Pushing your body to defy gravity over prolonged periods of time can take both a heavy physical and mental toll as the uphill running forces your body to work harder with every step. Rather than ignoring steep hills just because they’re tough, I recommend you include dedicated uphill sessions in your base training to help your stride become more efficient and your overall speed improvements.
Top of the World Tallest Buildings
Climbing the staircases of the world’s tallest buildings may not seem so appealing at first thought, but this relatively new challenge is getting quite popular. The 4,000 places for the Vertical Race Taipei 101 (tallest climb in the world circuit – 93 floors and 2,500 steps) are filled within a few days, and the Vertical World Circuit now includes five stages in Asia, with two new additions – Beijing in August and the Grand Final in Hong Kong (ICC100) in December.
Indeed, it is quite a challenge to push your heart rate to the max for more than 15 min and continue to climb stairs being consistently out of breath. No matter how slow you go, you will fatigue quicker than you may think you will. This might sound familiar to those of you who run, or try to run uphill during races. I have completed several building races and still find them extremely hard, both mentally and physically. Interestingly, elite runners come from different backgrounds, from track to road, trail running and cycling, but one thing they all have in common is that they include uphill workouts as part of their training. Just as in trail running it’s not only a matter of being the fastest but being able to maintain a constant high level of effort for the duration of a stair climb. In a study by Italian researchers, elite athletes were followed during two vertical races. The researchers found that the best athletes keep a constant vertical speed and heart rate throughout the race, while the average runner will suddenly decelerate, negatively affecting the race performance.
Mark Bourne, the winner of the world circuit 2013, is particularly good at maintaining a constant pace, rarely leading from the start but slowly picking off and passing the competition one by one. “The main difference with running uphill on trails is there are a consistent (and often very difficult) gradient and stride length”, says Bourne who was also the first runner up at the Australian Mountain Running Championship this year.
How Much Energy?
Elites like Bourne are able to run up more than 90 floors two steps at a time. Climbing flights of stairs in this manner requires a higher rate of energy expenditure than climbing them one step at a time. However, the total energy expenditure is lower for ascending a stairway two steps at a time rather than one. For example, climbing just a 15 m high stairway five times a day represents an energy expenditure of ~ 302 kcal per week using the one-step strategy and 266 kcal using the two-step strategy. The greater total energy expenditure of one step ascents of stairways is presumably explained at least in part by the greater ascent duration.
Incline treadmill walking and stairway ascending have similar energy costs and evoke similar muscle utilization. The underlying explanation for this could be that the overriding cost involved with both stairs ascending and walking up an equivalent incline required the raising of the centre of mass against gravity. Not surprising then that trail runners are among the best staircase climbers!
The advice to those seeking to utilise stair climbing specifically as a method to control or reduce weight is to ascend stairways one step at a time; more calories are burned through this form of stair climbing. If you are looking for power gains, however, you might want to try the two stairs approach.
|Power Walking Uphills To conserve energy along races that last several hours, a key strategy of trail runners is to power walk the uphills. William Davies, the winner of several trail races in Hong Kong, does alternate uphill running and power walking during races. When training for 1-2 h, Davies will run all uphills, while he will alternate with power walks during races. One gravitates to the balance of energy expenditure vs speed, he says. On steep climbs, the energy required to keep running vs a solid walk is massive, while speed gain is negligible. Pushing hard on training uphill sessions helps you to gain in power and will, therefore, help you find a comfortable pace during the races.|
You won’t need to look too far around Asian cities to find good indoor or outdoor stairs to train on. To allow a real workout to develop your muscular explosiveness, the effort needs to last a minimum of 2 min. In preparation for a vertical race, world champion Bourne will generally do 1-2 stair sessions a week. In preparation for the ICC100 vertical race (82 floors) in Hong Kong, he included 8 x 20 floors twice a week, and ran quicker sections of the stairs as ‘speed intervals’.
All it takes is 5-6 sessions to start seeing your fitness improve rapidly, but stopping the workouts will lead to rapid power loss. Therefore, you need to dedicate one session a week during your base training to maintain your level of uphill fitness. Even in preparation for an ultra, you should include one specific uphill session to maintain the leg power in the climbs, says the American Jason Schlarb, former sub 2:30 marathon runner who recently joined the Hoka team as a professional ultra trail runner. The advantage of the uphill workout is the low impact on your joints and a fast recovery, which allows you to go for a long run the next day. To maximize the benefits (you don’t want to do this workout on tired legs), it’s better to do this session the day following an easy/recovery training session.
Start with a 15 min warm-up, your progression will depend on your level of fitness and you can, therefore, adjust the training plan below. Should be done on stairs or steep climbs. Recover downhill back to the start. Finish with 10-20 min cool down.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3|
|7 x 2min||5 x 3min||4 x 4min|
1. Halsey L.G., Watkins D.A.R., Duggan B.M. (2012) The Energy Expenditure of Stair Climbing One Step and Two Steps at a Time: Estimations from Measures of Heart Rate. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51213.
2. Minetti A.E., Cazzola D., Seminati E., Giacometti M., Roi G. (2011) Skyscraper running: physiological and biomechanical profile of a novel sport activity. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 21: 293–301.
3. Aziz A., Teh K. (2005) Physiological Responses to Single versus Double Stepping Pattern of Ascending the Stairs. Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science 24: 253–257.