Last January I wrote a favorable review of Chris Highcock’s Hillfit strength training program for hikers. Ten days ago I finished a six-week trial of actually following the the program, and I still like it. It’s an eye-opener.
See my prior review for details of the program. Briefly, you do four exercises (requiring no special equipment) for fifteen minutes twice a week. Who doesn’t have time for that?
I did modify the program a bit. I included high-intensity intervals on a treadmill twice weekly, right after my Hillfit exercises. Here’s the 15-minute treadmill workout: 3 minute warm-up at 5.3 mph, then one minute fast jogging at 7–8 mph, then one minute of easy jog at 5.3 mpg. Alternate fast and slow running like that for 6 cycles. So my total workout time was 30 minutes twice weekly.
Why the treadmill HIIT (high intensity interval training)? For endurance. I’m still not convinced that strength training alone is adequate for the degree of muscular and cardiopulmonary endurance I want. I’m not saying it isn’t adequate. That’s a self-experiment for another day. In 2013, I’m planning to hike Arizona’a Grand Canyon rim to rim with my son’s Boy Scout troop. That’s six or eight miles down, sleep-over, then six or eight miles back up the other side of the canyon. That takes strength and endurance.
One part of the program I wasn’t good at: Chris recommends taking about 10 seconds to complete each exercise motion. For example, if you’re doing a push-up, take 10 seconds to go down to the horizontal position, and 10 seconds to return up to starting position with arms fully extended. I forgot to do it that slowly, taking five or six seconds each way instead.
I’ve preached about the benefits of baseline and periodic fitness measurements. Here are mine, before and after six weeks of Hillfit and treadmill HIIT:
- weight: no real change (168 lb or 76.2 kg rose to 170 lb or 77.3 kg)
- body mass index: no change (23.3)
- resting heart rate and blood pressure: not done
- maximum consecutive push-ups: 30 before, 34 after
- maximum consecutive pull-ups: 7 before, 8 after
- maximum consecutive sit-ups: 30 before, 37 after
- time for one-mile walk/run: 8 minutes and 45 seconds before, down to 8 minutes and 35 seconds after
- vertical jump (highest point above ground I can jump and touch): 108.75 inches or 276 cm before, to 279.5 cm after
- waist circumference: no real change (92 cm standing/87 cm supine before, 92.5 cm standing/87.5 cm supine after)
- biceps circumference: no real change (33 cm left and 33.5 cm right before; 33 cm left and 33 cm right after)
- calf circumference: 39.5 cm left and 39 cm right, before; 38.5 cm left and 37 cm right, after (not the same child measuring me both times)
- toe touch (stand and lock knees, bend over at waist to touch toes: 7.5 inches (19 cm) above ground before, 8.5 inches (22 cm) after
If these performance numbers seem puny to you, please note that I’m 57-years-old. I’m not sure exactly where I stand among others my age, but I suspect I’m in the top half. I’m sure I could do much better if I put in the time and effort. My goal right now is to achieve or maintain a reasonable level of fitness without the five hours a week of exercise recommended by so many public health authorities.
Overall, this program improved my level of fitness over six weeks, with a minimal time commitment. I credit Hillfit for the gains in push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and perhaps vertical jump.
My time on the one-mile run didn’t improve much, if at all. This fits with my preconceived notion that strength training might not help me with leg muscle and cardiopulmonary endurance.
The Hillfit exercise progressions involve adding weights to a backpack (aka rucksack or knapsack) before you start the exercise. I’m already up to 80 lb (36 kg) extra weight on the modified row, and 85 lb (39 kg) on the hip extensions. That’s getting unwieldy and straining the seams of my backpack. I can’t see going much higher with those weights.
I expect I could easily maintain my current level of fitness by continuing Hillfit and HIIT treadmill work at my current levels of intensity. In only one hour per week. Not bad at all.
It’s possible I could get even stronger if I stuck to the program longer, or slowed down my movements to the recommended 10 seconds each way.
The key to muscle strength gain with Hillfit seems to be working the muscles steadily, to near-exhaustion over 90 seconds, gradually adding a higher work load as the days or weeks pass.
I’m setting Hillfit aside for now, only because I want to start a new self-experiment.
Hillfit is an excellent time-efficient strength training program for those with little resistance-training background, or for those at low to moderate levels of current fitness.
Steve Parker, M.D.
Note to self:
When doing a mile run on the treadmill, I tend to start out too fast, then burn out and have to slow down. That may be impairing my performance. Next time, start at 7 mph for a couple minutes then try to increase speed. Running a mile at 7 mph takes nine minutes. A mile at 7.5 mph takes 8 minutes. A mile at 8 mph takes 7 minutes and 30 seconds.