No one made running stairs more intriguing than Rocky Balboa as he ascended the 72 stone steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art while training to face boxing opponent. If you’re inclined to follow in Rocky’s footsteps as a way to build strength and endurance, you may be wondering if it’s a beneficial activity for runners.
Stair climbing can have some real benefits if you’re serious about becoming a stronger athlete. It’s useful for adding strength and power to your run and can give your heart and lungs a serious workout. It’s also a good way to change up your training routine. As an added bonus, running stairs can make you feel like you’re king of the world when you reach the top – good for your psyche and ego.
The good news is you don’t need to live near the Philadelphia Museum of Art in order to reap similar benefits as Rocky. You can find stairs in any multi-story building, the bleachers at your local track or you can use a stair climbing machine at the gym.
Here are some benefits of stair climbing:
- Stair running changes things up. By climbing stairs instead of going for your usual run, you’ll not only use different muscles but you’ll engage your brain since you have to pay close attention to what you’re doing with each step up or down. Switching up your workout routine also keeps things interesting and helps you avoid a plateau in workout performance and training results.
- The plyometric motion of climbing stairs strengthens the same muscles as doing squats or lunges, including your quadriceps and gluteal muscles.
- Running stairs gives your heart and lungs a good cardiovascular workout, so it can boost your aerobic capacity. Stair climbing makes you breathe faster to take in more oxygen and quickly accelerates your heart rate, which can improve your VO2 max. A greater VO2 max allows you to run harder and longer.
- Running stairs taxes your body more than running hills, since most flights of stairs are significantly steeper than the average hill.
If you want to give stair running a try, here’s how to get started:
Warm up. Start by walking fast, jogging or running slowly to warm up for about 10 minutes.
Run up. Run up the stairs, focusing on maintaining good form. Lean your body slightly forward, keep eyes facing forward and drive your arms and knees as you pick your feet up between each step.
Walk down. Immediately head down the stairs you just ascended at a slower speed.
Increase intervals. Start by running up and down the stairs continuously for 2 minutes, taking a 30-second break between sets to catch your breath. As you feel up to it, increase the duration of stair climbing intervals to 4 minutes and then 6 minutes, also increasing the length of your breaks to 1 or 2 minutes between sets. Return to a 2-minute stair climbing interval before cooling down for 10 minutes to end your workout.
If you haven’t been exercising that intensely recently, keep your stair climbing workout slow and short to start. Aim for 10 minutes at first, increasing speed or duration as your fitness level allows.