Make that hill my bitch !

Blog time : late March 2020.  It’s a bright clear and cool early morning so in a few minutes i will be leaving my front door and heading out for my daily walk just as i have done since the start of this year.  Today, being a Wednesday is also a ‘hard’ exercise day being one of the 3 days a week when i get under an olympic barbell on the back deck and do some heavy resistance exercise.  My routine for a heavy weights day is to either use my walk as part of the warm up or as the cool-down and clear the lactate out of my muscles.  With the new rules of just one walk, run or cycle i have to chose carefully so i’m more likely now to take my walk in the cool-down phase of training although i do want to emphasise that some aspects of the walk itself are very considered parts of my training regime.

During my life (i’m 62) iv’e lived in towns and cities, on the coast and in the midlands, in rural settings and amongst the most depressing and grim post-industrial places that the country can offer.  Today, i live near the Devon/Cornwall border in a small village that you would miss if you blinked for a moment as you drive through !.  It has it’s advantages and disadvantages : a high rate of alcoholism and drug use, some annoying crime for example but it also just happens to have a network of small back lanes , tracks and paths that are hardly known and often not even marked.  The real advantage in terms of walking as exercise is that the very geography gives me short sharp uphill and downhill work that gets my heart pumping and my calves ‘burning’ with lactate.

This isn’t unique to this setting though, i lived in the north of England for much of my adult life and the same kind of geography exists where i lived right in the heart of a city….Sheffield to be precise.  In the next post i’m going to talk about the experience of being an urban hiker as i had to be then : back then as now i didn’t have a car so i did everything by foot, bicycle, bus or train.  The Sheffield experience was great though as it’s a hill whichever way you walk ! and a superb urban training ground that even then i combined with my trip to the gym in one of the back streets.

Very few hikers seem to know that walking as a physical act can be used and ‘modified’ to give us a training effect and secondly that we can also do the reverse which is to train at home to enhance our walking strength and stamina….how neat is that when we are advised to stay at home !.  I almost can’t emphasise this enough that there are ways and means of home training for hiking and that hiking/training is a magic combination for physical and mental health.  The evidence from both sides is that walking always has been great for health and so has harder resistance exercise….almost : “the harder the better”.

As with all exercise walking exercise has 3 main stages : warm-up, main exercise and then cool-down/recovery.  At 62 i carry several injuries from my years as a nurse including a knee replacement so the first 10 minutes,at least, of my daily walk i take slowly and i do quite a bit of ‘other’ warm-up moves as i walk along.  The very first stage of my daily walk has to be either up or down a fairly steep lane…i chose ‘up’ as that gets my heart rate up right at the start and then i have to concentrate on stepping carefully over a stone-rough track that could be a real ankle twister otherwise.

I move into the ‘main phase’ of the exercise as soon as i meet the first hard uphill once i am warmed up and ‘loose’, now, i make that hill my bitch !, step on the gas and go at it with attack and attitude.  It’s not a long hill but enough to give me a hard lactate ‘burn’ in my glutes and calves and pushes my heart rate up to the training effect ‘zone’ for my age…then i slow down on the level and kind-of enjoy the scenery rolling past as my heart rate settles and the lactate feel dissipates.  Then, like an athlete doing ‘intervals’ i repeat that several times during my walk.

My next trick is that i deliberately carry load, not all of the time but some of the time and especially on one of the longer hills. My trick is that i have, at home, and at strategic places on the trail, heavy lumps of tree and/or rock that i can swap in and out of the old rucksack that i use to increase or decrease the load i carry.  In training terms this is known as ‘rucking’ a load and mimics a hard carry that i would have to do during a multi-day hike.  Instead of it being a shock when i have to carry a multi-day hiking pack it’s no problem because i do that every day except that i have the advantage of being able to fine tune the training effect i need, or can cope with, that day.  Just to say that a 30 kg load ‘rucked’ up a short, hard hill is hard yacka indeed and the evidence is that this works positively as resistance exercise and helps to build muscle bulk, muscle mitochondria and bone density.

The last phase of my ‘walk as exercise’ is a simple cool-down during which i get to walk on the level and slightly downhill and usually in which i have dropped off my load at a convenient hidden spot where i can pick it up again as and when i need to….i really am a bit of a walking/training nerd though as i have heavy lumps of ‘tree’ at home with their weight marked up on them just as if they were my olympic barbell plates.

In the next part of this post i’m going to talk about how we can best use this time, the training we can do at home or at work say, that will improve and enhance our fitness for walking : now, it’s time for coffee and then my hot date with my barbell and the back deck.

My ‘wall of pain’.




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