A workout designed by an ice fisherman, for ice fisherman
If you icefish & pull your sled under your own power you're an Ice Dog. Personally, I enjoy pulling my shack out on those frigid mornings. It’s a great workout and it’s also a gauge of the shape I’m in. However, if you have ever had to drag a sled over any depth of snow you will realize that it’s not easy. The legs burn, you're gasping for air, and your breaks become more frequent as you get closer to your destination. You finally get to your spot and you're a sweaty mess.
This where being in shape really makes the difference of how far you may travel or in some cases, if you even travel at all. Being tough is a mindset first and a physical aptitude second. Want to burn some extra pounds? Pull a sled on the ice the old school way.
Combine the calorie burn of the pull along with cold temps is a recipe for fat loss
Now sure, the easy answer that most of you are thinking is “Get a 4 wheeler or a snowmobile”. However, not everyone can afford a machine and then you also have to deal with early or late ice and that ice may not always be machine friendly depending upon the ice thickness.
Also, some snow gets so deep where a "machine" maybe rendered useless. It's at this point that determination, sweat, snowshoes and your own leg power is your only answer to go where the fish are.
We also have the invention of the “Smitty” sled. Which is essentially a homemade sled made from skis that decreases the amount of friction that one has to pull across the ice. While these sleds have made it much easier for the Ice Dog to pull one’s sled it still takes one to be in good, physical condition. I highly recommend a Smitty sled if your going to be an avid Ice Dog.
The Smitty Sled
Here is a workout that I created that is designed to help an individual become an “Ice Dog”.
This is a 6 week workout, 2X per week. Approx. a 1 hour workout w/ treadmill training, 30 minutes without.
Deadlift with Dumbbells - The deadlift is one of those exercise that should be a staple in any program that is designed to improve a functional activity. Whether you're picking up your ice shack to load or unload or just to improve leg and core strength, it's a great exercise for being an ice dog.
Perform 3 sets of 12 reps, 15lb wt per side (strength dependent) 2X per week
2. Step-ups w/ weights with hip flexion at the top. - The purpose of this exercise is to develop leg strength to create initial drive and the hip flexion at the top will help with bringing the leg up, especially when walking in deep snow.
Perform 3 sets of 15 reps, 10lb wt per side, 2X per week
3. Weighted lunges - The purpose of the weighted lunges is to develop quadricep, glute & bi-lateral hamstring strength. Lunges just incorporate so much of the lower body which is used in the pulling motion.
Perform 5 laps of approx. 30' per lap. Start with a 10lb wt per side.
4. Seated Calf Raises - The calves, which are made up of the Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles definitely aid in the pulling phase. However, where the calf muscles shine is that they allow the bend in the ankle of these heavier boots. If you have ever had new boots that were stiff and went past your ankle you would find out that walking in those boots would become very taxing. The ankles have to bend when walking. This takes a lot of work off the glutes and quadriceps. Allow heels to drop below the block as this increase range of motion. Do not be afraid to utilize heavier weights for this exercise
Perform 3 sets of 20 reps, as much weight as you can comfortably handle, 2X per week
5. Monster Walks with a band - This exercise is also designed to aid with leg endurance as well as your hip abductor muscles (The muscles on the sides of your legs). When walking in extremely slippery conditions (assuming you forgot your cleats) or even in deep snow. We tend to widen our stance when walking on extremely slippery surfaces for a better base of support. This particular exercise will help in those efforts. Remember the lighter the band the easier it will. Start light and work your way up. Keep toes pointed forward while you walk.
Perform 5 laps of approx. 30' per lap 2X per week
6. 90/90 Crunch - The core has to be strong to keep the torso upright and prevent spinal injury when pulling your sled. The 90/90 crunch also works the upper abdominals where the most stress will be placed on the core when pulling heavy loads. When performing the 90/90 crunch be sure to keep the lordotic arch in your low back. This will help to protect the spine throughout the exercise.
Perform 3 sets of 25 reps 2X per week.
7. Lumbar extensions on a Ball - The core is so important in keeping that spine healthy. Don’t forget, as ice fishermen we tend to be bent over a lot whether we are drilling a hole or kneeling over a hole or once again, pulling our sled. This bent over mode is called thoracic flexion. In reality we want our bodies to be balanced and this is where exercises that aid with thoracic extension come in. Lumbar extensions on a ball does just that, and they also help protect our spine when we are lifting (our shacks back into our vehicle for instance) & other activities where lifting heavier items comes into play.
Perform 3 sets of 15 reps, 2X per week
8. Walking on a Treadmill incline at 10%. - No… there is no incline on the ice. The incline on the treadmill mirrors the incline of your bodies overall angle when pulling a sled. The treadmill also builds endurance in the lower extremities and conditions your legs for those long walks.
Start with 15 minutes and add 2 minutes per workout if you are just starting out
The Ice Dog Workout in Short
Perform 2X per week for 6 weeks or as needed
The trainee should try to add either reps, or the smallest weight possible each work to increase the progressive overload
Dead Lift - 3 sets of 12 reps, 15lb wt per side, (strength dependent)
Step Ups with wts - 3 sets of 15 reps, 10lb wt per side
Weighted Lunges - 5 laps at 30' per lap, 10lb wt per side
Seated Calf Raises- 3 sets of 20 reps, as much weight as you can comfortably handle
Monster Walks - 5 laps of approx. 30' per lap, start w/ lighter band
90/90 Crunch - 3 sets of 25 reps, brace & hold the core region to protect spine
Lumbar Extension w/ Ball - 3 sets of 15 reps, brace & hold core region to protect spine
Treadmill w/ 10% incline - 15 minutes, add 2 minutes per session.
Your a dog, so pull like one
This Ice Dog workout is designed to help your body to be conditioned for the “pull”. If you are an avid Ice Fisherman or Ice Fisherwoman who pulls their gear, this will vastly improve your game on the ice.
I understand that most people reading this article are not going to the gym just to up their ice fishing game. If that was the case they would probably be flipping that monthly gym membership towards a snow machine payment and I totally get that.
However, this workout is meant for some of you who are currently gym goers or working out from home and looking to change up your routine. This program is a great substitute for one, if not both of your leg days, at least through the ice fishing season. A day on the ice can be exhausting especially if you're into being mobile and looking to cover a vast amount of hard water.
When the work pays off
However you spin it, being an Ice Dog is a great way to stay in shape and doing something you love in the form of ice fishing. Please look at adding this workout or even a few of these exercises to your current workout routine. Your legs and core will thank you.
I hope you enjoyed this article and you were able to take something away from it. In the meantime, keep your lines tight, the minnows cold and stay topside.
Clint Ward is a certified personal trainer with an associate degree in physical therapy. In his free time he enjoys working out, bowhunting, bird hunting and chasing scales under the ice with his Brittany Spaniel Lily. Please follow oakandironoutdoors.com for info on improving your workouts as well as tips for your hunting & fishing adventures. You can also follow him at his Facebook page here: Oak & Iron Outdoors Facebook