There are three core training areas to focus on to reduce risk of injury in the field: recovery, joint stability, and strength training
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I’m not talking about Christmas. As we end August and roll into September, hunting seasons all over the country are opening. Whether you are someone who trains all year, or the seasonal hunter, you should have some health-oriented strategies to keep your body safe and functional during this time of the year.
I coach hunters during season in many of the same ways I would approach any athlete as they transition into season play. I’ve identified three major components that stand out to best reduce risk of injury in the field. Injury can come in many forms out in the outdoors, so it needs to be something you think about while out hunting. After all, not only is your season done if you get injured, but potentially many more depending on the seriousness. Those major components are: recovery in the field, joint stability, and strength training.
Recovery in the field
Recovery is the most important component to a successful season. Hunting, especially western hunting, can take a huge toll on your body. This can come vary from carrying large weights in your pack to navigating extreme landscapes. Most people aren’t hiking saddles and deadfalls all year, so chances are your body will feel it, especially the first few weeks. Without proper recovery strategies being implemented, you put your body at extreme risk of over-use injury. In my experience, it usually ends up in a back or knee injury.
It seems cliché, but having a sound sleep strategy is the most important recovery tool you can have. You’re getting up earlier, so you need to be going to bed earlier. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun night at camp occasionally, but overall it should trend towards consistently hitting the eight-hour mark. If you are in a position where eight hours is not likely, then you can use other supplemental approaches to help make up for some of that lost sleep such as Active Recovery or nutrition.
In order to begin the healing/recovery process, you must have your nutrition on point. Because we are thinking about hunting all day, many hunters do not eat or drink enough. Being in a caloric deficit or dehydrated is not going to aid any recovery efforts. I recommend stopping at least once every hour to replenish, even if it’s a small snack. By keeping a consistent calorie/water intake throughout the day, you will avoid having to gorge yourself back at camp, giving your body a more efficient framework to begin the rebuilding process.
Due to the intense landscapes that we are navigating daily, it is likely you’ll be sore, stiff, and full of aches. One great tool you can use is Active Recovery (AR). AR is an approach that revolves around increasing circulation through light activity and mobility. The timing isn’t as important, but rather that you’re doing it in between outings. We want to push fluid through our soft tissues and joints, to bring in fresh blood and nutrients needed to recover. Compound exercises that put our joints through a full range of motion are great, as well as light exercise such as a walk/jog/short hike. Examples would be if you have a tough morning hunt, taking a 20-30 minute walk after lunch instead of sitting at camp for hours waiting on the evening hunt. If the day before has you stiff in the morning, getting up and going through five minutes of exercise will get your blood circulating. Exercises like goblet squats, pushups and shoulder circles are all great for warming up your joints.
Aside from recovery, a hunter’s best friend during season can actually be continued training. The human body is highly adaptable and will adjust to the stresses being put on it, but it will also adapt to a lack of stress as well. The worst thing a hunter can do is go hunting, put your body through all that entails, and then come home in between hunts to do nothing. You should continue to exercise but adjust your goals to best equip your body to handle each potential hunt. I recommend putting a big focus on joint stability and maintaining strength during this phase of training.
Your joints take a beating out walking in the woods, from balancing on steep angled hills to climbing over deadfall. Performing some maintenance level exercises will ensure that your joints are stable enough to be up to the tasks of a full season. Balance or proprioceptive-rich exercises will expand the limits your joints are able to correct for when moving through un-even terrains. Examples might be a single-leg Romanian deadlift instead of conventional, or balancing on one leg while doing your overhead press/curls/etc. We all fall or slip, no matter how careful you are, but if your joints can correct or at least move through a high limit of motion, then you might save yourself a season ending injury. Many hunters will also let their strength training go as they focus on hunting season, but this is a big mistake. Continuing to strength train (using whatever resistance type) is crucial to keeping your muscles strong and adaptable through all the stress hunts are putting on them. If using weights, you will need to decrease loads 30 to 40 percent from your usual, but use that lighter weight to ensure proper range of motion.
For every hunter, this time of the year should mean many things. A time for creating memories, procuring meat, experiencing the wildness of nature, and showing reverence for the beautiful places and animals we pursue. Not being able to have these things in your life due to an injury is the worst feeling a hunter can have. By proactively implementing some proper recovery and training strategies, you can put your body in its best position possible to keep creating these hunting experiences for many seasons to come.
Matt Anthony is life-long outdoorsman and fitness expert, with over a decade in the field training everyone from general populations to professional athletes. He has received his Master of Science in Rehabilitation Science, and is a Performance Enhancement Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer, and Corrective Exercise Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.