Analysis of the Hunting Athlete

Howdy! I’m putting these thoughts together during Spring Break so if you’re on a trip, I hope it’s an amazing one. I’m doing a bit of a “stay-cation” mostly because I’m busy with work and planning to save some time off for later in the spring. 

Train like this Handsome Devil!

Not long ago I did a little piece that was very well received within our community. It was an article, video, and podcast triad entitled “Building the Backpacking Athlete.” I work with a lot of backcountry athletes, and backpackers are a big part of that group. That project was created in conjunction with a presentation I gave at the Backpacking Light Trail Days Online Conference. I talked about how I use several of the proprietary systems I’ve developed over the years to optimize training program design.

Those systems are based on an amalgamation of research along with my observations and experiences working in human performance for 40 years. The 5-3-1 Lifetime Athlete System and the Athletic Capacity Rating System formed the basis of my talk. The 5-3-1 System comes up a lot and I won’t go into great detail, but just in case you are new to our community, I’ll describe it in one sentence. We combine the 5 Components of Lifelong Health (food, movement, sleep, ergonomics, and awareness) to the 3 Essential Elements of Peak Performance (training, recovery, and mindset) to help you become the 1 Lifetime Athlete for which your genes are programmed and that you so richly deserve to be. There’s a free resource on the website for anyone wanting to learn a little more about this method.

The Capacity Rating System (CRS) is where I want to focus my attention today. The 5 Capacities of Athleticism or Human Performance are strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance. These qualities are well-recognized within the sport science literature and they are also relatively easy to define. Strength is absolute force production. Speed is maximum velocity. Power is Force x Distance divided by Time. Agility is the combination of mobility, stability, reactivity, and fluidity. And endurance is cardiorespiratory and muscular fatigue resistance. 

The CRS utilizes a series of tests and measures to both rank any athlete or client in those categories as well as determine the required levels or demands of those 5 items in a specific sport. It’s in this manner that we can see where a client is (at any given time) and know where we need to go (in order to best accomplish his/her goal). We line up the training and other programming for best fit and avoid wasting time or attention on the wrong things for that individual.

Every athlete needs some of all these capacities for performance, health, and longevity. However, each unique sport has slightly different requirements in those categories. Whenever I do an intake process with a new client, I use some assessments to see where he or she scores in the 5 capacities. Then I analyze their sport to see what it necessitates. It’s in this manner that we can customize training and programming and match things up to get the best results possible.

I use a 1-2-3 rating system for the capacities, with 1 being a ranking of low (a reasonable baseline), 2 moderate, and 3 high. Let’s break down the sport of backcountry hunting and discuss the necessary levels of each of the 5 components. 

Before we get to that, I should mention that I’m planning on describing a variety of athletic types in these discussions. The vigorous outdoor lifestyles many of my clients pursue covers hiking, mountain biking, skiing, climbing, trail running, kayaking, fishing, hunting…and a few others as well. What prompted today’s talk most, however, is driven by a comment I made and a question I received from a community member. Mentioning that I work with a lot of backcountry hunters, I stated that the hunting athlete is slightly different from the backpacking athlete. I was asked “How so?”

It comes down to a few simple distinctions. While both groups like to travel long distances in wild places, most backpackers are focused on staying as ultralight as possible, and in most cases keeping their backcountry travel on trail. The hunters need to carry more weight (often much more) and ultimately do most of their terrain navigation off-trail. So my focus in training each group uses slightly different emphases.

Backcountry hunters require quite a bit of strength. While you don’t necessarily need to have a powerlifting total over 2000 pounds, being relatively strong is important. I give hunting a rating of 2 on strength. A decent amount is necessary for all the lifting, carrying, and navigating rough terrain that we do.

Looking at speed, as a hunter you only need a 1. There can be a few instances in the field where you need to turn on the jets, but these are neither frequent nor extreme.

Power is a slightly different story. The moment you’ve got a pack full of meat and gear, going uphill in deep snow, you gain a real appreciation for power. Backcountry athletes need a 2 rating of power.

Agility comes in here and there, such as when crossing streams or negotiating deadfall, but hunters don’t need to be Cirque du Soleil athletes. A score of 1 is adequate.

The greatest requirement for the hunting athlete is endurance. It’s a special kind of endurance as well, one that I call “all-day durability” along with multi-day repeatability. We need to be able to grind along, staying focused, without excessive fatigue. It’s the difference-maker between successful, enjoyable hunts, and exhausting, early-ending, “tag soup” outings. Backcountry hunters need a 3 for endurance.

If we list out those ratings in the order of strength-speed-power-agility-endurance we come up with a 2-1-2-1-3 score. The secret in training isn’t necessarily to divvy up your conditioning plan so that you spend corresponding percentages of time on those 5 capacities. Our main objective is that you show up for your peak season with those 2-1-2-1-3 levels in your tank. Each athlete responds a little differently to training, based on unique genetic gifts and other factors. For example, what is ideal for one client might not be quite the same for you or I. 

I’ve got two take home messages for you if you are a hunting athlete. First, don’t completely ignore any of the 5 capacities of athleticism. We need at least a low amount of all of them as a baseline for long term health and functionality. Second, do what you need (and like) to do to show up for your hunts with levels of conditioning that match those specific demands we discussed.

Depending on the feedback I receive from today’s discussion, I’ll be offering some deeper dives into this methodology and how to apply it both efficiently and effectively. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to me.

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