Top 10 Tips for Backcountry Athletes

You don’t have to train like a professional athlete to enjoy recreational activities outdoors, but what if you did? What if instead of huffing and puffing to make it up the mountain you climbed up it like a mountain goat because you were prepared and had trained for such a thing? Would the experience be all around ten times better, I think so. Professional mountain and backcountry athletes train hard, and they train consistent, but even more importantly they train with a purpose. No random bicep curls here and a lunge or two there. Precision, sport specific training is what makes the best athletes the best.

“Engineer your body on the inside, so it is prepared for life’s adventures on the outside,” – Jack Cole.

Today I am going to hand over to you a few tips that you can implement if you want to take your fitness level, nutrition, and backcountry athlete prowess to the next level, and you don’t have to be a professional athlete to do them.

Be Professional

Jack, I thought you said we didn’t have to be a pro to do these things? Thats right you don’t, but you don’t have to be a professional to act like one. I’m not saying lie and say that you’re something that you aren’t, the mountains will call you out and you could find yourself in a dangerous situation. What I am getting at is that if you want to be great at something, not good or mediocre but GREAT, then you are going to have to act professional and disciplined to get there. That goes for anything in life.

You aren’t going to go in for a job interview dressed in bloody camouflage plants that you wore on your last hunt because that simply is not professional and they won’t hire you. In a similar way pro athletes treat their sport like their job. They take it seriously and have respect for the skill it takes and for the environment in which they perform in. If you want to be the best bowhunter in Montana, you can’t just go out only during hunting season and let a few arrows fly and hope one sticks. That’s simply irresponsible and shows disrespect to the activity you are engaging in.

If you want to succeed, and I mean really succeed at bowhunting for example, then you are going to have to spend time in the gym. Strengthening your shoulders so you can pull the arrow back smooth and consistent, your legs so you can climb steep terrain without collapsing with exhaustion before you are even in range to take a shot, let alone pack out the meat if you make one, I think you get the point. Time in the gym is necessary if you want to act like a professional athlete.

Functional Beats Everything Else

Training in the gym is useless if you’re not training the right muscles with the right exercises for the right activities. That’s great you did a hundred curls and your arms are huge, but you’re a professional skier and you don’t need big arms, they will actually slow you down! I’m not saying don’t do any curls at all if you’re a skier or your sport doesn’t involve much arms, but you get what I’m saying. Focus mainly on enhancing the areas relevant to your sport.

The bottom line is that your gym training should support and enhance your on-mountain and in-backcoutnry performance. If it’s not then something needs to change.

Food Fuels

Just as you wouldn’t put regular unleaded gasoline in your high end sports car, you can’t expect to put junk food in your body if you want it to perform at high output levels. Athletes burn massive amounts of calories and it is vitally important that we replenish those calories with fuel that will allow us to perform our best.

*For more on diet tips when in the backcountry check out our post Eat Better. Go Farther.

A lot of trainers recommend the 6:1 rule. Six days a week eat meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and berries as much as you want. This means no sugar, wheat, potatoes, bleached wheat flour pasta, rice or alcohol. The other one day is your cheat day and you can eat whatever your heart desires! I normally start that day going all in on some waffles with peanut butter and maple syrup but thats just me 😉 You will find that these old junky foods you used to eat don’t make you feel good and you will stop eating most bad foods entirely.

I know alcohol is a big one to get away from for a lot of people, but shying away from it will definitely result in all around better cognitive functions and physical performance. Save it for date night or a Friday night out with the boys. If you’re serious about being a top performer in your sport then you will keep it to one day a week or cut it out completely.

Legs and Hip Day Everyday

In the mountains, everything begins with the legs. Its inevitable. A big problem with many outdoor athletes is that they have the endurance, but they don’t have the raw strength to keep them injury free.

A family very close to ours has three girls, one is committed to Oregon State to play soccer at a Division 1 level, one is an avid cross-country and track runner, and the other does both. The parents do a great job at making sure their kids don’t just play or do the sport, but they train properly and strengthen for it. You can’t expect to keep hammering your body into the ground and pile on mile after mile without something breaking if you don’t train and strengthen as your endurance builds up as well.

At Backcountry Fitness we like to do exercises that both strengthen our muscle groups in our legs and work on our range of motion in our hip flexors. Back squats and lunges are king and there are so many different varieties of lunges to work all around your glutes, hamstrings and quads that you will never get bored, but you will feel the burn! We will be uploading some videos of different lung sequences on our Youtube and social media channels so be sure to follow those so you can get some ideas on what to incorporate into your next leg workout. I personally find myself incorporating lunges or squats into almost every workout because I figure why not train the biggest muscle group in your body that is going to determine how you get places? Do you want to scratch and claw your way up the mountain, or truck up it like it was a prairie hill…

Core Strength

A strong core can actually protect weaker limbs. Train your core daily. A strong core is more useful than the six pack of abs for looks, it is the center of your body and protects your lower back as well.

One exercise I do daily are 100 reps of “back savers.” Lay flat on your back with your legs bent at a 90 degree angle, then raise your butt off the floor while keeping that 90 degree angle. This is going to hit your lower abs hard and your back with thank you for it.

Another core exercise is “sand bag pickups.” Its pretty simple. Put a 40 to 60 pound sand bag or weighted medicine ball on your shoulder. Lay down with it and then get back up. This is going to make you focus more on the motion and activity and not so much on the rep count and the fact that your abs are going to be on fire. Be sure to switch shoulders and end up with the same amount of reps with the ball on each shoulder.

Work Your Mind

You have to train your mind like you would your body. Your brain is a muscle after all, and arguably the most important.

“Good mental fitness is essential if you want to come home safely,” – Eric Seymour, expedition Kayaker.

Instead of watching hours of Netflix at night, play a board game, draw, paint, wright or read. These activities will use your mind and can prevent diseases such as Alzheimers. Training with a group or in a competitive setting is also very beneficial for your brain and how you deal with your opponents. A little competition never hurt anyone. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

Playing the mental game is often why seemingly un-superior in physical aspects athletes may beat a much seemingly stronger opponent.

“A strong body does little good without a strong mind.” – Jack C, Backcountry F & N Founder.

The mind is powerful muscle, take care of it.

Train Specific

Alright now it’s time to get more specific with your training. The closer you get to your season, the more specialized your workouts have to be to your sport. Climbers will be focusing on finger and forearm strength, skiers will be dialed in on their legs. It’s best to focus on overall fitness in the off-season, and dial it down to very specific within six to eight weeks of your season beginning.

This is when the professionals start to really separate from the rest of the pack. Being able to fine tune their sport specific traits is vital to their performance being great or not. It’s what makes them a pro at what they do and not a good at most things person.

Focus and Calculation

A big factor that sets the greats apart from the not so greats is their ability to focus in on a task, be disciplined enough to stick to a program, and track their progress. Don’t waste your time doing random and unorganized workouts, it won’t get you anywhere great.

Calculating and sticking to a diet and fitness program plays a HUGE role in professional athletes success. They plan and calculate everything to a tee. Planning diet and workout schedules being the main hurdle to organize. Lucky for you Backcountry Fitness & Nutrition Lab is currently working on an amazing workout program for outdoor athletes. Be sure to follow along so you can be one of the first to join in on some killer training that will make you an apex contender in whatever sport you choose.

Another thing successful athletes do is keep track of their progress along the way. Training and becoming in the best physical and mental health of your life is a long journey, and being able to track your progress will be a great motivator in the long run and allow you to see the small wins in the short run.

Healthy Habits and Routines

A gnarly workout session isn’t going to do anything for you if you follow it with six beers and a McDonalds Big Mac with fries. Serious athletes and people who want to live a healthy lifestyle don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t drink excessively. Wake up early, eat clean, exercise, take your supplements, put in work, love your friends and family and go to bed early.

Professional athletes are truly as professional about their habits and rituals as they are about their sport. Being in shape and being a #BakcountryAthlete is a lifestyle and filled with constant choices that will make or break how we perform in the wilderness. Choose wisely.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Is your aim high and to the left? Is your running form shaky? Hows your left turn on skies down a steeper slope in soft powder? Athletes practice over and over and over. The best ones are so good because they obsess until they get it right. Practice what you’re good at, and practice what you’re not as good at even more. Muscle memory will develop over time and soon it will become a second nature.


I hope you found this useful and took away some key philosophies to implement in your training and lifestyle. Feel free to like, comment or subscribe. May your training be strong and performance extraordinary, but just remember, you can’t be extraordinary if you don’t put in extra work 🙂

Get strong, stay strong, #BakcountryStrong

-Backcountry Fitness & Nutrition Lab Founder, Jack C.




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