The first questions people will ask when you talk about stair climbing is: can someone really get in shape by simply using stairs? The answer to that question is absolutely yes. If you have ever walked up more than 10 flights of stairs you can understand what I mean. In fact my discovery of stair climbing came when I had to walk up 19 flights of stairs to visit a friend of mine. At the time I had not been able to exercise due to an injury and walking up those stairs just wiped me out.
But as a trainer I thought to myself what an excellent tool for getting in shape. Ever since then I have used stair climbing for myself, my high school students, college athletes, elite professional athletes, and most of my private training clientele. Basically anyone interested in improving aerobic fitness, anaerobic conditioning, muscular strength, power and flexibility. In fact stair climbing proved to be such an incredible conditioning tool for me that I call it real stair climbing. I do this to distinguish it from modifications like the Stair-master and the Step-mill. These pieces of equipment are very valuable but can not compare to what real stair climbing has to offer.
So how can one lose weight, get in fabulous shape and look amazing using real stair climbing. The answer is quite simple: Follow the same principles and guidelines of an exercise program. Usually that calls for aerobic work 2 to 3 times a week combined with strength training 2 to 3 times a week. I myself stick with 2 aerobic/anaerobic sessions combined with 2 strength training sessions a week. In this article I’ll discuss ways you can use Real Stair climbing to improve aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.
Here are some ideas to help you set up a stair exercises program for aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.
The following are the stair workouts I have used over the years and a few different ways you can use stairs to improve your aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.
1. Real Stair climbing for aerobic conditioning.
2. Real Stair climbing for anaerobic conditioning.
Real Stair Climbing, Jargon, and Definitions:
Real Stair Climbing:
Real stair climbing is the actual use of stairs and stair cases. I do this to differentiate it from modifications like the Stairmaster and Step mill. Although equipment like the Stairmaster and Step mill can have great value they cannot compare to what Real Stair Climbing has to offer.
Climbs or Climbing: The actual act of walking or running up staircases.
Round or sets: From the first floor to the top floor and back down is considered a round of stair climbing. This is not written in stone. Call it what you like. I also sometimes call it a set. Also in my own workouts, I rarely walk downstairs. I usually take the elevator down for safety reasons, but also keep in mind in the high school I work in we have to use the stairs to get back down, but we make it a point not to run downstairs and just walk down and take our time. It is not going to improve our conditioning, but in this case safety takes the precedent over improvement.
Real Stair Climbing for Aerobic Fitness:
Aerobic fitness can be improved by simply walking up stairs. In my experience, I usually have access to 12 to 20 flights of stairs. My first round up to the top serves as a warm-up. I walk up slowly and take my time. Twenty flights takes me anywhere from four to five minutes. When I reached the top I stretch. Usually I’ll hold each stretch anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. In my second round I picked up the pace a bit. One thing to remember is that it does not take much to increase the intensity with Real Stair Climbing. By simply picking up your walking pace just a bit will noticeably raise your workout intensity (it really doesn’t take much). An aerobic workout can look something like this:
Round One: Warm-up: 20 flights at a slow pace (4 to 5 minutes) and then stretch* at the top.
Take elevator down.
Round Two: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 45 seconds).
Take elevator down.
Round Three: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 30 seconds).
Take elevator down.
Round Four: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 15 seconds).
Take elevator down.
Round Five: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes).
Take elevator down.
Round Six: Usually my last round at my fastest pace (2 minutes and 30 seconds to 2 minutes and 50 seconds). Relax and stretch a few minutes.
You can gradually increase this workout to 2 to 4 times a week. It all depends on your conditioning level, your schedule and your fitness goals. Doing this workout will improve your aerobic fitness but not do much for your strength. If you want to work on the strength then you will have to set up time for that as well.
The most frequent question I get asked is what if I do not have access to 20 flights. Simple, the less flights you have the more rounds you will need to get a sufficient workout. I think most people can get a great aerobic workout with at least ten flights. If you have five or less flights, it will be tough to get a sufficient aerobic workout, but there are other ways to achieve this goal as I will discuss later.
Real Stair Climbing for Anaerobic conditioning:
My favorite use of stair climbing is anaerobic conditioning. As with any workout start off with a warm-up and stretching. I suggest you use one round of walking up the stairs and then proceed to the anaerobic work. In my own workouts I prefer to run up the stairs for anaerobic work but you could also walk very fast. I also prefer to climb every 2 steps but you could use every step. Experimentation will help you decide what works best for you. In my own anaerobic workouts I usually climb 6 to 12 flights at full speed and then rest for 2 to 3 minutes. During my rest period I usually continue to walk up a few flights. I find this allows me to recover faster. Experiment to find what works best for you. I usually perform anywhere from 4 to 10 sets. As your conditioning improves you have many options to challenge you further.
You can climb more flights
Reduce your rest intervals
Increase your sets (rounds)
An anaerobic workout can look something like this:
Note: in this work-out I had access to 20 flights
Round 1: warm-up: walk up 20 flights at slow pace (4 to 5 minutes)
Take elevator or walk down
Round 2: warm-up: Run up 10 flights (every other step and go half speed),(1 minute)
Rest 2 minutes
Round 3: Run up 10 flights (full speed and every other step), (30 to 45 seconds)
Rest 2 to 3 minutes
Round 4: Repeat Round 3
Round 5: Repeat Round 4
To start this may be enough for most people. As one’s conditioning improves you can add rounds, add flights or reduce intervals to continue improving.
Another great anaerobic conditioning tool is an all out sprint to the 20 th floor (that’s if you have 20 flights of course). By the 18th floor your legs can barely move. You’ll be forced to walk but your body will still be in an anaerobic zone. When I’m pressed for time I use this as a workout. Just do 1 or 2 warm-up rounds of 20 flights and then use the third round as the sprint to the 20th floor.
Another fun way to do anaerobic training is to race up flights of stairs. One person uses one stairwell and the other the opposite. An all out race to the top will challenge even the best conditioned people. With the high school student/athletes I’ve worked with we had access to 12 flights and racing up those stairs proved to be one of the best ways to condition them. They didn’t see it as a workout but just a race. So just calling it a race really motivated them.
There are many ways to do anaerobic conditioning in stair cases. Just remember to be safe and what you’re trying to address. Anaerobic work should have you breathless. To get an idea of how you should feel, run a ¼ mile track at full speed and you’ll see what I mean.
I think the main reason I like anaerobic conditioning so much is because it gives you more bang for your buck.
Both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning are great ways to lose weight, get in great shape, look and feel great.
Note: As with any exercise program consult a qualified medical practitioner before beginning any exercise program. You owe it yourself.
Virgil Aponte brings over 12 years of experience as a Personal Trainer, High School PE Teacher and Strength & Conditioning Coach. He has trained hundreds of people including elite professional athletes of the Women’s National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. He earned his Master’s Degree in Physical Education from Brooklyn College and is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Instructor. Based in Brooklyn New York he is considered by many fitness industry experts as the authority on stair exercise training [http://ultimatestairexercises.com/] and is the author and creator of the Ultimate Stair Exercises.
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