Kettlebells For Backcountry Training

Kettlebells For Backcountry Training

A lot has been written around training for the backcountry hunter and the difficult conditions one encounters when grinding up steep hills, setting up camp, getting water, preparing food, logging long days and, hopefully, carrying out heavy, awkward loads of elk quarters and obscenely huge antlers. It is the mental picture most of us imagine as we head into the hills, chasing far off bugles or visions of big mule deer bucks.

Scores of books have been written on training methods and programs geared towards a wide range of activities and “athletes”, and as backcountry hunters, we have the benefit of picking and choosing what works best for us. Our objectives are a bit more specialized than say a trail runner, cross country skier or long distance hiker, but the movements, intensity and pace is many times very similar, for the most part. Where the paths diverge for hunters is in our need for a different kind of sustained energy capacity, bursts of power, long periods spent glassing, waiting, and sustained load carrying, usually in the dark, or in inclement weather.

For me personally, I like to mix up my training methods, more so for two reasons – one, it keeps things interesting with some variety, and two – I find I make faster gains when I push myself and my muscles in different directions frequently.

Lately, I have been incorporating kettlebells into my weight training. I own 25, 35 and 55 pound kettlebells, and those three weights provide more than enough variety and challenge, and leave me very tired after relatively short workouts. Please note, dumbbells can also be used for many of these workouts, but the shape of the KB (kettlebell) provides a very different feel and stresses the muscle in ways a standard dumbbell cannot. Test drive a few at a gym if you are leery of plunking down cash first; I think you will find them a great addition to your training needs. So, on with a few challenging, fun and effective workouts.

The Deep Six:
(This is a workout from the Russian Kettlebell Challenge) I recommend doing a few Google searches on proper technique for the following movements — they require a bit of practice.

– 5 Snatches
– 5 Swings
– 5 Clean and Presses
– 5 Goblet Squats
1 Turkish Get Up
Do 3 – 5 complete cycles.

Beginners: Rest 30 seconds after every hand switch, rest 1 minute between rounds.
Intermediate Level: Rest after you have competed both right and left. 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Advanced Level: No rest, go through all 5 cycles.
Suggested weight: 35 lbs. when starting out. Work up to a heavier KB. Tougher than it looks!


20 Minutes of Fun:
The name of this workout is meant to be sarcastic, because I wouldn’t call it too much fun; not until you are done with it. This workout typically uses several different weights of KBs. I use the 35 and 55 pounders. You only use ONE kettlebell for each exercise.

Set a timer, or just keep track of when you started, but 20 minutes is all you need. Where this workout shines is that you do not get rest periods; it just keeps building and building, and tests your capacity to keep on going. Remember, it is a sustained effort; don’t “over-weight” yourself for the first few times. A lighter weight kettlebell will provide plenty of results, and your form will stay intact.
– Deadlifts x 10 reps
– Push ups x 10 reps
– Kettlebell Swings x 10 reps
– Push ups x 10 reps
– Clean and Press x 10 reps
– Push ups x 10 reps
– Goblet Squats x 10 reps

The above is ONE circuit. See how many full circuits you can complete in 20 minutes. The number of completed circuits will improve as you continue to do it, so don’t be surprised if you just do 3-4 the first time. As your circuit numbers increase, consider changing up the weight, or just trying to squeeze out one more cycle. It is tough, and will leave you very winded and sore the next day.

When you are going into full suffer-mode during these workouts, just visualize yourself grinding up a steep hill with your pack on, the wind in your face, and charging to get in front of that bugling bull….you will be ready.

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