Forget the deer-spotting stereotypes. Backcountry hunting requires trekking for miles over rugged terrain only to retrace your steps while carrying hundreds of pounds of fresh meat on your back.
“Packing out an animal is hard,” says Dustin Diefenderfer, hunter, ultrarunner and founder of MTNTOUGH Fitness in Bozeman, MT. “You need a strong chassis, like an F-150.” Hunter or not, try his signature 45-70 heavy pack workout. It’s designed to build the muscle endurance and strength required for such a daunting task.
The Best Heavy Pack Workout to Build the Strength and Endurance for Backcountry Hunting
Load a multiday backpack that has a harness system with sandbags (or wrap free weights with towels) to approximate weight. Perform a descending/ascending ladder with the rep scheme: 30, 20, 10, 20, 30. Rest 2 to 5 minutes between sets. Repeat workout three times a week.
1. Curl to Press
Grab the pack on both ends, palms facing each other, standing tall with core engaged. Perform a hammer curl, bringing the pack from waist to chest, then immediately push it overhead in a strict shoulder press. Slowly lower the pack to your chest, then waist without using momentum. Beginner: 25 lbs; intermediate: 35 lbs; elite: 45 lbs
Stand with feet slightly wider than hipwidth apart. Hinge at hips to grab pack on both ends, soft bend in knees so you feel hamstrings engage. Drive through heels and extend through hips as you lift pack off the ground to stand. Squeeze glutes and slightly thrust hips forward at top of motion. Go slow and controlled on the descent, keeping a flat back. Beginner: 60 lbs; intermediate: 80 lbs; elite: 105 lbs
3. Mountain Climber
Put the pack on your back, strapping the chest and belt harness tight so it’s secure. Get into pushup position, hands directly under shoulders. Rather than moving explosively, slowly drive right knee to chest, hold for 2 seconds (aka tempo), then return to start. Next, bring left knee to chest and continue alternating. Beginner: 30 lbs; intermediate: 40 lbs; elite: 60 lbs
4. Bentover Row
Grab the pack on each end with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend over at a 45-degree angle, then row the pack to chest, squeezing shoulder blades at top of motion. Move slowly as you lower the pack to make the move eccentric. Keep back straight and core engaged. Beginner: 35 lbs; intermediate: 45 lbs; elite: 60 lbs
5. Front Rack Forward Lunge
Grab the pack on both ends, then clean it to shoulders with weight resting on biceps. Keep elbows high so pack rests against collarbone, just below chin. Perform a traditional lunge, stepping forward and dropping back knee almost to the ground, creating 90-degree angles. Drive through front foot to stand. Alternate legs on each rep. Beginner: 20 lbs; intermediate: 30 lbs; elite: 40 lbs
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