Behind one of the dormitories on my boarding school campus, a steep earth mound rose, perhaps three stories high. It appeared like an angry boil from the surrounding woods, its red clay almost free of scrub. A furrowed, foot-worn path split the mound, and from the crest the head master’s house could be seen. I never found out why it was there—I’m not sure anyone knew. I remember it in detail though because we trained hard on that modest hill.
Propelling yourself against gravity saps energy like few other activities. The steeper the incline generally, the more challenging, although too steep and not enough purchase will be available to gain any real momentum. That mound had the perfect grade—somewhere around 30 to 35 degrees if I had to say. As it happens, a similar grade is fairly standard for stairs. As I no longer have an earth mound, yet am surrounded by endless flights of stairs, the transition from the former to the latter has been easy. The same won’t be said of the workout: running stairs is grueling.
My stair regimen looks something like this. I walk down a dozen flights, limbering as I go. From there I sprint up six flights at full tilt. At the half-way mark, I drop to the landing and do pushups, using the stairs for incline or decline as I see fit. The remaining half dozen flights I take with a good clip, though not at full speed. The heart rate should come back down as you descend for the next set. Three or four sets should do it.
This is an easy scenario for those living in the city. High rises are always equipped with emergency stairwells and even smaller buildings are required a set of stairs somewhere. Suburbanites might need to get creative. The office is one solution, and as it’s quite acceptable to exercise during lunch breaks these days, why not take advantage of the stairs? The other option is to run up and down your own staircase. I had a friend whose house had a main staircase with a second staircase at the end of the hallway. He would open doors and clear a path, running one continuous circuit—up one flight, down the next and so on. I’m sure his wife thought him odd, but he was awfully fit.
Speaking of looking odd, you might be concerned of discovery, all panting and wobbly, in your building’s stairwell by a nosy neighbor. Fear not; as long as the elevators are working, the only people I have ever encountered are fellow stair-runners. In smaller or older buildings the stairs might be exterior. As long as they don’t hang outside a neighbor’s bathroom, you should go unnoticed running up and down them on occasion. As for the stairs in your own house—well isn’t suburbia all about observing the odd habits of your neighbors?
Unless you are truly in training for something rigorous, this is not an everyday workout. That’s what skipping rope is for. Running stairs is for those days where energy is high but time short. Those Wednesday evenings after kids are in bed but dinner for two is on the stove, or Friday mornings before anyone else is even up. Fifteen minutes is all the time that is needed; you’ll need to dig deeper than that to get through it though.