Step-Ups

Step-ups (SUs) are a fantastic, low-cost and highly effective workout for any mountain athlete. While I would love to perform every workout in the hills, life gets in the way. Having a step-up box in the garage, on the back deck, or in the basement will allow you to get some legit training in with a minimal time commitment. If you are familiar with indoor training on the bicycle or the rower, step-ups are the equivalent workout for mountain people, whether skiers, mountaineers, hikers or mountain hunters.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Simple
  • Effective
  • Efficient
  • Variable for any athlete
  • Indoors
  • Make mountain training accessible for the flat-lander

Cons:

  • Not a real outdoor workout (no fresh air or sunlight in the basement!)
  • Potentially very boring

While I can’t recommend SUs as the one-and-only workout, they definitely have a place in the training regime. Whether you are a family person without the time to get to a good set of hills, or you live in a flat part of the city/world, these can be added to your training a few times per week to spice things up and build both the eccentric and concentric movements of your quadriceps muscles. Gym stepper machines work only that concentric movement, leaving you in a world of hurt the first day in the hills when you are walking down. Step-ups have you covered for both up and down.

Additionally, time under load with the pack is excellent for your core and shoulders, getting you ready for the real deal.

Pro-Tips:

  • I am 6’0″ and use a 16″ box. You can adjust your box height to work well. I tried an 18″ box but had some knee discomfort, so I ditched it.
  • You can count your progress in your head, by using a hand clicker, or by the time on the clock.
  • If you’re indoors, open a window and/or use a fan to cool yourself. Wearing the pack indoors increases your core temperature more than you might expect.
  • Make sure you have good hydration and nutrition, as this can be a sweaty workout. I love using a carbohydrate beverage before the workout if I know it’s going to be a taxing effort, but also during the session.
  • Don’t forget to get outside and go for a real hike!

Workouts:

  • 600, 1000 or 1,200 step-ups. You can also pick your own goal.
  • 1 hour (moderate effort)
  • Max step-ups in 30 minutes (hard effort)
The pain-cave doesn’t need to be a dungeon.

Variations:

  1. The basic step-up is right leg up, left leg up, right leg down, left leg down. Left leg up, right leg up, left leg down, right leg down. That’s two SUs.
  2. SU with wide legs and out-turned toes.
  3. Cross overs: Step onto the box laterally, crossing your legs over at the top as you step down. Cross overs work your legs and core at new angles.
  4. Step right over and then shuffle around to the front to step up and over again, this time turning to the other side.
  5. Ladder:
    1. Round 1: One step up, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, one step up, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    2. Round 2: Two step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, two step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    3. Round 3: Three step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, three step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    4. Round 4: Four step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, four step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    5. Round 5: Five step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, five step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.

Your Step-Up Box

Your box needs to have a few key attributes:

  • Stable
  • Strong enough to handle the impact
  • 16″ in height is a good starting point, but test this out a bit before you commit
  • Wide enough to handle your entire foot with some extra room

You can purchase plyometric boxes from places like Rogue Fitness, or you can build your own. I know someone who built this box, but you can build something pretty simple using lumber and a bit of plywood. In a pinch, you may have a park bench or some other natural platform in the neighbourhood to use.

2020 weight-free step-ups to ring in the new year.

Your Pack

You can use any backpack, but having a pack with a hip belt is a wise choice. Thus, a weight vest is not ideal. You can fill the pack with something heavy, but whatever you choose, you don’t want it to be too angular or hard to ensure you don’t have a corner digging into your back. Well-sealed bags of sand, salt or gravel are some choices, but a padded kettlebell or steel plate can also work. Outdoorsman makes the Atlas Trainer, a specific product for this kind of training, and you can test that out.

I am using 30 lbs for this workout. You may be tempted to go heavy, but that’s not the purpose of the workout. You can do some heavy rucking outside, but on the box, you will risk injury with too much weight.

Your Attitude

Do you want to be a better hunter? Do you want to be fitter and stronger, mentally and physically? Do you have problems getting outside on a mountain whenever you want to train? Then you need to do step-ups. Get some! Tag me on Instagram or Facebook story if you’re doing step-ups. If you have an excuse for not doing these, tag me as well. I’ll give you some advice!

Benchmark Workout

This is a great workout. I was able to pound it out while I was on the road recently, but you can do this pretty much anywhere. The basic workout is:

For time:

  • 500-meter row (substitute 30 burpees if you don’t have access to a rower)⁠
  • 40 air squats⁠
  • 30 sit-ups⁠
  • 20 push-ups⁠
  • 10 pull-ups⁠
Keep your form tight to avoid injury and maximize results!

Work on your form: you’re only cheating yourself by using poor form. You can use this workout as a benchmark, performing it every thirty or sixty days. You’ll have an idea if you are making progress.

Stay focussed on the goal of moving your body. No rower: burpees. No pull-up bar: skip it or switch it up for one-armed rows or another back exercise.

Strong or Light?

Let’s crank some iron.

My athletic background is in the ultra-endurance realm. I have competed extensively on the professional circuit of adventure racing. If you’re not familiar with this sport, you may have heard of the EcoChallenge or the PrimalQuest races. Adventure racing consists of over-land races where small teams of racers paddle, bike, and trek while navigating between checkpoints. Races can be as short as a few hours to as long as 7–10 days. What this means in practice is that in adventure races we push our bodies and minds to their absolute limits. Sleep comes in very few sessions of limited duration. The most challenging race I participated in was the Yukon Arctic Ultra, where I trekked alone for about 450 miles through the Yukon in the depths of winter.

Adventure racing has prepared me perfectly for my style of mountain hunting. When I know the sheep are 15 miles away, it’s no problem to get up high and put on the mileage. When a stalk demands that I stay overnight on the mountain, I know that I’ve spent worse nights out many times before. As hard as a sheep hunt can be, I can assure you that I’ve pushed myself harder in many races.

Sleep is a luxury during an adventure race.

The ability to move quickly without tiring has a few huge advantages:

  • Close the distance: Game is often easiest to find in the evening when they are up and feeding. If I spot game at a distance, it’s usually time to move and move quickly to have a chance to take a shot before sunset.
  • Get closer: Judging sheep and goats is not an easy proposition. If it’s early in the hunt, I might be picky. If I’m looking for a “great” ram and not just a “good” ram may require getting closer. Having the fitness to move closer means I can take a safer route that takes me out of sight or in a direction dictated by the winds. If I am not fit, I may end up out of sight for too long, giving the animal a chance to walk out of sight.
  • Go deep into the best country: Getting away from the easily accessed ranges requires putting in the effort. Every hunter would love to hunt from the road. Some hunters will go one range of mountains deep. Almost no one is willing to go further. You can earn a great trophy by moving further and faster than other hunters.
  • Hunts can be long: A lack of endurance makes the 5th, 6th and 7th days of a hunt that much harder. The more tired you are, the warmer your sleeping bag will feel and the more tempting that second cup of coffee will be. These temptations will make getting moving that much more difficult.
There are so many temptations to pull me down, and no end to the opportunities to sit back, slow down and soften up. I’ve made physical fitness a priority in my life, my routine. I can feel the dividends of this commitment every day, whether I’m chasing rams or going through the everyday.

So what’s my point? I see a lot of hunters working on their strength. Yes, moving with 60, 70, 100 lbs on one’s back does require strength. However, too much “normal” strength training will build a lot of muscle in places that don’t help me as a hunter. It’s great to have big biceps and a studly chest. Still, those are massive detriments to my ability to move quickly and efficiently.

It doesn’t just look steep, it is steep. Here I’m climbing up a ridge to get the best view of the billies. If I was slower and heavier, I might have chosen the easy road and stayed low. As it was, we had a perfect view of the basin and where the billies were.

I have acquired my strength through my adventure racing training over the years and decades. As I get older, I do require some additional strength training in the gym to ensure I maintain a good balance of strength. However, you won’t find me working the trap bar, doing heavy shoulder presses or even a lot of pushups. My experience has proven to me that my endurance, low body weight and lean muscle mass are the keys to getting an animal down.

As you dig into your winter training regime, build strength. However, don’t go too far down that rabbit hole. Keep your body weight in check and make yourself into an endurance machine. You will suffer less in the hills, and I bet you will have more hunting opportunities to show for your diligence this winter. If you have a lot of body mass now, look at it as a multi-year effort to become leaner, lighter, and faster.

Big delts? Nope. Big traps? Nope. Capacity to burn up a steep hill and kill a great billy? Check.

Bodyweight circuit workout

No gym or equipment required for this workout! Complete one set of 10-15 repetitions of these 8 exercises. Repeat 2–3x’s through.

Plank

Start on all fours, shoulders over wrists. Step feet back and engage glutes and thighs to keep legs straight. Body should form a straight line from shoulders to hips to heels. Think about pushing the ground away from you and pulling the belly button up toward the spine to keep back flat. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.

Air Squat

Start standing with feet just wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out, clasp hands at chest for balance. Send hips back and bend at knees to lower down as far as possible with chest lifted. Press through heels back up to starting position. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Mountain Climber

Start in a high plank position, shoulders over wrists, core engaged so body forms a straight line from shoulders to hips to heels. Engage glutes and thighs to keep legs straight. Drive left knee in toward chest, then quickly step it back to plank position. Immediately drive right knee in toward chest, then quickly step it back into plank position. Continue alternating for 10 to 15 reps per side.

Walking Lunge

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step forward with right foot, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Drive through right heel to stand, while stepping left foot forward and dropping into a lunge on the left side. Continue walking forward, making sure back knee hovers just off the floor with each step. You can perform this move with body weight or holding two dumbbells or kettlebells for an added challenge. Do 10 to 15 reps per side.

Leg Lift

Lie faceup, legs straight, hands under glutes for support. Keeping low back flat against the mat, lift legs up toward ceiling, keeping knees as straight as possible. Slowly lower legs back down toward the floor. Continue to press low back into mat. When legs hover just an inch off the floor, lift back up and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Crawl Out to Pushup

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Reach down toward toes and walk hands out to a high plank position. Bend elbows at a 45-degree angle, as you lower chest to floor. Push back up to plank. Walk hands back to feet, then slowly roll back up to stand. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Triceps Dip

Sit down on a chair, bench, or box with feet planted on floor. Place hands behind you on the edge of seat. Lift hips up to slide off seat. Bend elbows to lower butt to floor. Push back up and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Burpee

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Place hands down in front of feet, then jump feet back to a high plank position, keeping hips up and in line with shoulders and heels. Drop chest to the ground. Push back up, without arching back, as you jump feet back to hands. Stand and jump up. Repeat from the top for 10 to 15 reps.