Get in Elk Shape

I typically enter each September, and archery elk season, in my best shape of the year. After I return from elk hunting, a gradual downhill slide begins around Thanksgiving. Between job demands and the holiday season, my exercise regime becomes less disciplined and my eating habits basically go to hell. I find myself in the spring carrying an extra 10-15 pounds and far from being in elk shape. So let’s be clear, the first rule of getting into elk hunting shape is to simply be disciplined and stay in elk shape. But, if you’ve let yourself go a bit like me, this is for you. The following is an overview of how I get back into elk shape by September.

Why even bother getting into Elk Shape?

Some may ask, why even bother? “I’m active, I don’t need to get into elk shape”. I tend to lean libertarian on most matters – if your system works for you, that’s awesome. I’m not here to preach anything beyond what works for me. Some guys with very active and physical jobs can get away with minimal preparation and do just fine in the mountains. As for me, I look forward to September all year and I don’t want fatigue to be a factor that gets in the way of my hunt. I know that if I’m in shape, I can hunt longer, harder and enjoy it a lot more. For me, getting in elk shape all comes down to exercise and nutrition.

Huge Disclaimer: I’m not your doctor. The following is what works for me. Before you follow any exercise and nutrition advice, you should talk to your doctor.

Exercise to get in Elk Shape

You don’t have to run a Tough Mudder race to get into Elk Shape, but it doesn’t hurt! This Tough Mudder event was a 12 mile run up and down hills with 28 military-style obstacles interspersed throughout the course.

General Exercise Tips

Ideally, you’re going to be exercising 4-5 days a week for 45-60 minutes per session. As you are starting out, be fairly general with your fitness. Think long walks and/or bike rides coupled with classic weight-bearing exercise. (Squats, lunges, deadlifts, pushups, etc).

At about 12 weeks from your trip, start to transition to more into hunting-specific fitness. Your walks will need to turn into hikes in your hunting boots with a weighted pack. If you have access to a mountain (or ski hill for us flatlanders) hike up and down the hill for an hour. Hike at a pace that gets your heart and lungs working and builds up a sweat. Stairs work too if you don’t have access to hills nearby. Strength training should include a lot of leg endurance work, core work, and push/pull exercises. The main objectives are to increase both leg strength, core strength, lung capacity, and overall endurance.

Getting in Elk Shape at the Gym

If you have access to a gym, I recommend a program of circuit training. A typical workout for me will begin on the stair climber for 15-20 minutes and then move to weight-bearing, and core strength exercises. In a circuit, I am typically doing three exercises in succession and then repeat. As an example, I will do 1 set of 10 reps on the bench press, then 1 set of 10 reps of dumbbell flyes, and then 1 set of 10 reps of decline sit-ups.

Once I complete the series of three, I will start again at the bench and begin the routine again until I’ve completed three sets on each exercise. Then I’ll begin a new circuit of three exercises. The benefit of the circuit approach is if you’re moving at a good clip through the exercises you are keeping your heart rate up and both burning fat and increasing your strength and endurance at the same time.

Pro Tip: If you don’t work out at a gym frequently, hiring a personal trainer is money well spent. You can share your objectives and they will design a program tailor made for you, ensure that you’re using proper technique so you don’t injure yourself and they will push you harder than you will push yourself.

Sample Exercise Routines

Each of the routines below would represent one exercise session. Begin with stair climber for 15-20 minutes at a pace that challenges you and then do the below exercises in groups of three at a time for 3 sets of 10 reps each. As for weight, generally, you’ll want to use a weight that is heavy enough where you begin to fail on your 9th or 10th rep.

Chest/Arms/Core Workout

  • Dumbell Press
  • Dumbell Press Curls
  • Hanging Knee Raises
  • Dumbell Decline
  • Bar Curls
  • Decline Crunch -w Medicine Ball
  • Push-ups on Bosu Ball
  • Cable Curls
  • Seated Ball Twists -w legs off the ground

Leg Workout

  • Squats
  • Machine Leg Press
  • Walking Lunges
  •  Leg Extensions
  • Calf Raises
  • Leg Curls
  • Ball Crunches
  • Planks

Chest/Core Workout

  • Dumbell Press
  • Jumping Jacks 30 – 45 – 60 Seconds
  • Dumbell Fly
  • Decline Press
  • Standing Squats (no weight) 30 – 45 – 60 Seconds
  • Incline Pushups
  • Medicine Ball seated Twist (Keep legs ups)
  • Crunch
  • Side Planks

Back/Shoulders Workout

  • Barbell bent-over row
  • Pull-up
  • Lateral raise
  • Leg Raises
  • Front plate raise
  • Shoulder Press
  • Lat Pull Down
  • Deadlift
  • Jackknife


Don’t forget running as an option. It’s a great way to build your lungs and legs at the same time. I’ve seen some anecdotes claiming that at ten thousand feet you will be able to walk approximately the same distance that you can run at elevations of less than 1,500 feet. I’m not sure that is completely accurate, but the idea is about right, the altitude and hills certainly make a difference.

Safety: The above are simply guidelines that should be suitable for an average person 15 to 60 years old who is already in good health. Consult your doctor if you have any health issues or concerns that might prohibit strenuous activity.

Nutrition to get in Elk Shape

Exercise is only part of the equation, your diet is also a key factor in getting into elk shape. In addition to just being a good idea to maintain healthy body weight, if you’re carrying extra pounds, shedding them before September will save you from lugging them around the mountain and give you a lot more energy. Personally, I’ve found that the Whole 30 diet is a great way to quickly get lean and healthy.

Whole30 Lunch
My typical Lunch on Whole30

Nutritional Supplements

Beyond diet, there are a plethora of nutritional supplements available today, but if you’re a hunter, it’s worth checking out MTN OPS. The team at MTN OPS are hunters, support hunting and use some of their profits to support conservation. MTN OPS offers a variety of products for building strength, losing weight and everyday nutrition.

MTN OPS Favorites

My two favorites are Ammo and Enduro. Ammo is a meal replacement shake. It’s a whey protein-based meal replacement with 19g of protein, 10g of flaxseed, and 4.5 servings of real fruits and vegetables like; broccoli, cranberries, oranges, and apples, and all the other vitamins and nutrients your body needs. Because it’s made from real food, it does require refrigeration after opening. For me, Ammo is nice to have on hand when I’m too busy for a proper meal. It also tastes great.

The other favorite that I use in the field is Enduro Trail Packs (Raspberry flavor is my personal favorite). Frankly, I like them to give my water a little flavor when I’m hunting, but they also aid your performance. Enduro helps to increase hydration, performance, and endurance during physical activity. It contains L-Arginine & L-Citrulline, non-caffeinated energy boosters designed to help increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles.

Nutritional products from MTN OPS

So that was an overview of the exercise and nutrition programs that work for me. I hope you can take these tips and craft a program to help you get into Elk Shape and have your best time on the mountain yet.

Related Content: The Ultimate Elk Hunting Gear List

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