Can Stair Climbing Really Improve my Marathon Time?

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Teresa Leese; Total Motion Events; 27th March 2018

Hello spring! The clocks have changed and the days are longer and brighter which can only mean one thing, the 2018 race season is well and truly under way and it has got us thinking… what is the best way to make it to the start line fit, healthy and injury free?! If you haven’t heard of or thought about adding stair training into your schedule then please read on… Now when I say stair training I am not talking about the stair climber at the gym, I am talking about actual staircases that we all have access to – for free! This type of training is not going to improve your endurance as it will typically use your anaerobic system however what it can do is two very important things; build your lower body strength and reduce injury in training. Whether you are embarking on your very first marathon or you are a seasoned runner, these two things will be critical to your success and more importantly, enjoyment of running a marathon!

Build leg strength:

A very common theme for marathon runners is the pain of miles 18-22. At this point you are not out of breath panting and gasping for air, but the pain comes from finding the strength to put one leg in front of the other. Climbing stairs forces you to work against gravity which quite quickly starts to build your strength and power working on two very important muscles for running, quads and glutes. Think hill training multiplied by 10! A standard hill may be around 4.5% gradient whereas climbing a staircase will see you ascending at about 65% gradient pushing your muscles, lungs and heart to the limit. Ideally you will find a building with a minimum 15-20 floors to train on and believe me even just walking it will be hard enough. One of these sessions per week should help you to maintain your pace in the later stages of a marathon.

Reduce your chances of injury:

As mentioned above, stair training will build the all-important and quite often forgotten about muscles, your glutes. Your glutes are the back(side)bone of running and should not be overlooked. If you have suffered from the common ‘runners knee’ it could be a sign of poor lower body strength particularly in your glutes. When you are running your lower body muscles should be taking the impact but when they are not your knees compensate for this meaning they become overused and sore which can lead to injury. If you can strengthen your lower body and start using your quads and glutes whilst you run, the pressure is taken away from your knees leaving them fresher for longer and most importantly injury free. Stair climbing is non-impact in comparison to running and the motion of climbing upwards fires up your glutes forcing them to help stabilise each leg from one step to the next therefore building strength.

Nothing to lose, everything to gain:

A very common mistake in marathon training is for people to think they just need to go out and run as far as they can which could not be further from the truth. Try substituting one of your runs each week or fortnight for a stair session and see for yourself the difference it makes. If you are not sure where to start give this session a go:

Based on a 20 floor building:

  • 1 x walk up bottom to top as a warm up
  • 4 x (5 run, 5 easy/walk to the top)
  • 1 x walk up bottom to top as a cool down

(Take the lift down in between sets and don’t forget to stretch after the session.)

Total:  120 floors

 

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How about taking on a new kind of challenge: The Broadgate Tower Run Up in November – 35 floors / 877 steps. If you really want to test yourself you can even do it multiple times with the ‘vertical mile’, the stair climbing equivalent of a marathon consisting of 12 bottom to top climbs! *20% off entry until end May*

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