By Nick Simonson
Until I became an active hunter, leg day was the worst day in a workout routine. Usually falling on a Friday morning early in the weight room, it was the easiest one to skip and opt for sleeping in and starting the weekend a bit early. However, as I’ve gotten older and found greater joy in those long walks into way back places to find birds and deer, I’ve looked forward to what was once the most dreaded workout of the week. By focusing on glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves, I’ve found the power to push up the steepest hills, the stability to find the best shot, and the endurance to keep going week in and week out each autumn. From the bottom up, what follows are the lower body muscles that power good hunting and suggestions on how to train them.
Spring In Your Step
The calf muscle or gastrocnemius, running down the back of the lower leg from behind the knee to the ankle provides stability, flexibility and stepping power for feet to keep on pushing. It’s counterpart, the soleus, found at the front of the lower leg does likewise, and while less noticeable, provides similar support on downhill angles. Both attach to the heel of the foot via the Achilles tendon and are vital for any extended hikes.
Calf raises using weights are a great basic exercise to help build strength in these muscles. Simply by raising the heel of the foot while holding weights, one can increase calf strength. Do the same from an inch-high platform to build the soleus with it and increase range of motion for a more fully developed muscle system in the lower leg. Other exercises include wrapping an exercise band around the toes, stretching it out from a seated position, and flexing the foot forward and back. Calf raises can easily be added to the end of any squat-based exercise for an additional challenge for the entire leg.
Hamming It Up
The hamstring runs the back of the upper leg and consists of three separate muscles that help bend the knee and flex the thigh from the hip to ascend inclines and stairs, and generally stabilize the upper leg when walking, hiking, or scaling hills. The hamstring muscle is the one most prone to overtraining and overexertion and can be injured due to abrupt stops, drops or hyperextensions which can occur on uneven ground when walking in the field.
Stretching the hamstring by bending over and touching the toes, or doing a seated toe-touch is a great way to warm the muscle up before heading to the gym or in the field. Good exercises to help build the back of the thigh and make it stronger include deadlifts with or without weights and utilizing kickback-style machines in an exercise facility. The added resistance training will make tackling hills easier and help extend walks for both birds and big game each fall.
On the Quad
The quadriceps muscle is located on the front of the thigh and brings strength to the leg in everything it does, which makes sense because it is one of the largest muscles in the body. From walking and running, to stooping and squatting, the quads power leg movement, especially in the completion of steps.
Through both weighted and non-weighted versions of exercises such as squats and lunges of various kinds, quads can be strengthened to help make walking hunts easier. It’s best to start slow, as the large and elongated nature of the quadricep makes it prone to overtraining and soreness a day or so after a tough workout. Consider doing basic and non-weighted or lightly-weighted exercises first and then building up to more advanced techniques and heavier sets of weights to help get quads conditioned.
No Buts About It
Finally, at the top of the chain in a healthy, field-ready lower body are the gluteal muscles, which includes the gluteus maximus, the body’s largest muscle. Comprising the muscle in the buttocks, the trio of glutes move the thigh and coordinate motion and with the core of the body, including nearby hip flexors and the lower back, help to stabilize things on each step. In the field, they power the legs when stepping over obstacles and ascending inclines and are the first in a chain of core muscles that keep the body upright.
Squats and deadlifts of various forms, along with leg presses on a machine in a weight room help build glute muscles and increase stability in the field as a result. Again, being a big muscle, the glute can be prone to overtraining when just starting out, so don’t overload those bars or pack on too much weight to the press, as soreness can likely occur. Try unweighted squats and deadlifts first before adding more resistance as you advance in your workouts.
In as little as a month, the right leg workouts can have these muscles powered up and ready to go for a back country hike to a favorite deer spot, or help you power through the deepest cattails and other thick cover for some incredible late season bird hunting. In all cases of exercise, talk to a physician or physical trainer to assess your needs before beginning, and get their advice on the best ways to keep your hunts at their peak through some powerful training you’ll never want to skip out on.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: On the Move. Strong legs drive great hunts, and conditioning the various muscles of the lower body will ensure continued adventures in seasons down the road and those just around the corner. Simonson Photo.