Why You Should Start Running Stairs Today
Hopefully you know the benefits of running hills, but have you also considered running stairs?
Recently my wife and I took a little vacation in Hood River, OR. Built on the side of a hill, we saw a huge flight of stairs that we assumed went up to an overlook of the river. We started climbing, but when we weren’t at the top after 15 minutes of grueling ascent, we debated the significance of whatever was at the top.
Both out of breath and sweating, we convinced each other we “needed to get home to the baby” and turned around. As it turns out, we stumbled upon the third longest set of stairs in the United States! These 413 stairs, about the equivalent of 34 flights, are broken up into a series of variable pitches, crisscrossed by a city street.
I’m used to running 40+ miles a week, so why was this so difficult? Could there be a benefit to incorporating some form of stair running into my regular training?
Benefits of Running Stairs
As it turns out, when you run (or walk) up stairs, you’re essentially doing a long series of plyometrics – exercises based around quickly exerting maximum force to your muscles. It’s like doing squats and lunges, while working your cardiovascular system at the same time.
Also, stairs use your glutes and hamstrings in ways that you’re probably not used to. There’s anaerobic activity that feels more like sprinting.
glute and overall leg activation and strength – high intensity cardio with less impact. Also great for preparing for hilly courses!
Why You Should Run Stairs
Speeding up stairs takes a lot of explosive power, so you quickly reach your anaerobic threshold (AT), the point where your body creates more lactic acid than it can process. Training beyond your AT leads to an improved threshold level and ultimately a faster pace before you ‘feel the burn,’
Here’s why that is good.
1. Build Stronger Leg Muscles
As mentioned, running stairs strengthens all the muscles in your legs. Because most of us spend the majority of our days sitting, our butt muscles, aren’t as strong as they should be. This can lead to injury. I’ve talked with my PT who said stairs can build your glute med, which is a stabilizing muscle often neglected in running.
Because you’re basically doing a balancing act while fighting gravity when moving to the next step, these muscles get activated in ways they normally don’t.
2. Improve your Aerobic Capacity Quicker
Most stairs are significantly steeper than your average hill. Running stairs hard makes your cardio system work harder so it can get more oxygen to your legs. According to Men’s health,
A short, high-intensity exercise is just as effective at improving your aerobic fitness as doing cardio at a long, low-intensity.
Running stairs boosts your aerobic capacity, while improving your overall strength. It’s not a substitute for long runs, but a great addition. If you’re short on time, a 20 minute stair work out could be the next best option.
3. Mix it Up
Sometimes it can get a bit boring doing the same old work outs time and time again. If nothing else, throwing in a stair work out will give you a break, and engage your mind in a new way. You really need to focus going up (and down) so you don’t fall.
It’s also easy to find stairs if the weather isn’t great – there are indoor stairs all over the place (buildings, parking ramps, etc). It’s also great cross-training!
How To run Stairs
Here is a simple stair work out you can try.
- Warm up easy for 10 minutes (or 1 – 2 miles). End at the base of your favorite set of stairs.
- Run up as hard as you can (skipping ever other step if they are “normal” stairs) for about 30 seconds. Make sure you maintain good running form. If your form deteriorates, slow down.
- Walk back down immediately. Once you’re at the bottom, take off again.
Start with 10 minutes and if that’s too easy, tack on another 5. Work up to 30 and see how you feel.
For a full body stair workout, try our full body stair workout!
Find Your Stairs
Throw a stair workout into your next run and let us know how it went. Also share any good stairs you’ve found around town.