During elk season, we are chasing bulls from daylight to dark in rough western terrain. Many a mountain mile is traveled under heavy load with little rest.

Coming into spring, our body has recovered from the long days and unforgiving miles, but we remember the physical struggle of elk seasons past – that feeling of being exhausted yet beside yourself with excitement; the chemical cocktail of adrenaline making the hard mountain miles a joy to overcome. This mountain rush creates a yearning for us to return year after year for the love the hunt.

Staying mountain tough doesn’t come easy. The struggle is real and the key to year-round health fitness is consistency. Now is the time to develop a strong foundation of strength, joint stability, and endurance to prepare you for elk season when loads can become intense.

Building A Strong Foundation

There are many philosophies to subscribe to when it comes to training. This article is dedicated to the fundamentals of foundational muscular strength development.


The first consideration of all weight training application is injury reduction. If we injure ourselves in the gym, then we aren’t going to function optimally on the mountain, or in some cases, not at all. To reduce the occurrence of injury and maximize our time spent weight training, we must be sure to employ the use of proper biomechanics – the basis for weight training.

Biomechanics refers to the correct positioning of the skeletal system during a range of motion, reducing the occurrence of injury and tearing of ligaments. Biomechanics must be learned. If you don’t know proper lifting techniques, hire a reputable personal trainer to teach you.  

Lifting correctly maximizes the workload being applied to that specific muscle. Workload or weight causes the teardown in the muscle that ignites growth. You can’t tear the muscle down unless you train effectively. When muscles are subjected to a maximum workload that they cannot overcome, they have to adapt and grow.

Full-Range Contractions

During your lifting session, the next consideration is the implementation of full-range contractions. The key here is that your muscle remains fully contracted throughout the full range of motion in a controlled manner.

As an example, imagine flexing or contracting your bicep. That is the same engagement that you would maintain while doing a set of dumbbell curls. Muscular contraction should remain constant throughout the concentric and eccentric range of motion.

    • Concentric – raising the weight or shortening phase of the movement.
    • Eccentric – lowering the weight or lengthening phase of the movement.
  • Little known fact – when muscle breaks down, it does more so on the eccentric or lengthening phase. That means to build your best, you must be conscious of holding the contraction in the muscle even harder during the eccentric phase of the movement.

Full-range contractions ensure that your muscles never rest and they run out of the ability to remain contracted at an accelerated rate. When you can no longer maintain that muscular contraction throughout the entire range of motion, then you are at failure. Muscular failure is the root of growth and adaptation.

Save Time

Make weightlifting and cardiovascular training a part of your everyday life. Consistency is key.

Muscular Development

Muscular development can occur within a broad repetition range (6-15), but strength gains are accelerated when you train to failure within the 6-8 repetition range. If you can do more than 8 reps without reaching muscular failure, then you need to add more weight. The only resting period you should get is just enough time to grab another weight in either the progressive climb (adding weight) or regressive (removing weight) and should not exceed one minute in duration.

Your goal is failure. The more time under tension your muscle experiences, the faster it will reach failure. In other words, don’t stand around and talk between sets. Stay focused, stay in the game.

With this type of training, you only need to do one warm-up set and then go right to the heavier weights.  In most cases, two sets to failure is more than adequate and is very effective for muscular gains, toning, and shaping. After two sets to failure, move on to the next body part. You are done here, folks. One exercise per body part. The muscle has reached failure; it is broken. Now you just need to fuel your cells correctly, get some rest, and allow it to repair and grow.

Here is an example of what I mean, using barbell curls:

*The weight amount listed is an arbitrary number for demonstration purposes only.

Progressive model:

    • Warm-up set of 10 reps @ 60 lbs.
    • 8 reps @ 115 lbs., not at failure
    • 8 reps @ 135 lbs., not at failure
    • 7th rep (to failure) @ 150 lbs.
  • 6th rep (to failure) @ 150 lbs. Exercise complete.

Regressive model:

    • Warm-up set of 10 reps @ 60 lbs.
    • 8 reps (to failure) @ 150 lbs.
    • 6 reps (to failure) @ 150 lbs.
    • Drop the weight in half
    • Approx. 15 reps (to failure) @ 75 lbs.
    • Drop the weight
    • Approx. 15 reps (to failure) @ 50 lbs.
    • Drop the weight in half
  • 15 reps @ 25 lbs. You are now DONE with the muscle group.

Tip: Keep a journal of your lifting sessions so that you can better identify starting points for loading weight for your lift during each session. This also affords you the opportunity to monitor strength gains accurately.

4-Week, 4-Day Training Schedule

Here is a great example of a training schedule that will be very helpful, should you be looking for a good starting point.

Week 1:

    • Monday, Day 1 – Chest, Biceps, Triceps
    • Tuesday, Day 2 – Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves, Cardio
    • Wednesday, Day 3 – Back, Shoulders, Abs, Cardio
    • Thursday, Day 4 – Cardio
    • Friday, Day 5 – Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Cardio
    • Saturday, Day 6 – Cardio
  • Sunday, Day 7 – Off

Week 2:

    • Monday, Day 1 – Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves, Cardio
    • Tuesday, Day 2 – Back, Shoulders, Abs, Cardio
    • Wednesday, Day 3 – Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Cardio
    • Thursday, Day 4 – Cardio
    • Friday, Day 5 – Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves, Cardio
    • Saturday, Day 6 – Cardio
  • Sunday, Day 7 – Off

Week 3:

    • Monday, Day 1 – Back, Shoulders, Abs, Cardio
    • Tuesday, Day 2 – Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Cardio
    • Wednesday, Day 3 – Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves, Cardio
    • Thursday, Day 4 – Cardio
    • Friday, Day 5 – Back, Shoulders, Abdominals, Cardio
    • Saturday, Day 6 – Cardio
  • Sunday, Day 7 – Off

Week 4:

    • Monday, Day 1 – Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Cardiovascular Training
    • Tuesday, Day 2 – Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves, Cardiovascular Training
    • Wednesday, Day 3 – Back, Shoulders, Abs, Cardiovascular Training
    • Thursday, Day 4 – Cardiovascular Training
    • Friday, Day 5 – Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Cardiovascular Training
    • Saturday, Day 6 – Cardiovascular Training
  • Sunday, Day 7 – Off

It All Starts With Attitude

The mountain taxes our minds as much or more as our bodies, so mental toughness must also be trained. Staying mountain tough year-round can be uncomfortable; it requires sacrifice and effort. You’re going to get bruises; you’re going to be sore; and you’re going to have inflammation to contend with. It’s all part of the deal, but there are ways to minimize it.

Combating Inflammation

You break down in the gym during your weight training and grow during rest periods. Rest is important for muscular growth, so strive to get eight hours of sleep every night. In addition to sleep, give each body part at least two days rest after training before you train that muscle group again (note training schedule).

There are different levels of soreness. You don’t want to over-train so intensely that you avoid the gym for a week or be so sore that you can’t even wash your hair. Your goal is light-to-moderate muscle soreness.

There are a couple of kinds of soreness:

    • AMS or acute muscle soreness – this is caused by the build-up of lactic acid or other biochemicals as a result of strength training.
  • DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness – this is typically a result of micro tears in the tendon sheathes and/or muscle tissue itself due to repeated eccentric contractions that take place during strength training.

For immediate relief of DOMS, rest of the muscle is key. However, cardiovascular exercise can help increase blood flow to the muscles, which can speed up the reduction of soreness. Other easy remedies include applying ice, stretching/yoga, or gentle massage.

Omega-3 Fish Oil is a great natural anti-inflammatory. You can also take over-the-counter ibuprofen to offer relief, if needed.

If lifting causes you sore joints, look at prevention first. A good, healthy joint supplement like Wilderness Athlete Joint Advantage will protect and lubricate your joints. As a bonus, Joint Advantage has built-in natural botanical extracts that are anti-inflammatories.

Muscle recovery truly begins while you sleep, WA Midnight Build (formerly Nighttime Optimizer) infuses nutrients and adaptogens into the repair process that your body is under during sleep.

Fueling Recovery

A clean diet comes second to mental fortitude. If you don’t have the mind that pushes you into the gym, you have nothing. If you are doing the work, you want the results, which will only happen if you fuel your body with a clean consistent meal plan and plenty of rest. Balanced clean eating will allow your body to repair, rebuild, and recover from your weight training while affording your body all-around optimal performance. You can literally feel and see the difference with consistent clean eating.

Remember that food functions as a drug within your body, and how the food you eat is processed will have a significant effect on how you feel. Try to consume as many whole natural, unprocessed foods as possible. Pay attention and make the effort to eat at least two fruits and two vegetables a day.

In order to replace spent cellular nutrients, primarily glucose and BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids – Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine) after a workout, it’s really important to consume a balanced meal consisting of complete protein, complex carbohydrates, and plant-derived fat no later than one hour following your training session. If you’re short on time, bring a high-quality protein powder, a banana, and a few mixed nuts.  

Start your day out right by eating your first meal within one hour of waking and then the remainder of your meals every three to four hours throughout the day. Hydration is also important and most of us fall short when it comes to drinking enough water. Drink no less than three liters of water every day and make five liters your goal.

After a workout, consume a clean meal like this elk stew – elk steak, baby onion, and sweet potato.

Tip: Include a daily multivitamin into your routine. It will offset any nutrient deficiencies in your diet. This will help ensure that nutrients are reaching your muscles and cells to aid in recovery and growth.