Running Stairs: The Forgotten Exercise

stair exercises rockyLast night I was doing my usual 5-10 minute post workout cool down walk on the treadmill after a brutal leg workout and as I was looking around…

I noticed that the same people I saw when I got to the gym were STILL on the same cardio machine that they were on over an hour ago when I started!

Most of them were casually flipping through magazines, talking on their cell phones, or watching the little tv screens that are built into the cardio equipment at my gym.

All of them were going super slow and half of em hadn’t even broken a sweat yet. I could have sworn I was going faster than the girl next to me…and I was cooling down…

Talk about people wasting time with useless chatter and pointless “cardio”…

I wonder how many of them were actually proud of themselves when they read the false calorie burn readout on the machine… (yes if you were wondering…the calorie meter on your cardio machine is never accurate)

I mean seriously…just how effective is a cardio workout where you can sustain the same slow pace for 60 minutes anyways?

I think I could probably walk for 4 or 5 hours in a row but what good would that do? How much fat would I burn? Probably not much…and the only thing I would probably get from a lame workout like that would be some sore feet.

But I digress…

I just had a lively discussion with legendary strength coach and stair exercise guru, Virgil Aponte. In case you have never heard of this guy, he used to be the strength coach for the WNBA’s New York Liberty. Point is, this dude knows his stuff, and I wanted to pick his brain about his unique fat loss and muscle building methods using nothing but stairs, a jump rope, resistance bands, and weight vests. Talk about old-school right?

Now the methods may be old fashioned but they work like crazy and I wanted to give you a chance to see why I consider Virgil to be one of the most knowledgeable experts I’ve come across over the years. (I will post that entire conversation tomorrow so be sure to tune in) 🙂

Back to the stair stuff…and how it can help you.

Now, running stairs isn’t anything new, it has been around for ages…but it is a lost art that is not only very effective but also very EFFICIENT.

As a former athlete I have probably run hundreds of thousands of stairs in my lifetime, and I will never forget those days at Clemson University where we had to sprint up and down the stairs in the 90,000 seat stadium of Death Valley to get in shape for the season in 100 degree heat.

Talk about the good ole days!

For some reason stair training does not get the credit it deserves as a viable fitness tool…but knowledgeable strength and conditioning coaches are still using this old-school training method in gyms all over the world. It may not be fancy, or come with a built in tv, Bluetooth, or internet like some cardio machines I’ve seen, but it works. And it works 100 times better.

stair exercises

Just recently I read that super star Quarterback & Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady uses stair workouts regularly.

In fact, he trains at the College at San Mateo and uses stair sprints as part of his off-season workout regimen. All I can say is that if it’s good enough for a Super Bowl MVP it’s good enough for me.

But he isn’t the only athlete that trains using stairs, in fact, thousands of olympic athletes, pro athletes, as well as collegiate and high school athletes all train using stairs.

But elite athletes aren’t the only stair workout disciples. Celebrities like J-Lo, Tom Brokaw, Brad Pitt and many others all admit to running stairs to get in shape.

So don’t think that you have to be an elite athlete to incorporate stair training into your workout. And you definitely won’t have to run thousands of stairs in the dead of summer in a giant football stadium to improve your physique!

The fact is though…for many people…stair training is a big secret and I just don’t understand why…because it’s not a secret among elite pro athletes and celebrities.

So why are stair sprints so popular among athletes & celebs?

There is one simple reason why. In less than 30 minutes you can improve your strength, power and conditioning all in one. And athletes usually use stadium steps which are 2-3 times the size of standard steps. This forces you to use powerful strides when going up and it gets your entire body involved. And since you’re going up hill you also increase your strength & conditioning.

If you aren’t convinced stairs are for you just yet, and are already thinking of lame excuses as to why you shouldn’t try em out…here are 5 ways stair workouts can help you:

Strength: Stairs are excellent for building leg strength and that goes with out saying. But everyone wants a diesel chest & six pack abs right so what about the upper body and core? Simple. Throw in some body weight exercises in between your stair climbs and your strength workout is complete. Sometimes I’ll even do pull-ups at the local park after my stair workouts for an extra little workout boost. You could also bring resistance bands with you (light enough to carry) and use that for your upper body and core needs. Problem solved.

Power: This is where stair training excels. Hops and Ana Runs are among the best power building exercises you can do with any fitness tool.

Speed: Speed is all about having power and more importantly relative strength. Stairs can help you with building power combined with a unique fat loss workout to keep you at an optimal body weight.

Weight Loss: This in essence is all about fat loss & muscle building. In this instance high intensity ANA-Runs which Virgil likes to call them are excellent for fat loss & muscle building (Specifically the legs). Even better is that the workouts can be done in less than half an hour. POW! No more long boring cardio workouts that waste your time.

Decreased joint pain: If you don’t move it you lose it. Going up stairs is a great way to get your body moving. Even walking up stairs can be a great way to increase joint flexibility and mobility. Throw in exercises like crossover stair exercises and you will feel a big difference in your hips, knees and ankles.

Can you begin to see why stairs are chosen by elite pro athletes now?

Don’t underestimate the efficiency and effectiveness of this extraordinary training tool. Strength, power, flexibility, supreme conditioning, weight loss, fat loss are all attainable with stairs.

Even more amazing is that stairs are a free training tool and most people I know (especially in big cites) have access to stairs at home or at work. In fact, when I was living in Miami I used to do stair workouts in the stairwell of my apartment building regularly!

For you guys living out here in sunny Los Angeles, I am sure you are quite familiar with the Santa Monica steps. Running the steps is probably one of the best free workouts in town! If you have not run the Santa Monica steps yet, get your butt over there and try it out, it is a great workout & the view is amazing.

Here are some ideas to get you started if you’d like to try stair workouts:

1. Running up Giant Steps: The fact that giant steps are twice the size of standard steps makes this very tough from the start. It’s a big reason why athletes love to run stadium steps, and doing giant steps will help you improve your strength, power and conditioning all in one!

2. Hops: Another idea straight from elite athletes is to simply hop up stadium steps. Hops are excellent for improving your power and if you throw in multiple hops you will also dramatically improve your power endurance. Also expect your legs to look amazing after 3-6 weeks of using hops. I suggest you start 1 giant step at a time and then progress to using 2 giant steps at a time (equal to 4 standard steps).

3. Use 1 or 2 legs at a time: Most people will inherently use 2 legs but by switching to 1 leg you can make your legs much stronger and you can work on any weakness you may have.

4. Go backwards: For advanced users only! Try sprinting backwards up the stairs and then sprint back down frontwards and vice versa.

5. Use a weighted vest: Just 5-10 pounds will make a huge difference here. Once I started using a weighted vest I’ve never looked back. It makes your workouts that much more efficient and effective that you too will never turn back. I used to breeze up 20 flights of stairs with no vest. Once I got up to using 20 pounds on my weighted vest 20 flights was not so easy anymore. And I’m just talking about walking! For running or hopping just 5 pounds and you’ll work harder then you’ve worked in a long time.

6. Throw in body weight exercises, shadow boxing, jumping rope, resistance band work and various other exercises in between your climbs.

My favorite exercises to use between climbs are burpees and thai shadow boxing. I also throw in pull-ups sometimes if I get lucky and find a hanging pipe or stair to grab onto at the bottom of the staircase. If not I just head over to the park for a few quick pull-up sets.

Here’s a sample beginner workout to get you started with stairs!

If you are just starting out…simply start by walking up the stairs.

Yup, you read it right; you can start by simply walking up the stairs…Once you can climb 20 flights without difficulty, then you are ready to graduate to intermediate levels.

running stairs

For some people, walking up 20 flights of stairs will be difficult at first…especially if you have been doing useless “cardio” workouts for a while. So if you get tired when climbing up, just take a breather and rest a minute or two before finishing your climb.

Tip: Use the hand rails to help pull your way up. This is actually a technique Virgil told me he picked up from stair racers. As they go up the stairs they pull themselves up using the handrails, and they do this to help save their legs for the end of the race. This also has the added benefit of working your upper body at the same time. Cool right?

Ok so perhaps you can walk up 20 flights with no problem, what’s next?

The next level is to perform sets of 10-20 flights, but this is where things can get interesting by adding rounds and increasing your stride length (number of steps you climb at a time).

The sample stair workout below is a combo of simple walking (1 or 2 steps at a time) and body weight exercises: In the building I run stair sprints, I have access to 20 flights. You certainly don’t need that many flights but it is nice to have.

================
SAMPLE WORKOUT
================

Round 1: Warm-up: Walk up 20 flights at a slow pace (4 to 5
minutes) and then stretch at the top.

Take elevator down.

Round 2: 20 Burpees.
Walk up 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 45 seconds).
Take elevator down.

Round 3: Handstand pushups (as many as you can)
Walk up 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 30 seconds).
Take elevator down.

Round 4: Shadow Box :60 seconds
Walk up 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 15 seconds).
Take elevator down.

stair exercises

Try that workout and let me know what you think, just post your comment below!

Be sure to check back tomorrow because I will be posting my entire conversation with Virgil plus some free stair workout PDF’s that are full of unique workouts that will help get your body on point FAST. You’re going to love em.

Stay tuned.

~Jamin Thompson

Jamin Thompson
Over the past 10 years, Jamin Thompson – actor, sport & fitness model, and former world ranked tennis player – has appeared in or on publications such as Men's Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Inside Fitness, Bodybuilding.com; as well as worked as a sponsored athlete for and/or been featured in commercials and print ads for Nike, Under Armour, Reebok, ESPN, Wilson Sporting Goods, Powertec Fitness, Gifted Nutrition and more. Using his real world, in the trenches experience, writes to help others dominate in the gym, on the field, and in life. His book, The 6 Pack Secret, has been sold in over 50 countries and has helped thousands of folks from all walks of life get cut and jacked the healthy way.
Jamin Thompson

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Jamin Thompson
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3 Responses to Running Stairs: The Forgotten Exercise

  1. Mac March 7, 2010 at 3:14 am #

    Besides regular exercise and proper diet, I strongly recommed using a safe supplement. You have a great blog; visit mine when you are bored:) Thanks.

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