Climbing Hills during Your Fitness Walks - dummies

Climbing Hills during Your Fitness Walks

By Liz Neporent

Does the thought of climbing up a hill during your workout make you want to walk the other way? Relax. The secret to walking hills is not to let them get the upper hand. Instead of treating a hill as the enemy, look at it as an opportunity to improve your fitness level and increase your walking prowess.

Here are a few hill facts to give you extra incentive to take each climb in stride:

  • For every additional 5 percent of incline (a modest rise in the landscape), you burn an extra 3 to 5 calories per minute, depending on your speed and effort level. That may not sound like a lot, but put it in perspective. The average person burns about 200 calories walking on a flat surface. If about half that distance consists of hills, the total calorie burn jumps to an average of 275 calories.

  • Walking hills is a good way to increase the intensity of your workout without walking faster.

  • Climbing hills strengthens the front of your thighs (the quadriceps and hip flexors), which may not get worked as hard when you walk on flat surfaces. Increased leg strength also means greater endurance because you’ll experience less leg fatigue.

Going up

Uphill walking form is somewhat different from the walking form you use on flat surfaces. Follow these tips when walking uphill:

  • Lean slightly forward and use an arm swing that’s relaxed and perhaps a little more forceful than usual, but not over-exaggerated.

  • Instead of taking longer strides to keep you moving onward and upward, take quicker, shorter ones, lifting your knee no higher than 6 inches.

As you climb, aim to keep your intensity level on par with the rest of your workout. To gauge this, you can either strap on a heart rate monitor, do an occasional pulse check, or do this simple talk test: If you can carry on a breathless conversation, you’re walking at the right pace.

Going down

Surprisingly, you’re most likely to be injured when walking down a hill. Because you hit the ground harder, stress and impact on your joints and muscles are multiplied. Knee injuries and quadriceps strains are the most common pitfalls of poor downhill form.

To lessen your chance of injury, follow these tips when walking downhill:

  • Walk in a relaxed glide instead of careening out of control until you reach the bottom. Take small, fast steps, letting each footstrike flow smoothly into the next.

  • Don’t try to fight gravity by leaning back and putting on the brakes. Lean forward slightly so that your torso stays perpendicular to the road surface.

  • If the downhill is very steep, use a technique called switchbacking, in which you snake from side to side across a hill. It’s best to steer clear of extreme downward slopes whenever possible. The steepest downhill you train on shouldn’t be as inclined as the steepest hill you’re able to go up.

What if you’re ready to hit the high roads but you live in an area that’s flatter than a pancake? Do your climbing on a treadmill. Many treadmills incline up to a 25 percent grade, and some actually decline to simulate downhills.