Follow these steps to better fitness
IF YOU FIND yourself huffing and puffing after trudging up a flight of stairs, the concept of racing to the top of an office tower may sound like exercise purgatory. Nonetheless, stair climbing offers a free and fast route to cardiovascular fitness.
The vertical component is what separates stair climbing from more popular, but less strenuous, forms of exercise such as pounding out miles on a treadmill.
A treadmill, with a maximum grade of 15 to 20 percent, cannot compete with stair climbing as an aerobic exercise.
Climbing stairs is noticeably more challenging. With stair climbing, you have to do so much vertical work. You move your body weight against the effects of gravity more so than when you are on level ground.
Stair climbing also produces a major calorie burn, allowing stair climbers to spend less time working out.
Stair climbing does give you more bang for the buck. Any time you do high-intensity exercise, whether it be stair climbing or sprints, it helps you gain fitness. Because you are pushing harder you can cut down the time you spend.
Most surprisingly, climbing stairs causes only modest impact on joints and muscles, meaning stair climbers typically are not plagued by muscle soreness as long as they vary the way they come down the stairs.
Having people run up the stairs and either walk or take the elevator down is good advice. If you are going to walk down, while it might look odd, you should walk in a zigzag fashion to avoid the “braking action” that causes microscopic muscle fiber tears and leads to soreness.
P.J. Glassey, who at age 45 is ranked among the top 10 tower runners in the United States, discovered stair climbing five years ago when he was searching for new forms of highintensity training. He entered the Big Climb, a race up 69 flights of the Columbia Center tower in Seattle. While he calls his inaugural finishing time “nothing special,” he was hooked, having discovered an extreme sport he previously knew little about.
When he entered the Big Climb the following year, Glassey had educated himself on stair racing strategy and techniques. He shaved more than three minutes off his time, finishing in 9 minutes and 18 seconds and placing 21st overall among more than 3,000 entrants. He now competes about a dozen times a year, connecting with his “tower running family” at venues such as the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles, John Hancock Center in Chicago and Stratosphere in Las Vegas.
“Tower runners have this bond because it truly is the most intense sport on the planet,” says Glassey, who points out that triathletes and professional athletes typically finish as also-rans in races up tower stairwells. “There is nothing harder than tower running. It is nothing like what you have ever felt with your heart, lungs and muscles. At floor 20, you are at maximal heart rate, and you have to keep it there all the way to the top. There is no other sport that demands five minutes of maximal heart rate.”
In a sport that offers intense mental as well as physical challenges, older racers such as Glassey compete on an equal footing with runners half their age.
“Any time you get to the top of a building, the top 10 guys are in amazing shape,” he said. “That is a given, but the guy who won isn’t necessarily in the best shape. He has the strongest mind. He is able to tolerate more pain and more fatigue.”
While that may not sound like a prescription for fun, tower runners are sold on their sport as the ultimate total body workout.
It builds strong legs and arms—using the handrail to propel you up the stairs is essential when competing in tower runs—and becomes an anaerobic exercise after about 10 to 20 flights of stairs.
Kristin Frey, the world’s No. 1-ranked female stair climber, began stair climbing in 2010 as a way to vary her workout routine and recover from a groin injury suffered while training for a marathon. Taking one step at a time is key to success.
“Don’t try to climb a record number of stairs the first day,” advises Frey, 28, of Schaumburg, Illinois. “Stairs have a different feeling than any other sport. They get your heart rate up and get you breathing heavy.
That’s completely normal. After a tough climb, your legs might feel a bit wobbly, but that’s totally normal too.”