Inside this article, Coach Andrea shares her tips, tricks and strategies for using stair training to help her hiking adventures.
How the Spice Girls Spiced Up My Hiking
More on that shortly:
Today I'm writing about stair workouts for hikers. Why? Because they are an awesome addition to any hikers training, for a myriad of reasons. Stair climbing mimics a lot of what we do on the trails. Plus, depending on how you use them, they can be great to help develop aerobic fitness, leg strength and endurance and confidence for the trail.
But, like any repetitive activity, stair climbing has the potential to be really, really boring.
Going up, coming down, going up, coming down. Rinse and repeat.
There are people out there who enjoy this kind of monotony; I'm one of them! But then again, I've spent a lot of my life following a black line up and down a swimming pool. Talk about monotony!
But, for those who don't love monotonous training, getting creative with your stair workouts can be a great idea.
Before I started training with Summit Strength, I'd never considered stair climbing as something that would help my hiking. But it's awesome!
Although most hikes have steep hills to climb rather than stairs, the motions are similar and engage mostly the same muscle groups.
Not to mention developing that cardio capacity, something that's essential when pushing uphills on those hikes. How many times have you stepped up onto a rock or log as you would on a step? Plenty! And some hikes actually have loads of stairs to negotiate.
Here in Victoria, the Cathedral Ranges and the Great Ocean Walk are just some that come to mind. On a recent hike at the Three Capes in Tasmania, I was so glad I'd done a heap of stair training so that I could complete that awesome last day out to Cape Huay with relative ease.
I'm not sure what the official number of steps on Day 4 is, but my Garmin recorded that we'd climbed 4935 (up only - not including down). I saw so many people who looked like they were about to cark it on those stairs! With just a bit of training, I'm sure their experience would've been much more pleasant.
Starting Stair Training For Hiking
So, how do you start from scratch and build up your stair climbing capacity?
Here's what worked for me:
Last year, when I started training with Summit Strength, I was given a program that included a stair climbing session each week. I didn't really know where to find any stairs or what sort of stairs I should even be looking for. Should they be steep, shallow, long, short? Did it matter? My answer to this is no. It doesn't really matter in the initial stages of your training.
The first set of stairs I trained on were literally ten steps up. And they were shallow, not with high risers. They were in the small stadium at a local athletics track, so I used to do these for around 15 to 20 minutes before doing an outdoor strength circuit on the track.
Despite those stairs not being overly challenging, they were a good place to start, and I actually enjoyed doing them.
As the weeks progressed, I got a little faster and even started sprinting up them. 9 Well, my version of sprinting anyway as I really don't move fast in any context of the word with any activity I do).
Finding A Good Set Of Stairs To Train On
I'll be honest, though, I did get a little bored with them after a while as I adapted to them, so I started looking around for a 'better' set of stairs to conquer. But trying to find decent stairs in your area is harder than it sounds. And who has time to drive around for hours looking for them?
So I went onto my local community Facebook group and asked for suggestions. That's how I found the stairs I train on mostly these days.
If you're in a Facebook group in your area, why not ask in there too?
Another fabulous resource for stair locations is Stair Climbing Australia (Australia only. There might be a similar organisation in your country). They are always adding to their map, so check them out!
Other great options for stairs include:
Keep A Constant Pace
Try to keep a constant pace the whole session. Start off slow; you will slow down anyway, so don't start out like a bull at a gate! Start with 10 minutes, then build it up each week.
Add In Some Extra Exercises
Another great way to add some variety and challenge to stair sessions is to add some extra strength exercises at the bottom and/or top of the stairs.
I usually add six slow squats at the top each time/every second time.
Load Up With Some Weight
Adding some weight to a backpack can be a great way to add an extra challenge. And, depending on what you want from your session, you can vary the weight accordingly.
For example, if I'm working on speed (again, not something that comes naturally to this sloth), I'll add a pack with up to 5kg only.
If I'm after endurance and trying to teach my legs to handle the 'burn' of climbing elevation, I'll slow my pace and load that pack right up.
Or, sometimes I just go without a pack and just get into it!
Get Some Music Pumping
Depending on what sort of sesh you want to do, put together a playlist of songs that have a beat that corresponds with each step you take.
I'm the 80s and 90s tragic, so I have a couple of great playlists from that era. A playlist that I have found awesome is Housework Hits on Spotify! This is, of course, ironic because I am allergic to housework. This morning, I was rocking out to the Spice Girls during my stair sesh.
For the first 20 stairs or so, I'm able to keep up the pace, but the challenge lies in the next 40 stairs. Don't slow down; push through to keep in time with the beat!
It's a lot of fun. Let's face it; the Spicies are always fun to do anything to, whether you choose to admit it or not. Of course, you can also dance your way up and down the stairs for a unique experience.
Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.