Hunting Fitness:

Preparing Your Body for the 
Demands of Elk Hunting

Hunting fitness is often left off the preparations for the fall big game seasons. A hunter may be a crack shot with a well sighted in rifle or bow and have his “hunting stuff” equipped with the latest gadgets and doo-dads by September or October, but if he’s not fit for hunting, it may all be for naught.

Most of us know that we need to get away from the roads in order to beat the odds of killing an elk. The farther away from the roads we get, the more demanding the terrain and gravity become of our bodies, let alone moving that huge animal if we are successful.




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Decrease Injury and Heart Attack Risk

Unfit hunters also put themselves at greater risk for heart attack. High altitude means less oxygen is available, the basic need of all muscles, including the heart. The work required to hunt and move an animal is an unforgiving test of the heart muscle’s health status.

Under a doctor’s advice, increasing cardiovascular strength through a walking program will go a long way to preventing a heart attack out in the woods where rescue treatment is going to be long on coming. Hunting fitness may well become a matter of life or death.

The earlier you can start getting fit for hunting, the easier it will be to simply enjoy being out there among the elk, even if you never take a shot.

The sights and sounds of elk country are breathtaking and serene, but it can take on an ugly hue in the eye of the unfit hunter whose body is aching and sore, limping along with a half-hearted dutiful determination.

If you are successful at killing an elk, the task of packing the meat or entire carcass is very demanding on the body. Be prepared for the work of the harvest, not just the hunt.
(See our packing elk meat pages here.)

Overall Body Hunting Fitness

When establishing your hunting fitness plan, think about preparing your overall body strength, not just your legs. As we age we lose body strength as testosterone production slows down.

As we age past the 20s and 30s we can keep that strength of youth, but we have to work at it more. My wife and I use P90X Extreme Home Fitness at our house. Training for and racing marathons causes me to losemuscle mass. Strength workouts help me keep it on, adding strength to endurance for hunting fitness.

I admit to falling down at least once during most hunting seasons, but the more fit your body is, the easier it is to recover from or even avoid a slip with nothing worse than a chuckle and a scrape.

Carrying even a small amount of gear around all day can be done much easier with a body that has been strengthened by experiencing similar physical stressors before hand. A light backpack can take enough strength out of weak shoulders to make it difficult to hold a rifle steady or draw a bow smoothly. Hunting fitness could mean the difference between success, a miss or even a wounded animal.


Massage therapy is quite helpful for the demanding sport of big game hunting. We have a website about massage therapy, including Self Massage and How to Give a Message. My wife specializes in massage therapy for hunters and athletes (our family!). Montana Massage- Deer Lodge,MT.


Start by Walking First

Start your hunting fitness routine early by putting one foot in front of the other, at the very least. Preferably with the same amount of weight you will carry while hunting. Start out with short distances and increase the time spent making tracks over several weeks or even months. If you can do your walking on terrain similar to what you will be hunting on, your training will be more specific to hunting fitness.

Walking for fitness will certainly prepare your heart, lungs and leg muscles to a large extent, but below are some hunting “strength specific” exercises you can add to that basic requirement which will greatly enhance your hunting fitness. These exercises will make traversing demanding terrain much easier.

A hunter must not only prepare to walk farther than day to day life requires, she or he must prepare to walk on slanted surfaces for long periods. Elk don’t usually hang around in flat areas waiting for us to show up for a close encounter.

A hunter’s calves or thighs can soon begin screaming “Stop!”, if they haven’t been strengthened to handle the extended stretch of going uphill or the harsh contraction of putting on the brakes on the way down. Even walking across a slant can put tremendous pressure on the leg muscles.

Walking in deep snow causes us to raise our knees much higher than we’re used to. Prepare yourself in order to avoid being the hunter left in camp with an overuse injury. Don’t let failure to become fit for the hunt ruin your long awaited hunting outings.

Put together a series of exercises that you do every other day or so. Start with some stair stepping and bench step-ups.

Keep it Simple

There are free and quick ways of developing hunting fitness right in our own living room. It’s easy to come up with something stable about six to eight inches high to step up on while you’re watching a movie, the news or your favorite hunting channel on TV.

(How do you train for hunting season?)

Stair Stepping

Alternate legs up and down on your improvised stair stepper. How long? Don’t over do it. Listen to your body. If it begins to feel like “too much, too soon”, stop and do some more later in the week. If you’re pretty fit to begin with, you might be able to start out at 10 minutes and build to fifteen minutes or more.

High Bench Step Up

A high bench step up, because of added height, is a little more demanding than a simple stair step exercise, but is a very important exercise specific to good hunting fitness for the mountains and hills. Add this one after you have been doing some walking and stair steps for a couple of weeks.

For this you’ll simply need a stable bench or dining room type chair. The goal might be to do as many as three sets of ten on each leg, but start out with what you can handle without getting too sore and build up each week.

As you repeatedly step up with one leg, while you’re up there go ahead and raise the knee of your other leg until that thigh is parallel to the floor. With a little practice, you will develop better balance by using your arms as natural counter weights. You might use a wall for balance at first.

Complete an entire set (five to ten) on each leg before switching. Start with just a few of these. They can add up and cause soreness rather quickly.
Build up slowly with anything you’re not used to doing.

Bicycle Leg Swings

Add some bicycle leg swings. Put one hand on the wall or the back of a chair. Move your opposite leg forward, down and back around as if riding a bicycle, but in an exaggerated circle. This sounds and feels easy at first, but start out doing three sets of 30 or less on each leg and feel the burn!

Over several weeks, work up to as many as three sets of fifty on each leg in a minute or so for each set. You’ll be surprised at how much easier propelling yourself forward for long periods becomes after doing just these three exercises over the summer time.

Bench Dips

To add hunting fitness to your upper body for the demands of carrying a rifle and retrieving an animal start with some simple bench dips. Sit on the edge of a bench, chair or couch with your hands on the front edge next to your legs.

Move your feet out away from you until your backside slides off the seat and your weight is on you heels and hands. Now raise yourself up and down in front of the couch with your arms. Again, start out with a few and work up to three sets of ten or more.

Ab Crunches

I like exercises that I can do while lying down. Here’s one of my favorites. Lay on the floor with your hands on the side of your head. Squeeze your abdominal muscles and lift your head and shoulders off the ground a little without arching your neck.

These ab crunches don’t have to put “six packs” on your stomach to make you more fit for hunting. Build up to thirty to fifty of these. A stronger stomach will aid in protecting your back.

Back Extensions

Now turn over on your stomach and put your hands on your temples. Raise your shoulders and head off the floor just a little and you’ll be using the area that these low back extensions will begin immediately to strengthen.

As always, just do a few at first to see how your body responds. Please! Start easy with this one! We use our backs more than we realize just to walk upright.

We’re reminded of that fact when our low back area gets tense after walking in elk or deer country all morning.

Push ups

If you’re not used to doing full-length push ups, don’t feel like there is something wimpy about doing knee push ups. Depending on your own body weight, even knee push ups can be pretty demanding.

Do some of these, building up gradually as always, to strengthen your chest, back and arms for the demands of moving yourself, your equipment and, hopefully, a heavy trophy animal across unforgiving territory.

Push ups with feet on the floor would be fine for someone who is not overweight, but be careful not to injure your shoulders by overdoing it. For advanced push ups, elevate your feet a little and keep your legs straight.

Arm Presses

Consider adding simple Press exercises to your hunting fitness routine, raising something with a little weight to it over your head repeatedly to strengthen your shoulders. When you raise your rifle, the aim will be steadier because of the added strength.

Stretch Band for Archers

Instead of just shooting your bow, add the use of an inexpensive stretch band to mimic the same kind of pulling/pushing effort with repeated sets. Your draw will be easier and smoother if you do these often each week.

Squat Thrusts

For overall body strength for hunting fitness, add some “squat thrusts” to the routine.

Squat to the floor and put your hands on the floor. Thrust your legs behind you. Do a push up. (The push up can be omitted.) With your hands still on the floor, contract your legs back up under you quickly. Then immediately jump up into the air a little. That’s one squat thrust. Start with ten and work up to thirty or forty. I know these make you feel silly, but get past that. Hard core athletes use these in addition to regular training.

I do all of the above and more to train for competitive marathon racing. They are simple, basic exercises that can be done a few times a week with little investment of time and no formal exercise equipment.

Add these to regular walking sessions and you’ll be amazed at how much easier the experience of stomping up and down hills, even in knee-deep snow, can be once you raise your overall hunting fitness level a little.

Be sure to read our page about staying hydrated and nourished during the hunt.



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