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Six Weeks of Hillfit

Last January I wrote a favorable review of Chris Highcock’s Hillfit strength training program for hikers.  A few months ago I actually followed 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?

Wanna arm wrestle?

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 fit enough to be in the U.S. Army (I’m not in it, however).  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.

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.

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Random Thoughts on Fitness

A couple years ago, I was thinking about putting together a fitness program for myself.  My goals were endurance, strength, less low-back aching, flexibility, longevity, and being able to get on my horse bareback without a mounting block or other cheat.

I spent quite a bit of time at Doug Robb’s HeathHabits site.  He has a post called The “I don’t have time to workout” Workout.  I ran across some paper notes I made during my time there.  Doug recommended some basic moves to incorporate: air squat, Hindu pushup, dragon flag, shuffle of scissor lung, Spiderman lung, hip thrust/bridge, swing snatch, dumbbell press, Siff lunge, jumping Bulgarian squat, band wood chops, leg stiff leg deadlift.  Click the link to see videos of most of these exercises.  The rest you can find on YouTube.

Another post is called “Do you wanna get big and strong? -Phase 1”.  The basic program is lifting weights thrice weekly.  Monday, work the chest and back.  Tuesday, legs and abs/core.  Friday, arms and shoulders.

  • Chest exercises: presses (barbell or dumbell, incline, decline, flat, even pushups with additional resistance  – your choice
  • Back: chins or rows
  • Legs: squats or deadlifts
  • Arms and shoulders: dips, presses, curls

Doug is a personal trainer with a huge amount of experience.  He’s a good writer, too, and gives away a wealth of information at his website.

Around this same time of searching a couple years ago, I ran across Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance, Mark Lauren’s book “You Are Your Own Gym,”  and Mark Sisson’s free fitness ebook that also  features bodyweight exercises.  I did Core Performance religiously for 15 weeks—it’s a good program, requiring 5-6 hours a week.

Lauren is or was a Navy Seal trainer.  His plan involves 30 minutes of work on four days a week and uses minimal equipment.  Lots of good reviews at Amazon.com.

I recently complete a stint with the Hillfit program.  Here’s my current regimen.

Newbies to vigorous exercise should seriously consider using a personal trainer.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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U.S. Army Physical Fitness Requirements: Are You As Strong As a Soldier?

I’ve written previously how it’s helpful to have some baseline physical fitness measurements on yourself. That post mentioned up to 14 different items you could monitor. In the comment section, I recognized that’s too much for some folks. For them, I suggested just doing the five-item functional testing: 1-mile run/walk (timed), maximum number of push-ups and pull-ups, toe touch, and vertical jump.

A few months ago, I was at a training session for adult Boy Scout leaders. One of the items covered was environmental heat illness: how to avoid, recognize, and treat. One of the risk factors for heat illness is “poor fitness,” defined as taking over 16 minutes to run two miles. Inquiring minds want to know where that number came from. No reference was given.

About.com has an article on fitness requirements for U.S. army soldiers, who are tested at least twice yearly. There are only three components tested:

  • Number of push-ups
  • Number of sit-ups
  • Time to complete a two-mile run

Fortunately, the Army doesn’t expect a 57-year-old man to perform as well as a 17-year-old. For instance, a 17-year-old has to run two miles in 19 minutes and 24 seconds or less; the 57-year-old is allowed up to 23 minutes and 24 seconds. Females and males have different performance standards: a 17-year-old woman has 22 minutes and 24 seconds to run two miles.

(An ex-Ranger a few days ago told me the Rangers have to meet or exceed the standard for 19-year-olds, regardless of age.)

The simplicity of the Army’s approach appeals to me. Check out the APFT tables in the About.com article if you want to see how you compare to Army soldiers.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Starting a Fitness Program? Get Baseline Measurements First

Impressive jump!

Before beginning or modifying a fitness program, it’s helpful to take some baseline physical measurements. Re-measure periodically. That way you’ll know whether you’re making progress, holding steady, or regressing. Improving your numbers also helps to maintain motivation.

Not taking measurements would be like starting a weight loss plan without a baseline and subsequent weights.

Eighteen months ago, I finished a home-based, 15-week, six-days-a-week fitness program called Core Performance, designed by Mark Verstegen. I was pleased with the results. The only problem is that it’s very time-consuming, 45-60 minutes a day. Perhaps fitness just has to be that way.

I regret that I didn’t take any fitness measurements before and after starting Core Performance.

For much of the last year, I modified Core Performance to a thrice weekly, then twice weekly program, until a couple months ago when I pretty much abandoned it. I miss the benefits now, but just didn’t want to put in the time to achieve them. In other words, I lost my motivation.

Who needs this much flexibility?

Intellectually, I know that regular exercise is important. I’ve read that you can be fairly fit with as little as 30 minutes of exercise a week. I’m not entirely convinced yet. I’ll be test-driving some of these time-efficient programs over the next 12 months.  One I’ve done already is Hillfit.

This new style of fitness is promoted by the likes of Dr. Doug McGuff, Chris Highcock, Skyler Tanner, Nassim Taleb, and Jonathan Bailor, among others.

What to Measure

  1. Weight
  2. Blood pressure
  3. Resting heart rate (first thing in the AM before getting out of bed)
  4. Waist circumference (upright and supine)
  5. Height
  6. Body mass index
  7. Mid-arm circumference, both arms, hanging relaxed at your sides
  8. Maximal calf circumference, both calves, while standing at ease
  9. Maximum number of consecutive pull-ups
  10. Maximum number of consecutive push-ups
  11. Run/walk one mile as fast as you can
  12. Maximum vertical jump (stand by a tall wall then jump and reach up as high as you can with one arm, noting the highest point above ground your fingers can reach)
  13. Can you touch your toes? Stand up straight, locking knees in extension, then bend over at your waist and touch your toes with your fingertips. If you can touch toes, can you flatten your palms against the floor? If you can’t reach your toes, measure the distance from your fingertips to the floor.
  14. Optional blood work for special situations: fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, cholesterols (total, HDL, LDL, sub-fractions)

The particular aspects of fitness these measure are strength and endurance in major muscle groups, cardiovascular and pulmonary endurance, a little flexibility, and a hint of body composition.

You may appreciate an assistant to help you measure some of these.

It’a long list.  If too long, just do what you think is important.  Record your numbers. Re-test some or all of these periodically, such as every six weeks after making a change.

If you’re in fairly poor condition at the outset, you’ll see some improved numbers after a couple or three weeks of a good exercise program. It takes months to build significant muscle mass; you’ll see improved strength and endurance before mass.

Am I missing anything?

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Darrin Carlson’s Minimalist Exercise

Not Darrin Carlson

Darrin Carlson on March 23 this year shared his ideas on the minimal amount of exercise and equipment needed to achieve reasonable fitness benefits.

I’m self-experimenting with just six exercises now.

Public health authorities for years have recommended physical activity in the range of 150 minutes a week. That ain’t gonna happen for most folks. Darrin says, “Two hours a week will work for most people….”

Jonathan Bailor, Chris Highcock, and others suggest 30-60 minutes a week may be enough. Even Darrin admits as much, for the super-dedicated.

     -Steve

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Is It More Important To Be Fit, Or Healthy Weight?

Men live longer if they maintain or improve their fitness level over time, according to research out of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas.  Part of that improved longevity stems from reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease (e.g., heart attack and stroke). 

Compared with men who lose fitness with aging, those who maintained their fitness had a 30% lower risk of death; those who improved their fitness had a 40% lower risk of death.  Fitness was judged by performance on a maximal treadmill exercise stress test.

Body mass index over time didn’t have any effect on all-cause mortality but was linked to higher risk of cardiovascular death.  The researchers, however, figured that losses in fitness were the more likely explanation for higher cardiovascular deaths.  In other words, as men age, it’s more important to maintain or improve fitness than to lose excess body fat or avoid overweight.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Lee, Duck-chul, et al.  Long-term effects of changes in cardiorespiratory fitness and bodly mass index on all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in menCirculation, 124 (2011): 2,483-2,490

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Is Exercise Supposed To Be Fun?

Exercise is not supposed to be fun.  If it is, then you should suspect that something is wrong.

That quote is from an essay by Ken Hutchins posted at the Efficient Exercise website.

When I was a young man in my 30s, I was jogging 20 miles a week and ran a couple marathons (26.2 miles).  I enjoyed it and didn’t do much else for exercise or overall fitness. I thought I was in pretty good shape.  You can get away with that when you’re 35, but not when you’re 50.  At 57 now, I can’t think of any single recreational activity that can help me maintain the overall strength, functionality, and injury resistance I want and need as I age. 

I’ve come to view exercise as a chore, like flossing/brushing teeth, changing the oil in my car, and sleeping when I’d rather not.  I’ve got my current exercise chore whittled down to an hour three times a week.  OK, sometimes just twice a week.

Skyler Tanner takes a thoughtful and in-depth look at the exercise versus recreation dichotomy at his blog.  If you have comments, more people will see them at his site than here.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 

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