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  • Matt Breton

Grinding It Out: Endurance


With 12 weeks of strength training in the books, along with plenty of time on snowshoes and a little treadmill running, my focus in April shifts to building endurance. Not as sexy or generally as complicated as strength training, endurance training is important- it is the foundation of what we hunters do.

I've been digging into a new book, Training for the Uphill Athlete by S. House, S.Johnston, and K. Jornet. This is a book geared for mountain runners and ski mountaineers, after they got a lot of questions from these folks after House/Johnston wrote their first book, Training for the New Alpinism.

Both of these books serve the hunters of the world better than a lot of other training texts because the demands of mountaineering pursuits are very similar to hunting- multiple days, carrying weight, highly variable environments, unknown distances, etc. Contrast that to a marathon training plan or a triathlon- long training focus with a single day event of known distance. There are certainly some overlaps in all of these endurance endeavors... but a plan with a mountaineering focus is more well rounded and applicable to hunting.

With that, a few pieces of the endurance training philosophy that will be executed in the coming months:

Zone Training

Metering effort level to train the body's systems that will be used is the foundation of this training approach. Endurance is effort expended over time, therefore the utilization of slow twitch musculature, economy of movement and fat burning energy systems needs to be emphasized. These all develop with training at the correct intensity where they are challenged. Hence the concept of zone training.

These zones correspond with different energy systems in the body. There is overlap and a need to train all systems, but the system we train in becomes more efficient. More efficiency at all levels will enhance the effort we can sustain in a given zone. This is opposite of what a lot of 'boot camp' approaches sell- the idea that training intensely for an hour will give you extra endurance. It doesn't- the base of aerobic conditioning required for the endurance a hunter needs is very broad and built over time.

Zones 1/2 are called aerobic capacity and conditioning, the aerobic zones where lactate does not accumulate in the blood and fat is the primary fuel source. Recovery from this is short, as stress on the muscles is relatively low. 80-90% of training should occur here.

Zone 3 is called aerobic endurance. Despite the name, it is a hard effort that can be sustained for only an hour or so- utilizes glucose for energy, lactate levels are accumulating but manageable. Training gains in this zone are immense, but max out after 8 weeks or so. 5-10% of training in this zone.

Zones 4/5 is where maximum efforts occur that last up to 1-3 minutes. 5-10% of training in this zone.

So how do we apply these concepts? The book is full of great details and principles that lay all this out, without providing specific plans. Everyone must individualize their approach based on current fitness, training history and future goals. For me, this means starting with 12 weeks of base fitness, 10 weeks of mostly base with some harder efforts, then 8 weeks of specific training for hunting.

I've shifted gears and will be training the first part of the year based on time and heart rate. There are a number of ways to calculate what zone 1/2 heart rate should be, but if we follow the method of Phil Maffetone (the Maffe Method), the easy way to calculate it is 180 - age, so for me, my target heart rate is 138 (+/-5) beats per minute. Drift too far above and I'm accumulating lactate and not improving my oxidative systems- too far below and there isn't a good enough training stress to induce a change.

With that, I want to be able to train frequently, building up to 5 days per week. If I were a professional athlete, I'd probably train 6+ days per week, with multiple sessions per day, alas, life has not led me down that pathway.

By my way of thinking, building up to 5 days a week is going to get my aerobic system conditioned, as well as get my bones, tendons, joints, etc ready for the stress of nearly daily effort that hunting season requires. I think I'm better off to do 5x30 minute efforts rather than one 150 minute effort in a weeks time; ultimately in the initial base phase I'm planning to build up to 280 minutes- 2x30min, 2x60min, 1x90min. In the second phase, the long session will get a bit longer, 3+ hours depending on the terrain, mileage, etc. In the last phase, the total time will pitch down a little while the intensity climbs up- more zone 3/4/5 work.

Overall, this is probably a little too geeked out- but if you sit in an office or only do high effort work, like carrying concrete forms, some longer-lighter effort days will do you a lot of good come this fall!


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