Review of Chris Highcock’s Hillfit

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.  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.

Highly recommended.

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.


Filed under Exercise

6 responses to “Review of Chris Highcock’s Hillfit

  1. Sounds like a modification of the super slow training. From the limited data available, it does appear to increase hypertrophy, ergo recruit more muscle fibers. But I wouldn’t think it’d recruit fast twitch. It’s unclear if the hypertrophy one gains from this carries over to improvements in more explosive types of movement.

    One potential concern over elderly patients doing super slow lifts and that relates to hypertension. In prolonged lifts (I’m thinking squats especially) where the abdomen contracts for long periods, that increases venous return to the heart while also increasing peripheral resistance (if I’m remembering my cardiac phys correctly). In patients with poorly controlled hypertension or poor heart contractility, that might be an issue.

  2. @Isaac

    My understanding is that, as long as you lift to failure, all muscle fibers are recruited.

    I second your recommendation re hypertension and add that exercises that engage smaller muscle groups (one-legged squat or leg press instead of standard squat or press) are preferred, as well.


    I take “momentary muscular failure” to mean that you can no longer move the weight without assistance.

    There are damn few free weight exercises that I know of that can safely be performed to failure without a spotter. I use machines or cables and recommend that others do, too. Some free weight exercises might be safely performed to failure using a Smith machine.

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