Best of 2015: Yoga conditioning for hunters and outdoorsmen
December 30, 2015
Big-game hunters understand the peace that comes from being outdoors, from possibly not seeing another hunting parties for days, to breathing fresh air and spending time in the mountains.
Hunters also understand the physical demands of hiking for miles every day while carrying a bow or rifle plus a heavy pack and possibly packing out a few hundred pounds of game meat (should you be so fortunate).
The physical demands of big-game hunting are significant, and, if your body is well prepared before heading out, you'll enjoy it more. Make the most of your hunting trip by trying something new to condition your body this year: Yoga. They are harder than they look.
1. Four square breath
Precision in movement and mental focus are prized qualities in a good hunter, and controlled breath is a critical component for both physical and mental control. Even small fluctuations in breath or body can significantly impact accuracy during a shot — no matter if you use a bow or rifle.
Try this simple exercise to control your breath and provide windows for shooting between each breath.
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Inhale through your nose for a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Exhale through your nose for a count of four.
Hold for a count of four.
Four square breath is also useful to calm your nervous system when you aren't in the woods, such as when your teenager scratches your new car or when you're on your way to DIA and Interstate 70 eastbound is closed.
2. Core with block
Remaining perfectly still in your shooting stance while aiming at a target exercises your core muscles. Strengthening the abdominal muscles helps evenly distribute weight over the front and back, improving balance. You'll also find that strengthening your abdominal muscles eases the strain put on your lower back by hiking through the woods and hauling out your kill.
You'll need a block for this exercise. You can purchase blocks online from yoga suppliers or in person at most yoga studios and organic grocers. Many gyms and rec centers also have blocks available for use. If you don't have a block, a heavy cardboard box about the size of a loaf of bread will do the trick.
Lie on your back. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle, so that it stacks directly over your right hip, with the shin parallel to the floor. Flex both feet.
Place the block against your right thigh and interlace your hands behind your head, pressing your right elbow against the block.
Engage your abdominal muscles and squeeze the block. While doing so, try to lift both shoulder blades off the floor.
Hold for 10 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
For an additional challenge, do another set on each side, but this time, bring the left elbow to right knee (and visa versa) to work your obliques.
3. Downward-facing dog with elbow-to-tricep
Ever dragged a tire in an obstacle race? It's nothing compared to hauling the dead weight of a game animal over rough terrain at 9,000-plus feet elevation. After field dressing your kill, you still need to transport it back to your truck or camp. There is simply no way to get around this.
A deer carcass can weigh 150-plus pounds, an elk 350-plus pounds, and, if you are lucky enough to draw a moose tag, plan on packing out 500-700 pounds when your animal is quartered. De-boning the meat can reduce the weight, but, if you take the bull of a lifetime, you're most likely packing out the head and cape as well.
No matter the size or animal, the more strength you have in your shoulders and upper back, the easier this task will be. The next two postures — done in succession — will strengthen your upper body while also working your hip flexors (used for hiking) and core (used for hiking and balance).
3a. Downward-facing dog
Start at the top of a push-up (in yoga, we call this "high plank"). Place your hands shoulder-width apart and keep your fingers spread, so that the "V" between your index and your middle finger points forward. Keep your elbows soft (do not lock them out).
From high plank, press your hips up and back while pressing down into the lowest knuckles of your index finger and thumb.
Bend your knees as much as you want to bring your chest closer to your thighs and push your hips up and back.
Press your hips back and behind to straighten your elbows again. (To really engage the upper body, bend your elbows toward the floor and pull them closer to each other. This will "wrap" your shoulders.)
From downward-facing dog, come forward to high plank. Keep your shoulders directly over your wrists.
In high plank, press the floor away and try to flatten (not dome or sag) the area between your shoulder blades.
Pull your abdominal muscles in and press your heels back.
Bring your right knee to the outside of the right tricep. Hold this position as high as you can for five breaths.
Return to downward dog and repeat on other side.
4. Low-back release
No matter how much you prepare, you'll most likely experience some significant low-back discomfort by the end of your hunting trip. Relieve that discomfort with this simple and relaxing posture. It is also great after long-distance driving or sitting at a desk too long.
Lie on your back.
Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor. Bring your feet a little wider than your hips.
Let your knees rest against each other and bring your arms overhead, interlacing your opposite hand with your opposite elbow.
We hope these simple postures improve your strength and comfort during and after hunting. Be sure you have the appropriate hunting license before you head out, and contact the local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office if you have any questions. You must complete a hunter-safety education course before purchasing a Colorado license.
Tags are available annually for elk, deer, pronghorn, bears, mountain lions and small game. Although it may take years of waiting and a hefty price, tags are also available for bighorn sheep, mountain goats and moose. If you're a newcomer, licensed hunting guides and outfitters can facilitate hunting in Summit County. All levels of guided services are available, including pick up/drop off, guided trips and "never lift a finger" camping or lodge stays. Outfitters usually provide the gear and can help with licensing.
Pinna Gallant is the owner of Peak Yoga, Dillon's only dedicated yoga studio. Designed to challenge both the body and the mind, Peak Yoga classes build muscular strength, physical endurance and emotional resilience. Find out more about Peak Yoga at http://www.peakyogastudio.com.
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