Outside magazine, July 1994
Hill climbing is Dede Demet's little training weapon. The 21-year-old U.S. National Cycling Team member and 1993 World Championships silver medalist attributes a lot of her success to the fact that she likes pedaling uphill. "It's a full-package workout--my heart rate goes up, I burn calories more quickly, and I get stronger," she says. "Plus I'm good at it."
Even if you're not in Demet's class, hill climbing is one of the most effective ways to get fit. "We frequently use hill climbing in lieu of strength training because there's no resistance like gravity," says Roger Young, athletic coaching program director of the United States Cycling Federation at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. "If you're trying to develop power--no matter what your sport--it makes sense." The proof is in the numbers: For example, the energy cost of running eight-minute miles is about 45 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. Keep the same pace up an 8 to 10 percent grade--that's not too steep--and you'll double that output. What's more, you don't have to put in more time to get a better workout.
Undoubtedly, ascending does wonders for your legs--you'll develop more power in your quads, calves, and hamstrings--but because going uphill is a relatively low-impact exercise, there's no added strain on your joints and tendons. Then there's the glutes. "Climbing hills--on a bike, on foot, or on skates--will give you a great butt," says Young.
Assuming you already exercise at least three days a week for an hour at a time, Young says you can head to the hills. The six-week introductory program:
In week one, use a 20-minute warm-up on flat terrain to arrive at the base of your training hill. The hill should have a constant 6 to 10 percent grade--about like an intermediate ski slope. Maintain the pace you use on the flats: Runners should climb about 80 yards, skaters 120, and cyclists, who will best work their glutes if they stay seated, about 200. After going up, rest until you're breathing easy, descend (runners should do this slowly to keep that connective tissue healthy), and repeat. Cool down by returning the way you came.
Increase to three repetitions in week two. Then go to four in week three, two in week four, four again in week five, and two again in week six. Why the reductions in the fourth and six weeks? "Your body can't adapt to the stress periods if no recovery time follows," says Young. "You need those easy weeks in order to get stronger." But after the first month and a half you can safely pump up the hill-work volume until you're doing three to six reps twice a week.