So last week I finally stepped out of Delhi, for the first time since the covid-19 pandemic began, to go on a short trek in the Himalaya, in the Dhauladhar range above McLeodganj. As far as treks go, it wasn’t anything major. But I’ve been away from the mountains for a while, so I was a little apprehensive about how I’d move with an 8kg backpack, while gaining nearly 4,000m of altitude in just three days.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The trek went off like a dream, and although I returned from it with sore legs, that was because of my harebrained decision to descend from my high camp of 3,200m to the village of Bhagsu (1,750m) in two and a half hours. The very fact that I could do so without injuring myself was down to one thing: high intensity interval training (HIIT).
A lot of people dislike HIIT or other forms of short but intense workouts. Most objections to these boil down to one thing: it’s too much work in too little time. Well, that’s true. After all, HIIT is at its heart a programme that helps you get better conditioning. A high heart rate, short bursts of explosive work and short rest between exercises ensure that your aerobic capacity increases, as does your VO2 Max. No wonder then that an hour of HIIT, including a warm-up and a cool down session can literally leave you flat on your back.
It’s these outcomes of HIIT that helped me in the mountains. I didn’t have a lot of time to train before I went on the trek, so whatever time I could get, I focussed on HIIT, both to increase my cardio-vascular capacity and also to fast-track the conditioning of my legs As any trekker would tell you, a successful hike often depends on your lungs and your legs.
While on the trek, whether it was gaining thousands of feet of altitude in a few hours, or the constant uphill walk over mixed terrain, I had HIIT to thank for my ability to get through them. The rest was taken care by the exercise of moving through mountainous terrain. After all the best training for mountain walking is, well, walking in the mountains.
If you’re interested, here are two excellent HIIT workouts from The Body Coach that you should try out. The first one is a bodyweight-only workout.
For the second one, all you need is a pair of dumbbells.