For exercise, head for the hills

Hills are not beloved in mainstream culture. "I've got a hill to climb" is not usually a positive statement. Nor is "Over the hill."

But the residents of Southern Oregon, who live surrounded by hills, are some of the luckiest people in the country.

I should know. I'm from Ohio, where it's cowpie flat. As a jogger and personal trainer, I was thrilled to move to a town with hills.

Did you know that:


162; Exercising on hills builds aerobic power and muscle strength simultaneously.


162; A hill training workout can develop 2-3 times the muscle fibers as a flat workout.


162; Hill workouts are one of the quickest, most effective ways to strengthen and tone your legs.


162; Walking a hill can be as beneficial as running it.


162; When you train your body you train your mind. And hill workouts are a true mental challenge.

Hill training creates a sense of accomplishment. When you look down that hill you know you've made a difference in your body. You've done something most people won't. No matter what happens the rest of the day, you can say "I ran up that hill, you know, the one that looks vertical?" And you will get respect.

It may not be Mount Everest. But it's close enough.

Hill workouts can even replace your coffee. A friend and I used to jog up Park St. at 5 am. We started out sleepy, but were amazed to find that halfway up the hill we felt wide awake and energized, probably the effect of enhanced oxygen circulation.

Once a week is enough to get what I call the 'hill effect'. You have to experience it to understand it. You will realize that only a hill could have changed your body in the ways that you will notice. The results of incline and decline on the muscles are unique.

However, technique is everything.

Go at a speed that allows you to breathe and speak. You may need to take breaks. Warm up and cool down and don't give up. It will get easier with time.

Take lots of little steps to keep your feet under the centerline of your body. This will reduce impact. Use your arms. Lean into the hill on the way up. Watch out for obstacles on the way down. Keep you body relaxed from the waist down on the downhill and let gravity do the work.

If you have joint injuries or a heart condition, talk to a doctor first.

My own special discovery: going down backwards.

Beginning hill-joggers have a tendency to get a bit euphoric after achieving the summit. When they start heading down they can get downright cocky.

It's easy to go faster than normal, because the hill does half the work. A roller-coaster type thrill ensues, ending only the next day when the newbie hill-runner wakes up with calves so sore that activities like getting up from a chair are too painful to contemplate.

The solution? Walk down backwards. With each step your calves get a stretch instead of a strong contraction, and the next day you won't be as sore. This technique also puts less stress on your joints.

Just make sure to glance back occasionally so you don't run into small dogs or cars.

You can also go down sideways doing the grapevine step (side-front-side-back). This is superb agility training. Or you can zigzag back and forth across the road when it's clear.

Here are a few of the best hills in town:

1. Park Street: the hands-down king of hills. After a short plateau, the street rises up at an angle so steep I have slid down it backwards on icy mornings. From the top you have a great view of the city. At the peak you can keep jogging through trails which link to the Pacific Crest and White Rabbit trails, or go down the irrigation trail and pick berries. If you don't do concrete, start at the top of Park Street and there will be lots of small hills as you follow the trails.

2. Wimer Avevue: starts as a tease, but don't be fooled. Once this hill gets serious, it means business. Warm-up by starting at the base where Wimer meets N. Main Street.

3. Mountain Avenue: ride the waves. A gentler, longer hill experience. Plateaus are followed by rises so you can recover and regroup. There are four rises total if you go far enough for the street name to change to South Mountain.

4. Woodland: short, not sweet. At SOU you can go west at Indiana, and make a right on Woodland for a short steep hill good for athletic repetitions.

I've got a hill to climb. I can't wait to be over the hill. Maybe I'll see you up there.

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