Stair sprints are a fantastic form of high intensity interval training.
Sprinting the stairs has become my go-to cardio routine over the past year and for good reason to... it's challenging, no frills and has a ton of other benefits too...
Stair Sprint Workout Benefits
Burn A TON Of Calories
Stair sprints, or any form of HIIT cardio for that matter burns a ton of calories and fast provided you're keeping your intensity high.
A published Colorado University study by A. Tremblay compared participants doing either 20 weeks of steady-state aerobic training or 15 weeks of HIIT consisting of 15 sprints for 30 seconds each. The HIIT group, in five weeks less time, lost nine times more body fat and 12 percent more visceral belly fat than the aerobic group. In 2008, E.G.Trapp did a similar study, published in the "International Journal of Obesity," comparing steady state exercise, or SSE, to HIIT and found the HIIT group to have significantly higher reductions in total body fat, subcutaneous leg and trunk fat, and insulin resistance.
Increase Leg Strength & Drive
Stair sprints are working against gravity - particularly with steep stairs, the drive through your quads required to forge your path up the stairs will build both power and strength in your quads. When returning to the bottom of the stairs your muscles, tendons and ligaments are also forced towork hard via eccentric contractions - your knee bends to absorb the impact, breaking your speed and keeping your knee from collapsing too far.
Increase Your VO2 Maximum
Sprinting up stairs is immensely more challenging than a regular sprint on a track. Our VO2 maximum (the highest rate at which our body is able to consume oxygen while performing a strenous activity) is increased only by challenging ourselves and forcing our body to push our heart and lungs to their limits. This increase in your VO2 maximum will transfer over to increased performance in other forms of lifting, cardio and sports.
Requires Engagement And Focus
Running in a straight line on a treadmill or jogging around a track can be quite monotonous as you're able to essentially go on autopilot.
Stair sprints are fast and require focus and attention as the rounds are extremely short and the drive and foot coordination required to properly navigate the stairs without tripping over or hurting yourself leaves you with no time to enter that usual cardio autopilot mode.
This engagement makes stair sprints challenging and fun to do!
Improves Footwork And Agility
Sprinting up stairs requires coordination, speed and drive.
After performing a regular regime including stair sprints you'll find your agility and footwork in other disciplines (sports, hobbies) has increased and that running on flat seems far easier.
The sheer incline and power required to negotiate a steep set of stairs is often underestimated.
Improve Mental Toughness
Interval training in general is tough, and stairs just seem to take it to that next level. Setting a goal, whether this be the number of rounds or duration of workout and gritting your teeth until your done will increase your mental toughness as you force yourself through that which you said you were going to do.
Tips For Running Stairs Correctly
Step On Every Other Step
To ensure correct running technique, including speed and stride length step on every second step.
Utilize Your Entire Body
Don't maintain a stiff torso while running, engage the whole body.
When you're utilizing your arms etc. you'll sprint faster and increase your heart rate further.
Don't Lock Out
Drive through your quads as your push yourself up the stairs, but do not lock out (completely extend) your legs as this places unnecessary stress on your knees).
Maintain a slight bend and semi-flexed quads while you sprint the stairs.
Alternate Stride Width To Activate The Posterior Chain
Take wide, long strides from time to time to activate your posterior chain.
Constantly taking small strides will place the emphasis on your quads and will not include hamstrings and glutes etc.
Run On Your Toes
When running consciously ensure you're landing on and pushing off of your toes - Don't run flat footed or through your heels.
Stair Sprint Workout Structure
Use a timer, perform constant drills and rest for predetermined intervals (on = sprint, off = walk).
20 seconds on/20 seconds off for 10 rounds
10 seconds on/10 seconds off for 10 rounds
30 seconds on/30 seconds off for 10 rounds
Tabata (8 rounds of 20 seconds on/10 seconds off)
Set a timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes and perform as many rounds of the stairs within this time frame.
With your training buddy take it in turns completing one up-down of the stairs.
Create a circuit utilizing the stairs along with other functional speed/explosive movements such as the jump rope and box jump.
"But SJ I Can't Find Any Stairs!"
There's a ton of places that've got stairs ideal for running, such as:
- Apartment blocks
- Office buildings
- Sports stadiums
- Car parks
- Access between roads