It’s a cold, quiet morning but the snap of branch breaks the silence. Out walks the whitetail buck you’ve been scouting. Despite the cold, you smoothly and effortlessly draw back your bow when the buck steps behind a tree, blocking his vision. Just before it steps out from behind the tree to give you a shot, the buck pauses with its vitals blocked. You’re now at full draw in the freezing cold.
The movement from shivering or letdown will bust you, and the buck you’ve been after all season will become a ghost. Luckily, you’re prepared for this. After what feels like a lifetime, the buck finally takes the one step forward needed to give you a shot. With the smooth release of your trigger, your arrow flies and connects. The ability to slowly draw and hold back a bow requires strength that’s only built through training.
For bowhunters, what happens in the offseason prepares them for situations they encounter during the season. Here are some workouts that will build the strength and endurance needed to create a successful hunt.
The miles can add up quickly during hunting season. It’s pretty tough to seamlessly transition from couch potato to bowhunter, so keep up with the cardio during the offseason. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is one of the best endurance training methods for bowhunters.
HIIT means alternating short bursts of intense activity with longer stretches of moderate activity. This burns more calories than regular cardio exercise and increases your breathing capacity. HIIT is easy to adapt to your lifestyle and fitness level. It can be done while walking, running or biking. This type of training offers many benefits for bowhunters. It doesn’t require equipment and can be done very effectively in a relatively short time.
When walking or running on a treadmill, do a moderate pace for two minutes and then increase the speed or add an incline for a minute. On an outdoor run, jog two blocks and sprint the third. HIIT can also be implemented into strength training. Many bootcamp-style workouts utilize HIIT circuits. An example of this would be one minute of pushups, one minute of squats and a 30-second bridge hold, rest and repeat.
Resistance bands target specific muscle groups using tension. They are affordable, can be used at home and take up minimal space. They also come in several strengths. Resistance bands are a great way to build strength without a gym.
Professional archers use resistance bands in place of a bow to build the muscles used to draw. Skip a trip to the range and build muscle at home while streaming your favorite show. Used properly, the bands can also help with form and shoulder alignment. Olympic archer Mackenzie Brown demonstrates how to use resistance bands for archery in the following video.
Using a resistance band can also help with practicing holding at full draw. You can also do this during your archery practice. Set a 30-second timer on your watch or smartphone. Remain at full draw until the alarm goes off. Work your way toward a more prolonged duration at full draw until you feel comfortable holding your draw weight for more than a minute. This is one exercise that can pay off when you get stuck at full draw by a buck behind cover.
Building shooting strength also comes from the repetition of shooting. It’s important to practice with your bow as often as possible. This might mean an arrow a day or an extended practice once a week. Shoot arrows from various distances and positions. If you plan to hunt from a treestand, shoot from an elevated position. If you’ll be doing a spot-and-stalk hunt, shoot from your knees. The more hours you put in, the more comfortable you’ll be with your equipment when it comes time to take the only shot that matters.
Western bowhunters know the pursuit of their quarry usually starts with a steep climb. Whether it’s for chasing elk, sheep or mule deer, it’s important to strengthen the legs. Squats are one of the most effective exercises for strengthening the lower body. Lunges are another effective way to strengthen legs. Lunges can also help increase stability in the knees, leading to fewer injuries and increased mobility. Hiking hills and using a stair climber are additional options. If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to getting in shape for a mountain hunt, check out Mtn Ops’ Elk Fit Program.
Unfortunately, once you’ve conquered leg day, the work isn’t over. Most bowhunters carry a daypack, and if you’re lucky, success comes with a heavy pack out. The best way to prepare to carry weight during the hunt is to train with weight. Working out with a weighted vest is a safe and effective way to train. Most vests allow you to customize the load. You can also fill your pack with gear to simulate the real deal. Water bottles make a fun way to carry weight, and if you want to lessen the load, you can dump it or drink it. Wear the weight while doing chores, walking the dog or mowing the lawn.
This one may seem out of place to a lot of bowhunters, but yoga improves stamina, strength and flexibility. Think of all the unusual positions bowhunters find themselves in. For example, high-stepping over or under a fence, or crawling through the brush. Consider practicing yoga or just adding simple stretches following a workout routine. If you don’t know where to start, there are lots of free yoga classes online to give you ideas.
Bowhunting takes time and commitment. But building stamina and strength can be incorporated into your daily routine with a few simple habits. Whether it’s a few hours a week or minutes a day, training can mean the difference between split-second success or failure.