Friday, 27 January 2012

Are you “Hill Fit?”

There have been countless articles written on outdoor blogs about ways to reduce your pack-weight. There is the popular slogan “Minimum weight, Maximum fun!” that everyone of sound mind adheres to.

I have at times beefed on about the many backpackers who scrupulously drill holes in their spoons to reduce two grams here and cut the labels out of their clothing to shed another gram or two there. They have all been avoiding the elephant in the room, or should I say, the elephant staring out at them in the mirror. What is the point of having all this super-lightweight gear if you are carrying thirty pounds of fat around with you?

Well, of course, carrying less gear does help, but it does make more sense to be a bit slimmer!

After finishing my four month LEJOG, there wasn’t an ounce of fat left on my skinny little frame and I was incredibly fit. Over the last five years though, that fitness has all but disappeared. I have managed to keep the very worst of the burgeoning belly at bay but my fitness levels are generally pretty poor.

The preparations for my annual binge walk (the two week TGO Challenge) generally involve some Sunday walks over the winter period, building up to a couple of weekend efforts prior to the big walk itself. That usually has me just about ready to face my efforts in Scotland. The rest of the required fitness is built up over the two weeks of the walk itself.

Now, this is a shame as it means that clambering up the steep heathery hills all comes as a bit of an effort to this slack-muscled southerner. To make matters worse, this year I have designed a route for the Challenge that is, shall we say, quite a physical challenge. How on earth will I cope?

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Out of the blue came a book to review from Chris Highcock: “Hill FIt: Strength, the missing element in your training.”  It was an Hallelujah moment. You may already know that Chris writes regular articles for TGO on fitness. He also writes a mean blog: ”Cairn in the Mist” 


Over the last few days I have been working my way through the book. He starts off explaining, very carefully, why it is important to build up strength, as well as fitness for these outdoor pursuits. He says:

“If you enjoy time walking in the outdoors … and want to enjoy it more, tackling those days with less pain and effort, then the programme I outline in this booklet is for you.”

He goes on to explain how having stronger muscles makes you more efficient and protects you from injury. Increasing your strength also has the added advantages of fighting the aging process, and increasing your health in all manner of ways.

Having got your attention, and ready to holler out “Praise the Lord!” Chris then outlines four very simple exercises (that only need to be performed twice a week; that’s my kind of plan!) to get you up and running and raring to go.

I cannot recommend this booklet more strongly. This is probably far more important than all the weight reducing tips you will ever have read in all the blogs put together. Chris’s simple exercise programme should have you fit and ready for the hill, so that your experience will be one of pleasure rather than one of pain!

You can read more about the book and buy it for yourself HERE It will be the best tenner you will have spent in years.

I am now getting pretty good at brushing my teeth whilst balancing on one leg. Following my first attempt, the bruises are now beginning to fade…


  1. I'm pleased that you have endorsed this book Alan and glad that Martin brought it to our attention (I'll thank him separately).

    I have had little to say on my blog recently (nothing actually) - no proper walking so nothing to report. However, I have to get my body ready for a walk along The West Highland Way in May - your words and this book will set me up nicely.

    Thanks Alan.


  2. Hi Brian.
    I was wondering if you had dried out from your swim along the canal.

    You'll enjoy the West Highland Way in May; it shouldn't be at its busiest and the weather in May is always perfect... (HA!)
    I walked it in May 1993, after a very long lay-off from walking.

    Here's a tip: Leave early every morning to be ahead of the crowds and get to a seat in whichever pub you come across and a good spot to pitch the tent.

  3. Hi, Alan.

    I have to agree strongly. Was it old age that caught up with me and demanded a month of bed rest to begin the process of repairing my back or was it just neglect of my torso muscles? Given the improvement following core stability exercises, it has to be the second explanation. Less leg pain when I run now, too.

  4. Well, got to admit the most training I did for my C2C the other year was a 17miler in one day. That was it.

    For the TGO this year? Well, I'm out all the time lugging bloody video gear and camping gear on my back plus mileage. That's my training as far as I'm concerned ;)

    I'll be going as lightweight as reasonably possible on the TGO so it should literally be a walk in the park for me (he hopes!!!)

    But you're right to raise the points you make Alan. Very true and real.

  5. Zed: That sounds horrendous! A whole lot better to follow Chris's regime. Bed's for watching crap films and eating chocolates.

  6. Tel: With lugging all that camera kit about you'll be the fittest bloke on the walk this year.

    No sweat.

  7. I like the idea but
    It is £9.95 to download it.
    Then I have to print it in colour.

    I would happily buy a real book for £9.95, but a download?

    I am probably just being a stingy git!

    I'll just go running and walking a lot I reckon, now that I have finally got rid of that bug.

  8. Cheers Alan, I'll definitely give it a look! With my Overland Track a couple of months away, I need to step up the exercise!

  9. Damn you for this: reminding me that fitness and strength are ebbing away after a slowdown in backpacking. I'll have to start upping the weight training now, no excuses.
    The best training for climbing hills is climbing hills they say, but the weights, bench and power cord do supplement it very effectively.

  10. Been following Chris's words on twitter and he's had me consider buying his book a bit. Now you've got me wondering what it contains. Next on the blogroll is Martin so by the time I have finished his writings I'll have to buy the bloody thing - you lot cost me fortunes!

  11. £9.95 might seem like a lot for an eBook, but imagine how much you'll save in not paying silly gym fees.

    It is really well researched and there are zillions of links to back up what he says, so you can go and check and do more research should you so wish.

    The exercises he suggests are simple but based on proven medical worth rather than historical dogma.
    It changed my mind about a whole lot of things I had taken for gospel for years.


  12. Thanks for the review Alan.

    Trying to come up with a price to charge was tough and I am not sure that i got it right. It was a fair bit of work to put it together but deciding on a price point was difficult.

    Seriously, if anyone thinks it is not worth it or if they are not happy with it I'll refund, no questions asked


  13. And here was I thinking that the bicep curl was your favourite rep! (With a steadily diminshing weight providing the resistance).
    So: does this mean that you've embarked on a new strength training regime Alan? And if so, will you report back on its efficacy after a month or three? Late May perhaps? That might persuade a few doubting Thomases to part with an Aryton.

  14. Mr Universe: I'll have you know that the bicep curl was repeated to exhaustion, a feature that you'll find from Chris's book is of fundamental importance.
    He also maintained that after a short while the exercise should be repeated, but with a heavier weight.

    I shall indeed be following his excellent advice. By May I expect my right bicep to be in tip-top condition. Indeed, at the Fife Arms in Braemar, you may well encounter fitness fiends exercising with both arms, such is the pressure to conform to the body-beautiful.


  15. I never go to the gym unless it is full of lycra clad fit ladies.
    Bugger I should probably not admitted to that.
    Works up a sweat though.

    I just never go to the gym.

    I can walk and run outside and I have a garage full of free weights, most if which I cannot lift anymore.

    Damn this ageing process. :((

  16. Interested to read your review Alan. I tried to buy this e-book last week but had a bit of a problem with my PayPal payment. Hopefully that is resolved now, and I will try again.

  17. I am now getting pretty good at brushing my teeth whilst balancing on one leg.

    I'm sure that will help enormously whilst traversing 200 miles of scottish wilderness.

    Heh heh ;-)

    On a more serious note, Miss W has a similar exercise which tests the muscles and balance rather more. Try 30 secs on one leg, and the other raised in front WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED. Then the other leg. Repeat three times.

    She recommends that this exercise is not undertaken close to sharp objects and furniture!

    Makes those leg muscles work extra hard, doesn't it?

  18. Laura - You should be fit as a fiddle, with all your Alpine skiing and walk-abouts! I reckon you're the fittest person on the Chally!

  19. Lord Elpus: I have witnessed Miss Whiplash perform that very same manoeuvre in the Tomdoun Hotel back in 1999 after her magnificent Top-Shelf Challenge.

    There was no falling over, not from her anyway. I do recall a slight stagger from yourself, though, upon receipt of your bar bill.

  20. Flexibility is the thing I miss most. The ageing body just isn't as supple as it once was.

    I fall with a thud these days!

  21. That's the the art of walking isn't it? The "not falling over" bit.

    Toddlers get rounds of applause when they manage it.

    We just get a muddy arse and strange looks when we don't.

  22. Fancy a weekend digging my allotment? That'll loosen you up. All the cabbages you can eat. Sounds like a bargain to me.

  23. Hi Alen. "That'll loosen you up. All the cabbages you can eat." Cabbage has that effect on a chap. I'll politely decline your generous offer.

  24. Just bought the book - but at a reduced price as I was a signed up member to Chris's blog site - can't be bad! And the Paypal worked this time....
    I SHOULD be fit Alan but the skiing comes with lunch!

    1. That's a real result then. Lunch is an integral part of any fitness regime, and as such, should be attacked with vigour.


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