that if you can comfortably answer a question during exercise, but still feel like you are exerting yourself, you are probably in a good calorie burning heart rate range. This range is a good one for receiving general health benefits and losing weight.
Time: Length/duration of exercise - A minimum of 20 minutes per session is recommended for most people, with a maximum of about 60 minutes. Again, if you’re just getting started you should build up slowly over time. Also, make sure you do some kind of warm up and cool down before and after each workout. These should last about 5 minutes and should be counted separately from the 20 to 60 minutes recommended for the cardio workout in your target heart rate zone.
Type: What counts? - Any activity that meets the Frequency, Intensity and Time criteria above can be considered good aerobic exercise. You just need to make sure you can get in to your target heart range and sustain it for 20-60 minutes, and do so several times per week.
Cardio Exercise Success Tips:
Find exercise you enjoy. By finding something you like to do, rather than something you feel like you “should” do, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it and do it consistently. Here are a few ideas that may be a good alternative to walking, jogging, or the dreaded treadmill:
- Go for a hike. You can get some quality scouting time in while you get fit. And if it isn’t too close to hunting season yet, you can do so without fear of spooking game.
- Hit the road. It doesn’t matter when, just put on some good shoes, maybe grab some headphones and hit the road. If you’re a hunter, you probably have some form of foul weather gear; so never let the outside conditions stop you. Getting outside and going for a walk is good for the body and the mind. If walking feels too easy, try to pick up the pace and look for a route that has some hills to climb.
- Run the Dog. If you hunt with the dog, he’s got to get in shape for the season also. Getting outside and running the dog is great pre-season preparation for both of you. Plus having the dog with you and watching him work a field takes your mind off the fact that you’re actually exercising.
- Circuit Training. If you want to fit in both strength and cardio exercise on the same day, try doing some circuit training. Circuit training is when you go through a series of exercises or “stations” while taking very little rest in between. The idea is to keep your heart rate elevated near or in the aerobic level without dropping off — while getting a complete, full body workout. Circuit training typically includes doing a series of 4-10 different exercises in a row. This can be done at a gym, but also easily at home. An example of a circuit training session might look like this.
Warm Up / Stretch:
Do the circuit one time (10-12 repetitions)
1. Squats (with or without weights in your hands, bend at the knees and squat like you’re going to sit on a short stump. When the legs bend to 90 degrees, raise back up to a standing position and repeat).
2. Abdominal crunches (try taking your elbow to the opposite knee).
3. Dumbbell rows (while placing your left hand and knee on a bench, and keeping your back parallel to the bench, lift a dumbbell to your side with your right hand (like you are rowing a boat) until the bend in your arm is near 90 degrees. Then slowly straighten your arm towards the floor again and repeat. After 10-12 reps turn around and work the other side).
4. Push-ups (be careful to keep good form and keep your back straight. You may want do more that 12 reps here if you can).
5. Walking lunges (take a series of slow, extra-long “lunging” steps. Go 10 steps, then turn around and come back 10 steps. If you choose, you can hold dumbbells to your sides to add resistance.)
6. Plank Hold (Lie face down on the floor and get up on your toes and your arms (with your elbows and fists on the floor, but elbows bent). Try holding your body and your knees off the floor and in this position for 30 seconds without letting your knees or stomach hit the floor. Keep your body straight like a plank. Over time work up to holding this position for 60 seconds or more).
7. Squat jumps (squat down so your legs make a 90 degree angle at the knee, then jump straight up in the air as high as you can. Then quickly repeat for 10-12 reps.)
Cool down / stretch
The last thing you probably want is a lecture about what to eat, so I’ll keep this brief and point you to some resources that can help out if you’re serious about getting fit.
What many guys want to know about when they is "Do I have to eat "diet" foods if I want to lose weight?" Well, the answer to this question is yes and no. Yes, you’ll have to monitor your calories and nutrition if you want to lose weight. But no, you don’t have to limit yourself to salads and carrot sticks. It’s a simple equation — if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. If you don’t, you won’t.
Here’s how the math works. There are 3500 calories in one pound of fat. To lose that pound of fat you need to burn 3500 more calories than you consume. Although that might sound like a lot, it really isn’t. If you cut just 500 calories per day (which is equivalent to a snickers bar and a 20 ounce soda) you can lose that pound in one week. If you double that calorie deficit to 1000 calories a day you’ll lose two pounds in one week. Increase your exercise activity and increase that calorie deficit and you'll either lose more, or can eat more and still lose weight. Pretty simple right? It really can be. You just have to get an understanding of how many calories are in what you are eating and start making smart substitutions so your calories come from better sources of nutrition.
There are a several online resources out there that can help you track your calories and build a weight loss plan. The best I’ve seen is actually available for free and allows you to set up a personalized plan that is tuned just for you. You can access that here.
The Bottom Line:
One of my goals is to be a better hunter this year than I was last year. One of the ways I want to accomplish that is by losing weight - so I can move more efficiently and quietly through my hunting ground, and leave less scent in the air by not having to breath as hard. Plus, by losing weight I know I’ll have more energy, look better, feel better and possibly even get more years to hunt down the road. If these are motivations for you too, there’s no better time to get started than right now.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, or would like someone to help keep you motivated, feel free to reach out to me. I’ve learned that pursuing goals like this with others can make it easier to succeed and be more motivating.
Best of luck and happy hunting!
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