Building Strength with the Hillfit Program (with Chris Highcock)
If you're thinking of investing in an exercise regimen, there are many choices to choose from: P90X, Insanity, or a 5 X 5 bodybuilding routine... I'm a big fan of what our ancestor hunter gatherers did the majority of the time: which is hiking, climbing, and walking. Which brings us to Hillfit.
Hillfit is a simple and safe program that seeks to increase your strength, so you can better enjoy your outdoor hiking experiences. It consists of 4 exercises, which makes it accessible to just about anyone. Even if you're not a hiker, the program is useful for anyone that wants to build strength. Here is an interview we did with Chris Highcock, the creator of Hillfit:
Us: Can you briefly describe your background, and the 4 main exercises you outlined in the HillFit program?
Chris: I love the mountains! I spend lots of time walking in the outdoors and am gradually ticking off the 283 mountains in Scotland that are over 3000ft tall. Health and fitness is an area that fascinates me and I record the various interesting things that I come across on my blog www.conditioningresearch.com which was nominated as one of Outside On-line Magazine's top 10 Fitness blogs last year.
Hillfit (available from www.hillfit.com) brings together these two passions. The big idea is that most hikers could be transform their time outdoors if they just got a bit stronger. They would be safer, less prone to injury, more fit in terms of cardiovascular fitness and in general more able to have fun.
It explains why strength is so important to health and fitness and outlines a very simple routine that can be done with no equipment at home to develop some basic strength. The key is to train hard, with the techniques that I outline, in order to work all of the muscle fibres.
There are four exercises to address the major muscle groups of the body:
The wall sit β a simple static squat
A modified chin up
The hip raise.
Progressions are explained so that the moves can be as easy or as difficult as appropriate for the individual.
Us: What type of person is the HillFit program for?
Chris: The book is obviously aimed at hikers and backpackers. That is my community, my tribe and while I read so much about how we should train there is very little that addresses strength.
That being said the principles in the book actually apply to anyone. My philosophy of training is to develop strength using simple and safe exercise and then to apply that strength to your favorite activity be it hiking or golf. Everyone can benefit from strength. However, you still need to practice the skills β like the golf swing. This program can develop useful strength to be applied in any sports or just in daily life.
Us: The name of the book "Hillfit" seem to suggest that people have to do these exercises outdoors in a terrain. Can people do them indoors?
Chris: The exercises are definitely OK to be done indoors. It is about getting people Hill-Fit : fit for the hills!
Us: Why these 4 exercises, as opposed to other types of exercises such as bench presses, or lunges?
Chris: Why these 4 moves? My first concern is safety. I want to pick moves that as far as possible do not put you at risk of injury, choosing exercises that track natural joint and muscle function. There is a lot of talk about functional exercises but if such moves injure you then you will not be functional! So the exercises are chosen to keep the joints safe and the muscles in strong positions.
The second concern is simplicity. I want moves that are easy to learn, so that people can work the muscles without distraction by the need to develop a particular movement skill. Big simple moves, not complex choreographed motions.
Finally it is about accessibility. I want you to be able to do these moves at home with no special equipment. I do not want to erect barriers β the need for machines or gym equipment.
Us: How often do you suggest people do these 4 exercises? And can they do this program while they're doing another fitness routine, such as P90X or Insanity?
Chris: In terms or workout frequency the idea is to work hard and then rest until you are recovered. That could mean different things for different people but the main concern is to recover. You need to allow your muscles and metabolic systems to recover before you train again.
Training too much and too hard can be an excessive stress on the body. Some stress is fine and we will grow and strengthen in response. Too much stress gets us on a vicious spiral of decline. For many people that would mean training only once or twice a week.
That however is training β I would still expect people to be generally active and in particular to be participating in their sports β for me that is hiking and climbing the big mountains of Scotland.
Exercise is not an end in itself, it is something that facilitates other activity. You train to be able to do other things. You do not have to spend all your time training β that time is best spent having fun outdoors!
To prevent overtraining I definitely would advise you to do these moves alone and not to combine with other training β although I am unfamiliar with the specifics of either Insanity to P90X.
Us: How do you prevent boredom with such a program, if there's no variety? is there a natural progression from easy to more difficult ways to do the exercises?
Chris: As I mention above this exercise is only a small part of life. Exercise hard briefly and then get out and do other fun things. Excitement for me comes from the outdoors. A simple routine doesn't have to be boring β as you get stronger there is reward in that feeling and in being able to do more in your sports and everyday life.
There are natural progressions explained in the book to make the moves hard or easy to suit everyone.
Us: How much time should people spend on cardio vs strength training, especially for someone trying to lose weight?
Chris: Interesting question. For me body composition β losing fat is key no losing weight β is all about diet. The impact that exercise has in general is pretty limited.
Diet can be pretty controversial but the principles are simple: you do need to cut calories but keep protein high, eat real food: meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit. Don't fear fat but be aware of the need to watch calories. Tracking your daily intake with a food journal can help as can tactics like intermittent fasting. But that is a whole different topic!
As to cardio vs strength, there is interesting research that I've pointed to on my blog that proper strength training actually improves cardiovascular fitness. There are lots of reasons for this, but the principles are the same as those that explain how interval training can improve endurance.
Us: Any plans on making a new book?
Chris: I am working on a companion volume that will be given out free to all those that have bought Hillfit:Strength. These Bonus Chapters will pull together some other writing that I've done for magazines and for my blog. The material addresses things like how to walk more efficiently, the importance of sleep and a better explanation of how to fully recruit all of your muscle fibres.
Thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions β I hope you readers find them helpful!