Chris Highcock over at Conditioning Research has just released a new ebook on strength training for hikers: Hillfit: Strength. Hiking is one of my favorite hobbies. I particularly like walking up hills and mountains. If you’re ready to reap the benefits of resistance training, this jargon-free plan is an excellent starting point, and may be all you’ll ever need. Even if you never go hiking.
Chris is a fitness columnist for “TGO (The Great Outdoors).” He lives and hikes in Scotland. Chris’s goal with the program is to increase your enjoyment of hiking by increasing your level of fitness.
He clearly presents four basic home exercises requiring no special equipment; they’re bodyweight exercises. You get it done in 15 minutes twice a week! The key is to do one set of each exercise, slowly, to exhaustion. What’s slow? Ten seconds for both lift and lowering. For instance, when you do the push-up, you push up over the course of 10 seconds, then let your body down slowly over 10 seconds. The exercises are for both upper and lower body.
I’m reading about similar exercise ideas from Skyler Tanner, Doug McGuff, Nassim Taleb, Jonathan Bailor, and Doug Robb. Bailor, in his recent book, also recommends only four exercises. Highcock’s look a little safer for rank beginners.
The idea is to recruit three different types of muscle fiber during the muscle’s movement. If you move explosively and finish too soon (get your mind out of the gutter!), you’re only using one type of muscle fiber (fast twitch, I think). You want to stimulate a strength and growth response in all three types of muscle fiber. And explosive or rapid movements are more likely to cause injury, without any benefit.
Once you get the basic program down, Chris takes you through some easy variations (called progressions) to make the exercises gradually harder, so you continue to improve your strength and fitness.
Chris understands that many folks can’t do a single push-up. He takes you through pre-push-up movements to get you prepared to do actual push-ups. This goes for all four exercises. I bet even my little old lady patients could use this program. (This is not blanket clearance for everybody to use this program; I don’t need the lawsuits. Get clearance from your own doctor first.)
The exercises incorporate our five basic movements: push, pull, squat, bend/hinge, walk/gait. The four exercises are: wall sit (squat), push-up, modified row, and hip extension.
My only criticism of the book is that Chris should have used young, attractive, bikini-clad models to illustrate the exercises. (That’s right, my wife doesn’t read this blog.) The existing photos are clear and helpful, however.
But seriously, the only suggestion I have for the next version of Hillfit would be to mention that it will take a couple or three weeks to see much, if any, improvement in strength once you start the program. Same for when you increase the workload with the exercise progressions. Perhaps this is in there, but I missed it. You don’t want people quitting in frustration that they’re not seeing progress soon enough.
The author provides scientific references in support of his program, so he didn’t just make this stuff up. Only one of the references involved mice!
Several “take home” points for me personally are: 1) stretching before or after exercise does nothing to prevent injury or soreness, and may hurt short-term athletic performance, 2) don’t hold your breath, 3) train to “momentary muscular failure.” I’m not entirely sure what momentary muscular failure means. It may not be Chris’s term, but it’s prominent in one of his best scientific references. I use free weights and don’t think I can safely go 100% to momentary muscular failure. Hitting momentary muscular failure, by the way, is more important than the amount of weight you’re moving.
Steve Parker, M.D.
PS: I’d like to see Hillfit available on Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook.
PPS: When you go to the Hillfit website to order, you’ll find the price is £9.95 (that’s GBP, British pounds sterling). I’ve never ordered anything priced in GBP. In today’s U.S. dollars, that’s a little under $16.00. You can pay via PayPal or a major credit card. I assume the conversion from one currency to another is automatic and seamless. I don’t know if there’s a extra fee by the payment processor for doing the conversion.
Disclosure: Chris kindly sent me a free digital copy of his ebook. I don’t know Chris. I will receive no remuneration for this review, nor for book sales.