As hunters, we often think about getting into shape for the upcoming season or an out-of-state trip t
hat we have been planning. Then we are faced with the question, “What should I do to prepare?” I found myself asking this question until I was in graduate school at Saint Francis University, obtaining my Doctorate in Physical Therapy. I sat in class, as a hunter, learning about anatomy and rehabbing muscles, and thought about how I could apply what I was learning to my hunting preparation. Then I learned a principle that answered all my training questions. Now, as a physical therapist at Penn State Sports Medicine, I apply this principle to all my patients depending on their goals for therapy. That principle is specificity training.
Specificity training is yielding the most desirable results through training that is relevant to the activity being performed. As hunters, we see ourselves as athletes and our training principles should be no different. The example I like to use with my patients is: “If I was a 100 meter sprinter training for the Olympics, would I run a mile or two at practice?” The obvious answer is no; you would want to break down the sprint into its components to improve each aspect of the event in order to improve your time. I could bore you with the specifics regarding why you wouldn’t want to run multiple miles at practice, explaining aerobic and anaerobic exercise or type 1 versus type 2 muscle fibers, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll keep it simple.
Muscles need energy to function. The amount of energy the body needs to produce for muscles to work changes based on the task and how long the task occurs. That is why you need to train specifically to the type of hunting you are performing. There are several styles of hunting, like western backpack hunting, whitetail mobile hunting, spot and stalk, archery hunting, gun hunting, and so on. Which style you prefer helps determine how to train in order to be ready for the upcoming season. There are over 600 muscles in the human body. Again, I am going to keep it simple, in the body there are two main types of muscles: power muscles and stabilizers. Our power muscles are larger muscles, like the glutes, deltoids, and quadriceps. The stabilizers may be muscles you have never heard of, like the scapular muscles and the rotator cuff muscles. Their names help explain the role in the body. A power muscle is intended for heavier loads and force, whereas the stabilizers provide strength and stability to a specific joint. Different aspects of hunting require the use of power muscles and/or stabilizers. For example, climbing and hanging your mobile tree stand, or hoisting your quarters to hang for the night, require the use of power muscles. Conversely, other elements of hunting, such as shooting your bow, hiking steep mountains, and carrying your gear and mobile setup, utilize the stabilizers.
Another element of training hunters may need to consider, based on the preferred style of hunting, is whether strength or endurance is more important to the muscles you are utilizing. Strength is needed for activities that require speed and power but low repetitions. On the contrary, endurance allows you to perform activities for a longer duration before the muscles fatigue. Endurance is utilized in hunting more than strength. Backpacking gear for miles up steep terrain or fixing your pin on your target as you wait for that perfect shot are both going to require your muscles to have endurance. Performing the typical bench press, bicep curls, and triceps extensions at high weight, low repetitions may make you look muscular, but it is not going to help you in the woods. This is why tailoring our training specifically to the type of hunting we plan to perform is crucial. Endurance and stabilization require activation of smaller muscles at higher repetitions, in order to keep these muscles in shape to ensure our muscles don’t fatigue at the moments we need to be successful in the field.
As archers, we consider ourselves athletes, so it’s important to train like one. Archery requires us to use a lot of our smaller stabilizers in the shoulder and scapula, or the shoulder blade. Again, some may feel that the larger muscles are the ones used to draw back the bow and steady it, but this is not true. Under the larger shoulder muscles, “the deltoid,” your shoulder consists of four small muscles called, collectively, your rotator cuff (subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor). Their job is to stabilize the shoulder to keep the head of your humerus in the joint. Also, around your scapula there are several smaller muscles attaching to it. These muscles, called the rhomboids, serratus anterior, and teres major, also assist in shoulder/scapular movements. These are all muscles that we want to use when drawing our bow and settling our pin at the target. Also, with a back tension release, these are the muscles involved with triggering the shot. If we are not training this specific group of muscles, with prolonged shooting, it could lead to shoulder injuries such as tendinopathy and impingement. We want to build endurance in these muscles to help steady the bow and improve accuracy.
The same principle applies to the lower extremities. If we know that we are going to be hiking several miles in the backcountry, then we should be training progressively to reach the level of endurance needed to navigate the terrain. High repetitions in weight training will benefit a hunter in this situation as well. On the other hand, if you are a whitetail hunter that doesn’t walk far to the stand, but has to climb up 6-8 steps, then you want to train higher weight with mid to lower repetitions to be able to climb into your mobile stand. Additionally, hunters question what boots to buy that give the best ankle support when hiking steep mountains. However, we should strengthen all the muscles around the ankle to gain stability, so we don’t have to rely solely on our boots. The last thing you want is a sprained ankle miles into your backpacking hunt. Core training should be incorporated into all hunters’ preparation to endure packing out heavy loads of an animal or your mobile stand/gear.
The purpose of this article is to help you identify the importance of focusing your training based on what type of hunter you are. Everybody hunts in different ways and in different parts of the country, but all that means is you have to tailor your training to your needs. This will help guide you as you prepare for the upcoming season just as draw tag results are released. Knowing the correct training principles will help you be a better hunter and be more successful in the field. In later articles, I plan to provide more details on specific exercises to incorporate into your training for specific styles of hunting. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to your local Orthopedic Physical Therapist to guide you in your training to achieve your goals for the upcoming season, as they specialize in movement science and rehabilitation.