Hill Fit by Chris Highcock

Many of you will be aware of Hill Fit by Chris Highcock through reviews on Alan Sloman’s blog and Martin Rye’s blog. Chris very kindly sent me a copy to review as well. I think many like me struggle to maintain a good level of hill fitness. I’m lucky in one sense as I think I have a reasonable amount of core fitness that I’ve retained from my youth. Must have been all that football and cricket I played! I’m also lucky in that I’ve stayed reasonably thin, presumably because I have a high metabolism. Nevertheless, there are times when I do struggle a bit out in the hills. It’s not just a question of fitness or stamina, but strength. This is especially true when climbing hills.

This is where Hill Fit comes in. It’s not really a fitness book per se, it’s about a simple method for building core body strength. It is this approach that makes it different from other fitness books I’ve read and failed to put into practise. If you have a decent level of base fitness, which is true for many walkers, then walking 17-18 miles in a day is not usually a problem if it doesn’t involve much uphill. For instance the first day on our Peddars Way walk last year was over 17 miles and I felt pretty good. However, there are days in the Lake District where I’ve felt more tired after 7-8 miles, when I’ve had a lot of uphill.

Chris’s book gives enough background on fitness and strength to help you understand what is going on, without overwhelming you. There’s plenty of references at the back if you want to delve deeper into the whys and wherefores. I found the explanation just enough to answer my questions. Chris makes the point that his strength routine does not take the place of walking, but compliments it. Walking is still the best training for walking!

The strength routine consists of four basic exercises which should be done once or twice a week. Each exercise has a series of progressions to improve strength but shouldn’t take more than about ten minutes in all. Two of the exercises I’ve come across before. One is an exercise that I used to do before going skiing to strengthen my thighs and hips. The other is one that I’ve used to help my back. No gym equipment is required. One exercise requires a towel, but all the rest can be done without aids.

Does it work? I can’t give you an answer at the moment, but they are now part of my training for the TGO Challenge along with some walking. I’m hoping that it will stand me in good stead and that my strength for hill climbing will be improved. Having tried an exercise bike and gym membership, I feel this simple regime is likely to be more physiologically and cost-effective for backpacking.

If you are interested, go to Chris’s website hillfit.com and you can see the contents along with some comments from people more qualified than me! The book is downloadable as an eBook and costs £9.95. Well worth considering if you are looking for a simple way to get fit for the hills.

Disclaimer: Hill Fit was supplied to me free of charge to review.


4 thoughts on “Hill Fit by Chris Highcock”

  1. I do a lot of weight training and I do some CV and I read a lot into RMR and BMR.
    (Resting and Basal Metabolic Rate)

    Apparently many people think, more accuse themselves, of having a ‘Fast or Slow’ metabolism but this is not so. Tests on many people showed that most had a perfectly normal RMR and BMR. What they simply forgot to measure was their total number of calories consumed.

    Basically it’s all down to calories in and calories out! If you consume more than you expend you’ll gain weight, create a deficit you’ll lose weight . Many of histories dictators proving the latter!

    Another great example is when Ernest Shakleton and Captain Scott were slogging across the baron landscapes of our polar regions. They had already worked out their daily calorific needs, not really taking individuals BMR/RMR into account, to fuel themselves in order to maintain their correct body weights!

    With regards to core body strength; Abdominal crunches are not the best for this! If you really want to strengthen your core then squats, deadlifts and chins are superb! In particular I find front squats to give me the largest abdominals contraction of any exercise and hardly see the need for floor crunches! This load bearing movement will also strengthen the hips. I’d also like to mention that all body weight exercises engage the core muscles.

    Another great exercise for body conditioning and can easily be performed at home is ‘Kettle Bells’ training! This can be done at ones home and it gives a cardiovascular and muscle building workout in one! Again particularly good for the core and hips especially because of the movements involved and challenging way that the KB’ have to be wielded!

    All of the above, if performed properly and safely, will have a positive roll over effect on the hill especially when slogging a heavy pack up any incline!

  2. Phil

    While calories in vs calories out is true as far as it goes it is a bit more complicated than that. What you eat is important as well as how much you eat. Food quality is vital. What your body does with what you eat is the important thing and that is governed by hormones, genetic and epigenetic factors. Having more muscle will allow you to eat more calories without them being partitioned into fat. Exercising hard will also empty the muscles of glycogen so that the glucose from food goes to refilling those stores rather than just to body fat.

    In terms of exercise, when Robin says that the book is about building core body strength we are not talking about the core as it is popularly presented – it is about basic strength. There are no crunches in my routine. Squats, pushups, rows, hip extensions all work the core if that is what you want.

    Squats, deadlifts, chins etc are fine, but I want to present exercises that the average person can do with no equipment at home. Without decent coaching squats and deadlifts are difficult to get right and can be dangerous.

    I’d also advise that most people keep well away from kettlebells. They are a fad and a fashion, more a marketing phenomenon than anything else. The moves that they are promoted for – swings and snatches – are also dangerous for many unless form is very good. I am well familiar with kettlebells and trained with the first qualified KB coach in Scotland years ago. Since then however I’ve seen injuries from their use.

    Keep it safe. The aim is to build strength then go out and apply it in the hills. So pick safe and simple moves – telling the average person with no coaching to start doing front squats, deadlifts and kettlebell work is impractical and dangerous.


  3. Chris:

    I’d agree that the quality of calories are important but I think we’re over complicating it for most people. Yes, some simple sugars after high intensity workouts to replenish lost glycogen but from then on you’d be surprised how our rat like constitutions function with the rubbish that we all consume!

    I wouldn’t encourage anybody to go and attempt Front Squats, DL’s etc without proper coaching. I just raised the point that these exercises produce the greatest response! Once you’ve had some correct tuition and you don’t let your ego take over then they are without doubt the most effective exercises! Once grasped properly these exercises create the biggest contractions and thus yield the greatest results! Something I’m sure you’re well aware of.

    I’d agree that KB’ are a marketing hype similar to that of Zumba but good fun but not as effective as the above! As long as you don’t do the hip thrusts in front of the TV without adequate grip strength…

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