It’s a new year, and fitness resolutions abound. For every personal goal, there are dozens of fitness options. From fad diets to expensive gym memberships, everyone seems to have the canned solution to fix all your fitness problems.
When it comes to hunting, fitness options really haven’t been any different than those targeted at anyone else. The reality is that the act of backcountry hunting is different than most other outdoor activities. Not only do you need to have the endurance to get up the mountain and back down, but if you do it right, you have to have the strength to carry out your bounty. It’s a different level of fitness that has particular requirements.
That’s the niche MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab has proclaimed to fill.
From founding through function, this digital gym has been surprising in many facets.
Let’s dig into what the MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab actually is, where it started, and most importantly, if it actually works.
MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab Origins
I had the opportunity to sit down with founder Dustin Diefenderfer back in September to talk about where the inspiration came from for the Fitness Lab and where he planned to take it.
To say he blows expectations out of the water is an understatement. I’m admittedly biased when it comes to people who define themselves by their physical fitness.
But Diefenderfer bucks common stereotypes of fitness bros. He is soft-spoken and personable, and from the outset, he exudes kindness. But there’s no doubt about his dedication to fitness. And it’s so much more than that to him.
When I questioned his motivation for starting the fitness lab, he answered with unexpected sincerity: “Honestly, I just want to help people.”
An Unbelievable Beginning
From working in corporate America and spending endless hours on the phone, Diefenderfer found himself feeling lost in his career and searching for more. He found what he was looking for in Uganda.
Diefenderfer and his girlfriend (now wife) quit their jobs, packed up, and headed to Africa, where they ran an orphanage that was home to 240 children who were displaced by the Joseph Kony massacre. The pair worked to help the children learn entrepreneurial skills that would help them work themselves out of homelessness and into a more positive future.
As they grew through that experience and decided to begin a family of their own, they made the decision to come back to the United States. It was there that Diefenderfer began the search for his new calling to help people.
After having personal experiences that led Diefenderfer to realize so many of his peers around him were isolated by their lack of physical fitness, he realized that he had the tools necessary to help get people back into the mountains and back to being physically and mentally tough. That passion grew, particularly for those who’ve served their country.
In 2016, MTNTOUGH was born.
What Exactly Is the MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab?
The Fitness Lab is an actual place, and it’s located in Bozeman, Mont. This isn’t your typical gym, but more so a headquarters and a lab in the truest sense of the word. This is where the workouts are plotted, tested, and prepped for launch. Sure, there are dedicated people working out at the lab, but it serves mainly as the film studio, office, and testing facility.
The lab operates in its new 8,700-square-foot facility, situated with crazy views of the Bridger Mountains. If you plan on visiting to do a heavy-pack workout, conveniently, their neighbor just happens to be the headquarters of Stone Glacier.
The real gym comes to most in digital form.
The MTNTOUGH App
What once was a simple website where you could purchase individual programs, MTNTOUGH has evolved into a fully functioning standalone app giving you access to them all.
At the cost of $30/month or $240/year, the price is fairly affordable compared to a typical gym membership or many other fitness programs. The MTNTOUGH app is clean, simple, and user-friendly — a far cry from its humble beginnings.
With constantly updated content, the MTNTOUGH app has something for just about everyone. The On-Ramp series was recently released as a way to ease into the workouts for those who may not be in “mountain tough” condition. The programs are tailored to wherever you’re at in your health and fitness journey, whether you’re new to getting fit or an extreme outdoor athlete.
I’ve dabbled in just about every program offered, and even the foundation programs will get you sweating.
One of the aspects that MTNTOUGH focuses on is what it calls “mental toughness.” This is the idea that physical capability means nothing without the mental fortitude to match. This holistic approach to mind/body fitness is the cornerstone of the MTNTOUGH approach, and it’s refreshing to see. Though I’ve never taken a deep dive into their mental toughness programming, I can really see the support benefit for those who need it.
So, Does the Program Really Deliver?
As much as I tend to roll my eyes at fitness regimens (particularly so with at-home programs), I have to admit that I think Diefenderfer and his team are doing it right. I’ve toyed around with several of MTNTOUGH’s programs for the past several years, and I can say firsthand that they burn.
They hurt where they need to and seem to be building the right muscles, the right endurance, and the right stamina for exactly what we’re trying to do in the wild.
It isn’t about getting big. It isn’t about looking the part. It’s centered around performing. The training is designed to fine-tune your body to get to impossible places and pack out impossible hauls. It has nothing to do with appearances and everything to do with capability. For that reason alone: It’s worth all the hype.
That said, any program is only worth the effort you put into it. If you’re serious about getting in shape for the long haul on the mountain, there is a MTNTOUGH program that will get you headed in that direction.
No fitness program is perfect. This flaw comes less as a con to the program and more so to the platform. When choosing a particular fitness program, it opens a video stream with the workouts listed, much like a YouTube playlist. Something about that feels less involved than other fitness apps I’ve tried.
Previously with the MTNTOUGH website login, there was an engagement aspect with points and social commentary, making it feel interactive. The app has removed those parts of the program, which now feels more like you’re buying workout playlists rather than being actively engaged in a program. It’s a small drawback, but a con no less.
The concentration on holistic mind/body fitness with an emphasis on being physically and mentally capable of accomplishing the tasks is paramount to why I think MTNTOUGH has found success. The company isn’t trying to build cover models; its goal is structuring the workouts to help you build a body that is capable. Not to be cliche, but as a hunter, the further you can go and the more you can carry, the better your success in the field. It isn’t rocket science.
The biggest perk, as far as I’m concerned, is the ability to do the majority of the programs from absolutely anywhere. I’ve worked out at camp, in my hotel room on the road, and pretty regularly at home. They have both minimal and no-gear workouts that are a lot harder than they look or sound. With a low barrier of entry and ease of access, the only way you can really fail is to not stick with it.
Is it worth it? I think so. For a relatively low-cost program aimed at helping get your lazy bones up the mountain, I don’t know that it gets any better.