You won’t be the first person to dismiss walking as a legitimate form of exercise. In fact, many PTs actually believe that it’s the most underrated workout we can do. Why? Getting your steps up may not seem like it’s having an effect, but walking uphill not only burns calories, it can also increase your stamina and endurance, leading to a healthier body composition overall. Don’t believe us? The best in the business reveal just how hillwalking could give your health goals the boost they need.
A walking workout
It might not be your standard HIIT session, but walking up a hill can be just as effective when you put the effort in. “Hillwalking forces your body to work harder and increases your heart rate, due to the extra energy needed to work against the varying degrees of incline,” explains personal trainer Dee Hammond-Blackburn (origympersonaltrainercourses.co.uk). Plus, unlike your jog or run, hillwalking doesn’t put too much stress on your body, meaning you won’t have to worry about injuries or niggles. “Hillwalking is very low impact, which means it’s not too taxing on the joints,” states Hayley Balls, master trainer on the EXi app (exi.life). “If you’re not used to walking, you should build up to it, but fundamentally, you don’t need any equipment and it’s easy to do it with friends or in a group.”
The ups and downs
Hillwalking will show visible results, even if you’re going at a steady pace, adds Dee. By walking uphill, you’re getting the best of both worlds: a more intense workout without having to up the minutes on your session, which is great if you’ve only got a short window. “A hillwalking workout will ultimately burn more calories than regular walking and you’ll get fitter without needing to increase the duration of your workout, making it a sustainable activity you can stick to,” says Dee. Don’t neglect the declining hills too, says Joanna Hall, founder of WalkActive (getwalkactive.thinikific.com), as they increase muscle recruitment, or engage more muscles within the movement, to me and you. “Think of your back foot as your brake when you walk down a hill and try to lift up out of your hips as you descend,” she advises. “You’ll safeguard your knees, plus get an extra muscle toning benefit in your legs and glutes.”
We’re all aware of the benefits that getting outdoors in nature can have on your body (including increased feelings of happiness, reduced stress and a strengthened immune system, to name a few), so what about the mental side, you ask? “Being [outdoors] in the sun increases the release of serotonin, which helps to boost mindfulness and mental wellbeing,” claims Dee. Your surroundings can also give you a little lift to get up that hill too, says Joanna. “Look up, take in the view as you ascend and calm your breath. This will help your posture, improving your ability to take in more oxygen, therefore allowing you to burn more energy as you climb.”
An all-round burn
It can be difficult to target every area of your body when it comes to working out, and some muscles can often get left behind if your goal is to build strength. Hillwalking will isolate those muscles with the varying degrees of incline, helping you to engage a wider range of leg muscles, says Dee. “The quadriceps and gluteal muscles will work harder to keep you balanced, upright, and moving forward as you go uphill. These muscles are generally more neglected in other workouts, so hillwalking is a fantastic way to increase muscular strength and endurance which, in turn, boosts fat loss when compared to steady state cardio.” Hayley agrees. She says the more you move, the more you’ll burn. “The changing angles of hills means you’re mixing up which muscles are used. This increased muscular activation burns more calories, builds more muscle (especially if you’re carrying a backpack) and helps with weight loss goals.”
A balancing act
Often overlooked as a key component to your fitness, balance is something that’s especially important as we start to get older. This, combined with cardio and strength work, can ensure an all-round workout, which hillwalking is a great example of, says Hayley. “Hillwalking, especially on difficult terrain or across rocks, is exceptionally good to keep your balance in good form. Knowing how to move your body in order to navigate rocks and roots and where to place your hands to support is really key in staying healthy long-term. The variety of surfaces walked upon during hillwalking makes it superior when compared to flat, road walking for improving balance, stability and body awareness.” So, what do you say? Are you ready for the challenge? Onwards and upwards!