Hillfit Strength

Hill Fit 3DChris Highcock of Conditioning Research has been at it for a good long while, always steady and consistent, always putting up bits and pieces to the state of the art in conditioning, strength, natural movement—and he’s an avid hiker of hills.

I can’t recall exactly when it was when I first came across Chris, but I believe he’s mentioned that he was following my blog sometime even before I began blogging about Paleo fitness, so that would be since 2007 or earlier. In that time, I can’t recall ever much time passing without an email from him pointing me to some link he thought I might find interesting or useful to blog about, and indeed I did, often enough.

My point is that Chris Highcock is just one of those ever present guys who just does good things with his time to both learn and pass on what he’s learned.

One of those things most inspiring about him is his other blog: Cairn in the mist. It’s somewhat of a photo journal chronicling his adventures in the hills of Scotland near his home. Well worth a look, for both the knowledge and plenty of inspiration.

I’ve always been a pretty avid walker. And at times, Beatrice and I have gone on various hiking excursions. My sense is that whatever you can say about the gym, you can say a lot more about hiking and moderate climbing from an evolutionary point of view. After all, how is it that over tens of thousands of years, we migrated to inhabit all corners of the globe? We got there on foot. And it wasn’t all just flat ground.

This is natural movement writ large. So let’s open the book. But first, let’s look at the simple manifesto behind the book.

Hillfit: Strength is not about selling you a book. It is about an approach to improve your time in the outdoors, making it safer, easier and more fun.

Getting stronger is the most important thing you can do for your fitness as a walker / hiker / backpacker.

Hillfit: Strength explains this philosophy and shows you how to get stronger with a set of exercises that are simple, safe and sound!

  • Simple – all you need is 10-15 minutes a week. There is no need for a gym or any equipment. The exercises are easy to learn, gross body movements.
  • Safe – exercises are selected to minimise risk and keep the body in safe and secure positions. The last thing you want is for your training to injure you. It is no use doing “functional” exercise if you cannot function afterwards.
  • Sound – this based on science. The book is heavily referenced. It is not a “fashionable”, trendy fad but solid evidenced based training.

Hillfit: Strength is a plea for those who enjoy the outdoors to invest a little time in a simple set of exercises to get stronger. It will transform your experience in the mountains and the wild.

What strikes me about the simple message is how it’s really a synergy. It’s not like you have to “get in shape” to do what your body evolved to do: walk & hike. Rather, it’s a simple process whereby you can enhance your experience over time and small effort, that experience, in turn, enhances your hiking experience, motivating and positioning you to do better in your simple conditioning exercises, and the process continues.

And I’ll add from personal anecdote that even in my 20s and 30s, I used to get lower back pain a lot. Just slightly bending over the counter top to rinse or wash dishes could turn into agonizing lower back pain. Even though my daily walking program that began in around 2000 did not fix my propensity to gain weight, what it did do was end my lower back pain forever. Use it or lose it?

Let’s take a look at the table of contents.


And guess what? It’s not essentially an advertisement for all the gear you’re going to need to do what you ought to be able to do naturally. From the 1st chapter:

This booklet is focused on something that every walker, hiker and backpacker needs. It weighs nothing but will make your pack lighter. Equipped with this, your trips to the hills will be safer; each walk will be easier and more fun.

I am not talking about gear: a new piece of clothing or lightweight shoes; it is not about the latest rucksack or fashionable waterproof shell. I am not a gear geek and I get tired of the way in which kit dominates the outdoor magazines and blogs, as if all you really need is another tent or pair of trousers to transform your time outside. So often the “secret” is presented as something material – buy this gear and you will have a better time in the mountains. Of course, the magazines get much of their funding from the adverts for the gear companies, so it is understandable that the focus is often on “stuff”.

So go pick yourself up a copy. It’s available as a convenient PDF with inline hyperlinks. You can access it on your computer or load it up into your favorite tablet or handheld. It’s a very concise 50 pages and well referenced so you can get a lot more than is actually in the book itself.

You could even read it during routine breaks on a hike.

Alright, one criticism: he spells ‘program’ wrong. 

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  1. Linda Sand says:

    I sent the link to this to my daughter. It just sounds so much like her thing.

  2. Uncephalized says:

    Re: back pain. I was already suffering from it fairly frequently in college (from sitting in cramped chairs all day, then at my desk to study, in retrospect a major DUH!). Now at my job I stand at my desk and go for at least a half-hour walk before lunch every day, and while my back muscles sometimes get a bit stiff or sore, I never experience bone/joint pain like I used to. Walking and standing and squatting are what your body is meant to do. Sitting is a slow death.

  3. Thanks so much for this considered and kind review Richard. I appreciate the time and thought that you put into writing this and thinking about what the key to the book is. You are one of the good guys. You are pragmatic, realistic you think things through and are led by what works not by any dogma and that gives you an authentic and authoritative voice

    Thanks again


    • David McCracken says:

      Well done Chris! I live in Canada, but keep a house in Dunoon. Scotland may be one of the best places in the world for walking with the combination of the terrain and the property laws. I wish I was back more often.

  4. I bought a copy of this book a few weeks ago. For an Amazon type rating, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

    It is short, well thought out, and well written. As Richard pointed out, it uses active hyperlinks through out, that lead you to some of the research behind the program. I think that is a wise approach, which no doubt helps keep the book so concise and to the point. And if you want to dig further, just click the link.

    I was a bit worried that it would just be a rehash of stuff already published at his blog, but it is more than that.

    As for the exercise routine itself, it is exactly what I was looking for. I am generally fit for 46 years old, (lots of walking, hiking, Nordic track, wood chopping, rock moving, etc), but I have only dabbled in strength training, and with little success. I bought the “Body by Science” book a few months ago, and I really like the sound of their approach. But unfortunately, it is based on gym equipment that I don’t own and have no desire to purchase (and I won’t be caught dead in a gym, but that’s another story…).

    So I have been trying to piece together a similar routine on my own over the last few months. When I stumbled across this book, I decided to jump on it, if as a time saver, if nothing else. It basically uses the Body by Science approach, but uses a set of exercises based on your own body weight. Chris (the author) also provides a longer term approach based on adding dumb bells, kettle balls, and/or weighted knapsacks or gym bags, as your strength progresses. So I expect this routine to last me a few years, if I can stick with it.

    I actually did my first routines yesterday morning. After about 4 minutes, I was toast! I’m still feeling it today. But unfortunately, that doesn’t allow me to provide any insight on long term results.

    Two items caused me to avoid a 5 star rating. First, Chris talks quite a bit on his blog about the importance of balance, and discusses some exercises that can help develop better brain/muscle coordination. I expected that topic to be covered in this book, but it is not. Maybe that’s just over expectation on my part.

    Second, I consider the price just a tad high. I can understand the 9.99 GBP price point might make sense in Great Britain, but at a conversion of around $16 US, it seems a bit steep. Of course that is a factor of exchange rates, and the dollar is a bit strong right now. $9.99 US would make it a no-brainer, though.

    But over all, I am happy with my purchase, and I plan to give the routine a good go for at least 90 days, before I reevaluate.

    • Thank you jay jay for a very disciplined review, and mean that as a total compliment.

      Good job.

      • Thanks!

        I’m an engineer/manager, and dispassionate analysis is a required skill. Branching out of my area of expertise once in a while helps keep me sharp.

        (At least that’s how I justify doing shit like this at work….)

    • Jay jay,

      That is a really helpful review. Thanks for the thought you have put into it and the way in which you have anlaysed the book so deeply. I really appreciate your comments.

      With respect to balance, brain/muscle connection, for most people – and I am aiming this at the 80% not the 20% – their balance will be enhanced most by improving their strength. I also recommend balance exercises – basically lots of standing on one leg – but that is icing on the cake.

      Price ….. I had no idea what to charge and thought long and hard about an appropriate price point. I picked £9.95 but that might have been too much, I don’t know. I think it is worth it but it is up to the buyer. There is a 100% refund guarantee and if anyone thinks that I have charged too much I will refund them the purchase price no questions asked. So far only 2 out of over 300 customers have asked for a refund.

      Thanks again for your considered comments – it is really useful feedback

      Best wishes


      • Chris,

        You are very welcome.

        How about a 37.5% return guarantee? That would get it down to just about right for me!

        I am just joking there. I am completely satisfied with my purchase. And I want people to understand that I don’t want to come across as being negative about the length or content of your book.

        I write a lot, and I know how hard it is to get stuff down to a reasonable length. There’s an old line that goes something like, “Sorry that what I wrote is so long. I didn’t have time to make it short!”

        I honestly believe that the conciseness and lack of fluff and filler in your book is a very good thing.

  5. Thanks Jay Jay – that is helpful. It did start out a bit longer with a few other things in it, but we stripped it down as we edited it initially to tighten up my prose and then to remove bits that were more complicated than they needed to be or were just surplus to the argument that I was making. I wanted to make an argument for basic strength training. Other factors are important – gait, balance, sleep, pacing for example – I thought all that might detract from the key argument I was putting forward. So it ended up as short as it is. I’e had comments that all the abstracts and references / hyperlinks are really valuable as well, pointing those that are interested to more information.

    Thanks again


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