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How to not hate hills

YTO leaders often hear the words ‘I can’t do hills!’.


Everyone can ‘do’ hills….anyone fit and healthy enough to sign up for a walk with us has the capability to walk uphill.


You might not like hills. They might make you out of puff, red faced, achey legged and like your heart is racing. You probably also think you’re ‘too slow’ and worry about holding people up.


Now, we wouldn’t let someone new to hiking choose Scafell Pike as their first walk. We have a duty of care and want you to have fun on your walks with us.


If we think you may have picked a walk beyond your current capabilities, we’ll drop you a message. But this happens very rarely.


HOWEVER, we do believe in smashing comfort zones and will support you to face your fear of hills, so inclines don’t phase you anymore and the high fells of the Lake District start to become a possibility.


You CAN do hills…yes, you may be slower than others. But honestly? No-one other than you is worried. It’s a friendly community of people who just love walking, they are probably enjoying a breather.


By walking up a steep hill, you boost heart and lung health, helping to lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease.


Walking up an incline also works your lower body muscles and bones, making them stronger and denser. It also releases endorphins which act as painkillers and mood enhancers, helping to reduce stress and anxiety.


Here’s our guide to hating hills less


Use walking poles


Poles can take a huge amount of pressure off your ankles, knees and muscles during a big ascent or descent. This is excellent for conserving energy, especially if you’re carrying a heavy rucksack.


Distract yourself


Look at the stunning view, chat with friends, munch on a pocketful of your favourite snacks. Take notice of the mountain flowers you pass, listen to the birds and feel the breeze on your face.


Try for a slow and steady rhythm


Try not to stop. If you’re tempted, go slower. (This takes a bit of practice) Take your time. Try to keep a slow and steady pace. Take in deep meaningful breaths, hold for a few seconds, then slowly exhale.


I was once told by a guide on Kilimanjaro to ‘make like a cow’. Imitate the slow side to side movement of a heifer when she’s ambling across a field.


Think about your posture


When walking up a steep hill, lean slightly forward from your ankles, not your waist. This will help you keep your balance and reduce the strain on your lower back. Keep your head up and look ahead, not down at your feet.


Use those glutes and core muscles


Your hamstrings, quads and calf muscles will propel you up big hills. They do a fantastic job, but to have real spring in your stride, try engaging your glutes, the muscles in your bum which turn on your core muscles and inject power into your steps. You’ll climb with more ease and efficiency


Take multiple smaller steps rather than one big stride.


This is most relevant on a rocky path. You’ll save energy and maintain that all important rhythm.


Breathe deeply and evenly


Focus on your breath. It will calm you, distract you and make the hill feel easier.


Don’t panic!


Your heart rate is meant to rise when exerting yourself…it’s natural to feel out of puff and your legs will sting a bit. Obviously if you have health issues you may need to build up your hill fitness at a steadier pace than others.


Count or recite a mantra, poem or song


This isn’t for everyone, but is useful when you’re really struggling. Count each step, let your foot fall on every word of the mantra.


……..


Walking up hills will get easier if you do it regularly. But then it’s likely that you will have caught the bug and the hills will have turned into mountains.


Even the most seasoned uphill hiker will get tired legs, lungs and feet on a steep ascent. The difference that comes with practice is that you’ll be able to hold a conversation or think about what you’re having for tea. The hill won’t be the only thing you can think about. You’ll be able to enjoy the views you’re working so hard for and ENJOY your day rather than survive it.


So, how to get ‘better at hills?!


*Walk them! As often as you can, for as long as you can. The climber on the summit of Everest once had a struggle  on a small local hill.


*Build up your miles. All walking, even a flat route, will help increase your fitness.


*Cycle, speed walk to work, jog or join a circuits class. Cardio will build the engine that will power you up steep ascents.


*Strength training - squats, lunges, calf raises and core work will help hills feel friendlier. Use body weight to start, then increase your weights. Aldi sells reasonably priced dumbbells and kettlebells….or join a gym, you belong in the weight room just as much as anyone else!


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