|Rounding the corner, I felt that familiar endorphin surge flood me like liquid fire as I kicked up the pace a notch to match the sudden blasting high to which I had become quite hopelessly addicted. Yes, I am hooked on endorphins... those wonderful natural pain deadening happy brain chemicals. Sometimes called the "Runners High", these are the little superchargers produced by sustained physical exercise, that can make a football player mindless of a pulled muscle through an entire game, or that help Olympic athletes win the gold. A few moments before the 5K run, my knees had felt creaky and my feet felt like bricks on that sultry 90 degrees evening. But suddenly my machine was oiled and the distance was being eaten up at a steady 7mph pace. I was sweatin like a butcher, as a farmer friend of mine puts it. And I like sweat. It feels good. I was in training for hunting season, not just that day, but year round. A pleasant by-product of my love for fitness, is my God given chemistry to produce more endorphins than should be morally legal. But I am not unique... anyone can do it. And for hunters, the time to start is now.
In February this year, I thought I would never run or hunt again. I collapsed from lack of sleep and overwork, had a seizure with 12 hours of amnesia, and wound up in the hospital for five days. In the process, I managed to wreck my left knee and have had a slow and very painful rehab over the last three months. I am just now finally back running my beloved 5Ks. I take nothing for granted anymore.
My distant past includes cigarette smoking, overweight problems, poor fitness, substance abuse, and an eating disorder. I just give a tacit smile when someone unknowingly surmises that I am so "lucky" to be in good shape. Its a cognizant decision, and its darn hard work. I was featured as a Shape Magazine Reader Model Success Story in 1988 for taking control of my life, and getting healthy through fitness and proper diet. I then took it to the next level and got certified as an Aerobic Instructor in the 90s, teaching children and adults through the schools and in my community. Now many years later, and as I turn 50 years old, the challenge to stay physically fit requires more dedication than ever. But the rewards are worth it. Especially when it comes to hunting.
Three things motivate me to stick with a fitness program. One, fitness makes me feel great, mentally and physically. Two, my husband, even after 20 years of marriage, is decidedly more attentive when I stay in shape. And three, fitness provides a huge benefit to my enjoyment of and success with hunting.
There was one miserable year where I was in lousy shape for hunting season, and I paid for it. My cholesterol had soared to 280. I had no stamina for trudging around in the woods. I pulled arm and leg muscles putting up my portable tree stands, and I just could not keep up with my hunting buddies. My back, neck and shoulder muscles agonized carrying a pack and rifle through the woods all day. Walking through snow and grassy fields, my hip flexor muscles were so trashed I could barely lift my legs to clutch or brake my truck during the drive home. I may as well have stayed home that year, and swore, it would never happen again because I love to hunt too much to have it ruined like that.
One might think that bowhunters would need a higher level of fitness because their season is longer. While archers must be fit too, the opposite is actually true. The orange army of firearm hunting weekend warriors often think they dont need to get be shape for hunting. Ironically, they need it the most. Hunters who are overweight or are out of shape, chance the same health or life threatening problems as the elderly when a huge snowfall hits and you see the news full of people tipping over from heart attacks while shoveling snow. Hunting involves physical exertion, either sustained (aerobic, like hiking through the woods) or in spurts (anaerobic, like dragging a deer). Hunting requires strength, to carry gear or erect tree stands, for example. Sudden strenuous exertion on an unfit heart or on flabby muscles, can be very painful or even deadly.
The need for fitness with hunting applies to both men and women, but for different reasons. Men often overexert themselves due to competitiveness, or simply overestimating their ability. They push themselves too hard. Women on the other hand, have the challenge of requiring more strength and in needing a higher relative level of fitness to accomplish the same activities as a man. Most of us females, quite literally, are the weaker sex and need to compensate for that with fitness. For example, in Minnesota the minimum draw weight for archery hunting is 40 pounds, and it requires a lot more physical conditioning for a woman to reach that 40 pounds, than it does for a man.
There are three primary fitness considerations that will enhance your hunting experience. Training as a lifetime habit is preferable, but training for at least three months before your hunting season, is key. The three areas are:
1. Heart training, or aerobic conditioning
2. Strength, or weight training
3. BMI (Body Mass Index) Monitoring
Regardless of the fitness activity you choose, you must monitor yourself correctly. I am primarily a distance runner and take kick boxing classes. The next guy might like biking, weight lifting, snow shoeing, in-line skating, cardio machines, or rowing. Many people have jobs that involve physical exertion, but that exertion may not produce fitness benefits. Many of us like to mix up our fitness activities to avoid boredom. Whatever you choose, the starting point is your resting heart rate. To get an accurate resting heart rate, take you pulse for one minute upon waking in the morning before you get out of bed, for three days in a row. Add the three figures, and divide by three to get your average resting heart rate. Taking this resting rate figure, use the following formula. I will use my resting heart rate of 56 and my age of 49 as an example:
-49 deduct age = 171
-56 resting heart rate = 115
x 60%-80% of 115 = 69 to 92 range.
add back heart rate of 56 to range, =
125 - 148 maximum beats per minute, heart training
Using the above formula, the most efficient heart training rate for me would be 125-148 heartbeats per minute. Above or below this range would not result in maximum benefit. If you plan to do a sustained, or long duration fitness activity, it is recommended that you train at the lower end of the range. Train every other day to give muscle a chance to repair, and for glycogen levels to replenish.
A good test for heart training, is the talk test or "feel" test. While you are training, are you able to talk, or are you too out of breath to talk? You should not be out of breath. And, how do you feel? Is your workout feeling good, or are you feeling bad? Taper is back if it doesnt feel good.
Strength or Weight Training-
This is an easy one, and can be done anywhere. I sometimes go to the gym and work out with the guys in the weight room or I just go into my basement and do free weights alone. Sometimes I stack a cord of wood, or do 50 pushups before retiring. I do something every single day. Whatever you choose, work specific muscle groups every other day, not every day. If you are training every day, working opposing muscles groups to give the spent muscles time to repair. Male or female, each person has a unique make up of three types of muscle fiber tissues: fast twitch, slow twitch and intermediate. Fast twitch muscle fibers are larger and stronger and contract in an explosive manner, but their small capillary supply means they fatigue quickly. Slow twitch muscle fibers are endurance fibers. They have less strength and are relatively small, but have dense capillary networks and therefore are resistant to fatigue. Intermediate muscle fibers are the compromise: They are large and strong, but still fatigue more easily than slow twitch fibers. Distance runners have more slow twitch muscle, while weight lifters have more fast twitch and intermediate muscle. Make an effort to understand your muscle capacity, because your specific training will have different results than the next person who might be doing the very same program you are doing. Your goal, is to be fit for the woods, and you may have to go about it differently than the next guy. To develop high levels of muscular strength and endurance, weight training must be added the heart training.
BMI or Body Mass Index-
Medical and fitness experts now agree that BMI is a better method of determining fitness, than taking body measurements. To determine BMI, first divide your weight in pounds by the square of your height in inches. For example, I am 118 pounds at 5'8" (68") tall. 118 divided by 4624 (68" x 68") is .0255. Multiply .0255 by 703 and my BMI is about 18. Women tend to think they look best with a BMI between 20-22 while men are satisfied with a BMI of 23-25. Life expectency is longer if your BMI is between 17-22. People with BMI's greater than 25, have higher health risks. BMI may not be accurate for athletes with low body fat and high muscle density however. BMI is basically an obesity indicator, and people with higher BMI's and larger amounts of adipose tissue at the waistline have a decidedly higher risk of premature death due heart disease, diabetes, etc. You can determine your BMI on the web, at:
Diet is beyond the scope of this article, but monitoring caloric intake is clearly part of the hunting fitness picture as well. With all the diets out there, there exists only one truism when it comes food: Calories eaten, minus calories burned = weight gain, or loss, or no change. Period. Fad diets are illusions at best. I eat whatever I want, but I control quantities and keep good nutrition in mind. The tendency when launching a fitness regimen, is to compensate for the additional caloric loss, but eating too much. Be your own boss in this regard and take control.
In conclusion, if you want to feel great, look great, and hunt like a wolf, now is the time to get started. Statistics show that any activity, which is carried on for at least 13 weeks, will become a habit. Its time to get in the habit. Getting yourself a workout buddy can make a big difference too. Start slow if you need to, but do something every day, starting NOW. It may take you weeks, months or even years, but the benefits of fitness, as they relate to hunting, are too good to miss. Instead of agonizing and whining, you will take pleasure in high stepping through a swamp, or in pulling back your bow repeatedly, or in carrying a heavy pack all day, or in hiking miles in the woods or in climbing the steepest hills or the tallest trees. It stands to reason that if you have health issues, you should consult a physician before launching a fitness program.
And I'll tell you a little secret. There is almost nothing as exhilarating as combining the endorphin high from fitness, with the adrenalin rush of hunting. Don't take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.
(© July 2001/revised April 2002)