I often wonder how other stair climbers train. I’m looking to improve my own training regime so I’d love to learn a thing or two from other climbers. In this post I will share my own personal training plan; hopefully others can learn from it or better yet... offer up suggesting for improving it.
Before I get into the specific details of my training program, it would help to know a little bit about my personal stair climbing goals and training limitations:
· I know many climbers excel at other sports and often have training plans aimed at competing in multiple disciplines; I primarily train for stair climbing races, so my training regime is focused mainly to get better at climbing.
· I do not have easy access to a tall building. My training staircase is only 7 stories tall, so my stair case workouts are typically sprints.
· I’d like to run, but I have too many chronic injuries. I hope to get healthy enough to run again someday.
· I’m heavier than most climbers since I used to lift weights. I’m not yet ready to sacrifice upper body muscle mass to cut weight, so I continue to incorporate upper body strength work into my work out plans. I like my beach muscles!
· I have limited time to exercise, so my workouts last about one hour.
· Since I’m relatively heavy (175+ lbs) and I incorporate a lot of sprints into my workouts, my training regime is geared toward shorter climbs (200 meters or less).
Now that you know a little bit about my background, here are my key workouts for the week:
After warming up, I do the following exercises.
· Two sets of 26 squats immediately followed by 26 lunges (13 on each side) while holding two 30 pound dumbbells. Rest 2.5 minutes between sets.
· Three sets of 15 deadlifts with 2.5 minutes rest between sets. I usually start off at 95 lbs. and increase the weight each set. When I’m 100% healthy, I typically max out at 185 lbs. (about 10 lbs. heavier than my body weight). When my sciatic nerve is acting up, I will skip the deadlifts completely do a 3rd set of squats & lunges instead.
· Two sets of hamstring curls with 1-2 minutes rest between sets. I mainly go for muscle endurance with this exercise rather than pure strength. I typically do about 40-50 curls each set with a little more weight on the 2nd set. The 2nd set is done until exhaustion.
· Two sets of Tabata leg presses with 3-4 minutes rest between sets. I’ve worked up to about 220 lbs. with this exercise, but keep in mind that not all leg press machines are calibrated the same way. I used to keep the weight “up” during the 10 second rest periods, but I found that it puts undue stress on my hips which can aggravate my recalcitrant piriformus muscle & sciatic nerve. This does make the exercise a little bit easier; before I switched technique, I would normally end my 2nd set around the 3 minute mark.
· 20 minutes of pull-ups or 25 minutes of push-ups (depending on the week). I often ride a spin bike in between sets.
Since stair climbing requires a fair amount of anaerobic strength, most of my training is done using low weights and high reps, which promotes muscle endurance & leg strength instead of pure power. After all, even short stair climbs last upwards of 4 minutes, which is hardly a sprint.
Climbing Machine Workout
I use a Climber to build my cardio endurance and I follow a very specific routine so I can measure my performance from week to week.
· 6 minute warm-up:
o 2 minutes @ 110 steps per minute (spm)
o 2 minutes @ 120 spm
o 2 minutes @ 130 spm
· 1 minute active rest (holding the rails @ 140 spm)
· 4 sets consisting of 4 minutes @ 170* to180 spm followed by 1 minute active rest after each interval
· 3 minutes active cool-down:
o 1 minute @ 140 spm
o 1 minute @ 130 spm
o 1 minute @ 120 spm
*as a reference point, I would be hard pressed to keep up 170 spm for longer than 10 minutes when fresh
This is my primary exercise for developing my cardiovascular endurance since it gets the heart rate going without overly taxing the muscles. Since this exercise is essentially interval training, it is designed to build up my VO2 max. However, the intervals are long enough to mimic the race conditions of a longer climb. I’m truly suffering after during the 3rd and 4th intervals; the last couple minutes are a true mental challenge.
On a good day I might be able to achieve a 1 to 1 ratio of time spent at 170spm vs. @ 180 spm. My goal is to decrease this ratio (i.e. more time done @ 180 spm).
Stair Climbing Workout
My staircase is too short to mimic a stair climbing race, but it is perfect for doing interval training. This is the most physically demanding workout since it taxes both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.
· Warm-up with a slow climb to the top followed by a minute of jumping jacks and active stretches
· Interval 1: Outside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 2: Inside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 3: No Hands + 3 minute rest
· Interval 4: Outside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 5: Inside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 6: No Hands + 5 minute rest
· Interval 7: Outside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 8: Inside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 9: No Hands + 5 minute rest
· Interval 10: Outside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 11: Inside Rails + 3 minute rest
· Interval 12: No Hands + 16 jumping squats
Each interval is done at about 85-90% capacity and lasts about 45 seconds in duration. Three minute rests are sufficient for the first few intervals, but are barely adequate for the latter half of the workout. I incorporate longer rests when I climb without the rails during intervals 6 and 9 since these climbs quickly burn out the legs. I try to keep even splits for each climb; if I climb too fast in the beginning, I’ll pay the price during the last few climbs. I take the elevator down only during my longer rest breaks (intervals 6 & 9). Otherwise, I alternate climbing down backwards and forwards (one flight backwards followed by one flight forwards). This method reduces the stress on the calves and Achilles tendons and still allows me to descend the stairs at a reasonable pace.
The above exercise routines form the core of my training plan, but I also incorporate cycling, indoor rowing, and swimming (during the summer) on my "easy" days as well as a few sessions of push-ups, pull-ups, and core exercises each week. I normally take one day off per week, although I will usually sneak in a 30 minute session of core exercises if I'm home for the weekend.
I'd like to improve my workout plan in order to get faster in the stairwell; I'm very open to suggestions for improving in it. Comments would certainly be welcomed!