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HIKEology: An interval class for running-haters

Libby Lowe is a writer who loves creating fun content for women about everything from fitness to feminism. She contributes to a number of blogs and, when she's not writing, there's a good chance she's doing yoga, taking a spin class or e...

An indoor hiking class

I approach treadmills with trepidation. I hate running and associate treadmills with the feeling of wanting to die — but I loved this interval workout.
HIKEology: An interval class for running-haters
Photo credit: HIKEology

I don’t run. My two biggest running accomplishments are:

  1. Walking the mile during the Presidential Fitness Test in eighth grade.
  2. Walk/running a 5K two years ago in. . . wait for it. . . 39 minutes and then googling: "5K in 39 minutes — is that good?" Guess what? It’s not.

This isn’t to say I hate working out. In fact, I love it. Put me on a yoga mat or a spin bike and I’m right at home. I also like the idea of hiking. But living in Chicago, hiking isn’t really a thing you can just go do.

So, despite my treadmill issue, I was super-excited to try HIKEology, a class made up of four 15-minute intervals — two on treadmills and two involving a step, two sets of weights and body weight.

Michael Wollpert, a personal trainer and semi-pro adventure racer who has competed in the terrifying-sounding Eco Primal Quest and in the Tour de France, started offering the group fitness class this year in his Chicago studio, TRAINology.

Michael Wollpert
Photo credit: HIKEology

I used to take Michael’s spin classes years ago at a gym and have always liked his style. I also once fell off of a bike in his class and he was really nice about it, so I felt like any studio he owns would be a safe place. I was right.

"I wanted to create a small, intimate space. In a group training setting, I want to be able to see everyone’s form. I love the boutique feel and I just really wanted this to be a nonjudgmental, welcoming and fun space," Wollpert says.

I felt good walking into the TRAINology studio. The music was pop-heavy (if I am doing cardio, I want to hear Ke$ha; just saying) and the lights weren’t overly bright. Aesthetics matter to me in these situations.

Instructor Dani Kinect led me and about 12 other people through a butt-kicking hour where we alternated between treadmills and the weight intervals. Throughout, we were instructed on how high to set our inclines and received demos on how to properly execute everything from squats to curls to step-ups with weights and kettlebells. The floor intervals might also happen on a TRX machine, which looks kind of like a fun throwback to playground equipment, but definitely isn't.

I talked to Wollpert about the theory behind the three interval-based group classes he’s developed for TRAINology, which, in addition to HIKEology, include one involving gliding and one that does cater to runners.

"You’re not alone — as a personal trainer I know there some people who hate running or need a low-impact workout. You can get the same benefits from interval training by hiking or gliding that you can get running," he says. This is when I was got excited, and maybe a touch skeptical. He countered my doubts: "You are moving slower, but your body needs to recruit a lot more energy to carry itself uphill."

Then he started to talk about physics, and what I understood is this: To keep the momentum going slowly up a very steep "uphill" requires as much effort from your body as going faster on flat land.

I should pause so we can talk about uphill. This is no joke in a HIKEology class.

During class, we worked up to a 30-degree incline. And learned why people (semi-pro adventure racers aside) are advised not to run once the incline is over 12. In fact, we didn’t receive one speed cue during class.

"We leave the speed open-ended because just to go to a 20-degree incline and not stop moving is remarkable. We don’t need to tell people to pick it up. It’s really all part of the TRAINology concept: Interval training works and results can be achieved without running," Wollpert says.

HIKEology: An interval class for running-haters
Photo credit: HIKEology

Here’s why interval training is better for you than a 60-minute hiking-only class would be. "Muscle burns more calories than fat and it continuously burns more calories. Sixty-one percent of your body’s muscle is in your legs. With more muscle in your body, your baseline metabolism will be higher. The goal is to be toned, not skinny. Total body workouts benefit the immune system, metabolism and overall health."

As a spin-class junkie, I will say it was kind of refreshing to change the workout every 15 minutes and feel like I was reaching new muscles. That feeling was even obvious the next morning, when my inner thighs were on fire.

"You need to work for everything in your life," says Wollpert. "The theory behind TRAINology is: Train. Track. Transform. I believe in training smarter, not harder. Here, you move in every direction. It’s a massive cardio work that requires you to move in every plane."

When we talked later in the week and I mentioned how much my legs hurt, Wollpert replied with his usual response to whiners like me — a big grin and, "You’re welcome!"

I’m sold on the interval idea and will definitely be back for another climb.

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