My Experience With Hillfit Strength Training

Last January I wrote a favorable review of Chris Highcock’s Hillfit strength training program for hikers.  I just finished actually following the the program for six weeks, 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 may public health authorities.

Take-Home Points

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.

Notes 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.

10 responses to “My Experience With Hillfit Strength Training

  1. Slow is definitely the best procedure. I use music 90 second intervals on an mp3 player (with 10 secs gaps between routines). …and weights are useful if the exercises get too easy (and they do). Sandbag in a knapsack for the sit and pull up. Dumbbells across my knees for the pelvic lift up.The push up plank can be tweaked by changing the angle. But I doubt that the results are easily measured. I do Hillfit one day. Wait two days. And do separate routines with kettlebells and dumbbells …then wait another 48 hours before doing HillFit again. The HillFit is nonetheless deceptive and I soon learnt to love the exercises for the challenge they are.: esp when I know that I only have to last 90 seconds working on each and not worry about reps (and I don’t worry about the number of reps). Just as slow as I can go — like doing Tai Chi. Form is all. And in true Yin/Yang fashion the slower you go the more engaging the exercise — like an art. I’m more careful Compared to the dumbbell and kettlebell routines HillFit is much more focused and qualitatively better so I try to incorporate the HillFit principles in those. HIIT + Slow exertions + focus…rather than obsess about reps.

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  3. I reckon the weight issue is subjective in context as you have a few variables you can play around with: (1) the angle of your movements (2) the pace you do the movements and (3) then you can consider what weight to add. For the pelvic lift I lay a dumbbell on each thigh and rest my upper back on a bench — a fantastic experience esp if done really really slowly.

    The same knapsack (mine currently weighs in with a 13 kgm sandbag) is used for both squat and pull up. The push up plank offers so many tweaks I dont need the extra weight. But even with all that the slower I go the harder all the exercises get.

    Since i used to do and teach Tau Chi you get a handle on ‘slow’ and while I started off counting I now rely on the slow breaths. With the dumbbells it is easy to cross over with the same principles in mind. I recommend as a guide the very practical Matt Brzycki and Fred Fornicola Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness. Many options offered in its pages. It also discusses weight increments.

    Nonetheless, since I have been lifting kettlebells for years the HillFit perspective undermines the practice of KB swinging but I now do no-swing routines like clean and jerks, bow ties, etc. You can do things with the bells you can’t do so well with dumbbells — and weight is moderated by other variables.

    So that’s a set of dumbbells, 3 single kettlebells at different weights,a strong towel (which I reinforced with rope) a knapsack…and a bag of sand.

    An exercise bench is also real handy.

    And the best thing is that I know HillFit will take me under 5 minutes to complete, and my weights routine –divided into 8 sections, each of 90 seconds followed by 10 sec rests — will take 16 minutes. And when I’m doing it all I have to do is listen to the music — my current fav is Javanese Gamelan — sequenced into 90 sec plus 10secs x 8.

    Mp3 players are essentials I reckon. A great discovery. As essential as a dumbbell.

    I mention these details because I have done so many routines over the years, had a personal trainer for two years and followed many mixes in the past — but I love this blend. At two day intervals with alternating routines it doesn’t get boring.

    I’d like to box more but I am tardy. I do other stuff mainly because I like this other stuff…but the low tech supplement I think I get the most from — and which I treat as part of serious exercise — is stair running.

    Show how me a stair case and I’m up it like a rat up a drainpipe.

    [Oh for a local sandhill! But stairs at railway stations will have to do.]

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