Leave that Stairmaster where it belongs – alone at the back of the cardio section – and go find some real stairs for one of the greatest (and most portable) workouts around. For some, the very thought of walking up and down a bunch of stairs is enough for them to turn around and head home. But stay with me and I promise that you will not only get a fantastic workout, you won’t be ‘staired’ anymore.
Before we get into the workouts, make sure you remember one thing: there are a few simple rules that will make yours, and everyone else’s, stair workout experience better. This may ruffle the feathers in a few trainers’ hats, but trust me – as someone who utilizes the stairs weekly, I know that a little etiquette goes a long way.
Think of stairs etiquette as having the same rules as driving a vehicle – single file, keep to the right side, and stay alert of your surroundings. People are doing different workouts at different speeds and someone may need to pass you. If you are the one passing, only do so when you don’t see an oncoming runner going the other way, and get back to the right lane as soon as you have finished passing.
Don’t bring weights on the stairs during busy times. This can be very dangerous when someone starts walking up the stairs and is swinging weights around as others are trying to run. I have almost been struck in the head as I approached someone from behind who was doing tricep kickbacks.
If you want to incorporate weights, leave them at the top or bottom of the stairs and do the exercise between sets. By all means, weights are a great complement to your stair workouts but don’t be knocking people out. Be considerate of others around you, especially during busier times.
Enough about the rules, though; you are now ready to tackle the stairs!
All you need is a staircase – outdoor, in your condo, or in your office building. The workouts described below assume a set of stairs that should take you 4-5 minutes to walk up or 2-3 minutes to run up. If your staircase is smaller, adjust the rest times to make them shorter. These pictures are from the set in Calgary called McHugh Bluff, which features 167 steps.
Workout One – Beginner
Running up and down a large staircase can be a daunting workout for the first time. This workout is like a first date – ease into it and get a feeling for what it’s all about, break the ice and hopefully, with a little work, you’ll be on your way to loving it.
Walk up the stairs at a brisk pace one step at a time. Take a 60-second break at the top. Then, walk back down the stairs. Walking down is an active recovery, so as soon as you get to the bottom turn around and head back up. Repeat as many times up and down the stairs as you can in 20 minutes. Next time, try to do one more set within the 20 minutes.
Workout Two – Sprinter
Once you have completed the “Beginner” workout a couple times without dying, you can proceed to the “Sprinter.”
You are not going to like this workout, but it is going to make you a better athlete. Start at the bottom of the stairs and run to the top as fast as you can. Time yourself. Take a 30-second break at the top. Then, walk back down the stairs and start again as soon as you get to the bottom.
You are not going to like this workout, but it is going to make you a better athlete.
For this workout, increase the duration to 30 minutes and like before, try to get as many sets as you can. I record my time for each set and the total number of sets in a particular workout session. Tracking my progress taps into my competitive side and it ends up feeling like a game or challenge. It’s also a way to set goals for your next workout.
Workout Three – Endurance
By now you have spent countless mornings, lunches, or evenings cruising up and down stairs.
Start at the bottom and go, up and down, as fast as you can, with no breaks, for 40 minutes. Sounds fun, right?
This workout is great no matter what you are training for since it is about pushing your body to its limits for a set period.
The first time you try this, do not get discouraged by how difficult it seems. You will gradually improve your cardio and strength, and will be able to do more and more sets. Record how many sets you complete in 40 minutes and continuously try to improve. If you feel like you have hit a wall and just can’t get in any more sets, I recommend going back to the “Sprinter” workout to improve your speed.
This workout is great no matter what you are training for since it is about pushing your body to its limits for a set period – 40 minutes. This training will help with short distance road running, obstacle course races, and even ultra-trail running.
Grab a friend to take the next steps
Stair workouts are mentally tough because you are repeating the same thing over and over. One way to make this seemingly mundane training a lot more fun is to do it with friends or a group. Having the company will help make time fly as you laugh, as well as help push you to work harder.
I recently joined the November Project™. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, November Project™ is a free fitness movement that was born in Boston as a way to stay in shape during cold New England months. It has now spread to cities across North America, and most cities feature an early morning stairs workout every Wednesday. Check out www.november-project.com/.
Below is a picture of the Calgary chapter after crushing some stairs for breakfast.