Fit for Fall, Part 1 – Train to Your Game

By Nick Simonson

Upland hunting provides a good level of challenge for hunters who are not used to trekking over uneven ground and putting in miles after their favorite pursuits.  Whether it’s pheasants, sharptails or partridge, covering distance and working through various habitat types in North Dakota presents a physical challenge each fall which may catch many sportsmen unaware – even if they’re avid hunters – following a summer of sitting in the boat.  According to Brandon Dirk, Outpatient Physical Therapist with Sanford Health in Bismarck, the activity undertaken now will help hunters prepare for the physical requirements in the field coming up in the next few months.

“Like an athlete, you want to train to your game,” said Dirk, an avid upland hunter in his spare time, “so do a progressive walking program, especially outside where you can do hills and things like that to mimic your season,” he advised.

Upland hunting requires leg strength and stability, and soreness typically manifests itself after the first few hunts of the year in the hips and knees.  There are a number of exercises one can do, in addition to a pre-season walking regimen, to bolster strength in these areas.

“There’s good research out there that strengthening the buttocks helps prevent knee injury,” Dirk revealed, “and strengthening of the hips and ankles will help when walking through tall grass,” he concluded.

Simple in-home exercises like straight-leg raises, or using a band for resistance are easy ways to work hip flexors out.  For those with access to a gym, Dirk recommends using the multi-hip machine to build strength.  Exercises for the glutes will also prevent soreness in the field.  Being a month out from the start of North Dakota’s upland seasons is perfect timing for area hunters.

“It takes about four weeks to see muscle hypertrophy [muscle growth],” Dirk explained, “the body needs to adapt to the stress put on it, and it starts to add nerve endings to the muscle; after four weeks of stress, it starts to increase muscle size…so when you hit hunting season, it’s started to adapt to those stresses, so it’s more used to the stress of when you are hunting,” he concluded.

Additionally, Dirk recommends adding in activities which increase stability and balance, which help hunters deal with obstacles in the field such as uneven terrain, tangles of vegetation and unstable ground.

“We have receptors in our joints which tell us where our body is in space,” Dirk stated, saying that even when we’re not looking where we’re going, our brain detects the location of our feet and knees and adjusts how our body moves from there, through a process called proprioception.

“Do simple things like standing on one foot while waiting for the microwave and not watching your lifted foot; if you’re somewhere safe, do some slow marching or things that make you challenge your balance,” Dirk advised, as the process will help hone a sense of balance that is vital in the field, “but it only goes so far, so in the field watch where you go to prevent injury,” he concluded.

Finally, Dirk recommends improving core strength to provide not only added stability in the field, but also to provide a firm, pivoting base for taking shots at flushing birds.  Beyond the abdominal muscles that most people think of, the core consists of those hip flexors, glutes and diaphragm muscles around the stomach.  Beyond sit-ups and traditional ab exercises, building these surrounding core areas up through sideways walking exercises, or laying on your back and lifting your butt up in a bridge formation are key to a stronger core and will help prevent injury.

Each autumn, Dirk sees various strains and injuries resulting from outdoor adventures, relating that overuse injuries resulting from hard walking or pulling through weeds or other obstacles are common among hunters, or sore shoulders – even tendinitis – from carrying a gun for a prolonged period of time can occur.  Additionally, fall-related injuries and twisted ankles are common.  Checking in with your doctor prior to hunting season is a good idea to make sure you’re field ready and to help prevent injury.

“Get clearance from your physician, and have your annual physical [before the season],” Dirk advised, “it’s about being progressive; don’t go from not doing anything for two years, then jump up to a three mile jog, see what you’re healthy for, start with a walking program and work your way up,” he concluded.

From the woods of the Turtle Mountains, to the sloughs of the Sheyenne River Valley, to the breaks and grasslands of western North Dakota, the habitat, elevation changes, and distances that need to be covered for favorite upland pursuits can take a lot out of a hunter.  Be ready for whatever challenges await by preparing appropriately and training to your game before the fast-approaching upland seasons open across the Peace Garden State.

(Featured Photo: From grass, to hills, to trees, to sloughs, the pursuit of upland game takes hunters through a variety of challenging habitats.  Be ready for wherever your favorite birds live by preparing your body now before upland seasons open. Simonson Photo) 



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