Does Running Stairs Make you Faster

How often do you see people running stadium stairs (aka running stadiums) at your local tracks? Ever wonder if it is a good workout for “serious” runners?

Efficacy of Stair Running
There is no doubt that there are cross-over benefits from running stadiums. In line with the the specificity of training principle, you are using muscle groups in a running-specific motion. It is not like swimming, cycling or even walking/hiking. It is indeed a running motion. It also isolates muscle action similar to running hills. For runners in the great mountains of Florida (In case you’re wondering, that’s sarcasm – their biggest hill is a highway overpass.) it can substitute for hill training. If stadiums are combined with other strength oriented drills and exercises it becomes a powerful base training workout.

One drawback is the innate nature of this training in which your stride is shortened while you accommodate the step distances and patterns. Remember, the two ways we get faster are extending stride lengths and quickening stride rates. Therefore this must be countered. This leads us to a couple of critical elements to get the most out of our stadiums.

  1. When running stadiums run up with the quickest leg turnover possible. (Think “hot coals” under my feet.)
  2. Use exaggerated strides for stride length enhancement. (Think “power” or “bounding” strides.)

On the physiological level, the quick reps work to decrease foot contact time and improve leg turnover. The bounding reps works to elongate strides organically. The exercises improve core strength for a more comprehensive workout. These are three important aspects of training that lead to improved efficiency in your running. Therefore these must be integrated into stadium stair workouts.

A cautionary side of running stadiums is safety. Returning down stadiums is tricky. If you run on the seat/benches versus the stairs; it requires even more concentration. When fatigue sets in, falls are not going to be fun. So, most of the time I advocate a quick walk with “light stepping” for your trip to the bottom. This functions as your recovery interval. There is no recovery at the bottom – just power up the next rep without delay.

Two Training Errors
There are two primary errors made in running stadiums. The first is one of non-progression. Too many runners do the same workout with the same number of reps at the same paces almost year round. Progression is a requirement to obtaining continued benefits from a workout. Every approximately 6-8 weeks you should change it up: increase reps, increase intensity or change drills.

Stadium Stair Running Workouts & Drills

“Hot coals” on the steps.
The idea is to run as light and quick. Practice tapping each step and getting off that step as fast as possible. Focus on running fairly erect, do not slouch or bend at the waist too far. Use your arms to keep momentum by pumping them quickly and powerfully. Similar to “hot coals” is to run the steps as fast as possible with the emphasis of a powerful push off from your take off foot. Exaggerate force in your push off foot. This provides a different emphasis with the same results.

Bound the steps.
Stride powerfully enough to skip to every other step. Use your arms to keep momentum with powerful movements.

Hop the steps.
On two legs, hop up a length of stairs. Keep your hops quick and powerful. Use your arms to swing into each hop. Walk down.

One-leg hop the steps.
This is very advanced. However, this is a powerful way to improve your running strength and work on balanced musclulature. Keep these quick. If your flight of stairs is long, go half-way on one leg and continue up with your other leg to the finish. Walk down.

Strength Circuit twist.
With any of the above techniques for running stadiums you can add another level of difficulty. Between each rep, add a series of exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. You can even perform half the exercises at the top of the stadium and half at the bottom. Be creative in combining these. This will give you a great core workout. Despite fatigue, the focus has to remain on good running form on each stadium you run.

Interval Training twist.
If you get bored with your usual 12×400 interval training workouts, how about infusing a stadium stair rep every other 400? Again, be creative. Limit your rest between and reps for maximum benefits.

Stair-Stepper
If you are without a stadium and saddled with the mountains of Florida for your training, you can turn to your local gym and the Stair-Stepper. You won’t be able to vary your stride substantially however, you can work with intensity. Perform your workout with intervals. Go hard for 20 seconds then easy for a minute or so. Work on keeping form throughout the workout.

When do you do stadiums?
Stadiums are excellent workouts as part of your base training (which of course by now you know is not a period of long slow runs). It is also a good preseason workout to continue strength development as you introduce workouts that become more race-specific. And it functions as a strength maintenance workout during the season which gets away from a track workout and infuses variety in a quality way.

PS
There is one other benefit to stadiums that is in fact race-specific training. If you intend running the Empire State building race or if you want to run the Bisbee Stair Climb (AZ) 5k – which traverses a thousand stair steps on the course, you will be much better prepared with these workouts than most other options!

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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45 Responses to Does Running Stairs Make you Faster

  1. TrackMom says:

    This is a great article. Thanks for sharing the information.Keep up the great work.

    Trackmom

  2. ryan cotton says:

    What is it called when you run every section of a stadium in one session?

  3. Dean Hebert says:

    Ryan,
    That almost sounds like a lead in line to a joke…
    I call it a good workout. I even have runners do that at tracks with stadiums on both sides of the straightaways and they run the curves hard then hit the stadiums all the way down hitting all sections… hit the track… repeat… for 2 miles (8 laps). Good workout I think.

  4. runnerforchrist says:

    Wow…I need to capitalize on this, and I haven’t done it yet.

    Great post!

  5. RiverRun says:

    I have a question. I have a short set of stairs where I work…My home :) Only about nineteen steps but steep enough to give me a challenge. What would you say the ratio would be compared to the stadium steps. I’m not great at math..sorry. I loved doing these growing up. Such an effective cardio workout. Thanks for the article.

  6. Dean Hebert says:

    You have a perfect real-world question. I love it.

    So, quality is the key. Make it like interval training. And add variety to make the most of it…

    Work on very fast steps hitting EVERY stair.
    Work on slightly more powerful steps (and probably just slightly slower) hitting EVERY OTHER stair.
    Work on power by exaggerating your stride with powerful lunges and try for EVERY THIRD stair (skip 2 stairs).

    Do one leg hops up the stairs (do right leg and next time do left leg).

    Do two-legged hops (like a bunny hop) up.

    Be creative and mix it up.
    Just take it easy coming back down each time and voila… a stadium interval workout.

    Oh… wanna make it even more challenging? Add a set of push-ups or sit-ups each time you hit the bottom (or top) of the stairs!

    Since stadiums vary in size it ends up somewhat subjective as to how many to do. Do as many reps up & down that you can handle. See how you feel the next day and then adjust your reps so that you don’t end up too sore. Then to continue conditioning progressively add reps.

  7. Pingback: STAIRS: 18 reasons why they’re good for ya! « Eating Journey: 'Confessions of a Reformed Eater'

  8. Seoirse says:

    Hey Dean, I’m back (problems with sicatica and starting a business and moving hahaah) and I have started running again THANK GOD, and I have incorporated stairs into my program. It’s 39 steps in total (13 then a small flat and repeated 3 times) and there is a long flat come back and I start again… I do it 8 times and them go for a 2k speed run to finish. What i wanted to know is… How many times should I do this per week?? (At the moment its twice per week, I run 6 days a week)
    As always any help is great and I look forward to your responce.
    Regards,
    Seoirse

  9. Seoirse says:

    Sorry, i didnt put my email correct in the last post. ops

  10. Seoirse says:

    Hey Dean, I’m back (after opening a business, sciatica problems, a moving) and I’m back running again thanks god. I run stairs twice a week, the stairs are 3 sets of 13 (39 total) and its 13 then a tiny flat and repeated 3 times then there is a flat loop to come back down, I do this 8 times and then finish it with a 2k speed run. What I would like to know is how many times should I do this per week. Like I said, at the moment I do it twice per week. Any help as always is greatly appreciated and I look forward to your response.
    Regards,
    Seoirse

  11. Dean Hebert says:

    Seoirse -
    Great to hear from you and that you are back out running!

    To answer your question – twice a week is perfect for this kind of workout. It has to be balanced with other elements of your training. It allows the muscles recovery time between bouts with the stairs. Now, how you progress with this workout is add reps every other week for example add 2 reps (to 15, then 17…); you can add a whole set (move from 3 to 4) once the reps get up to 17 perhaps to break up the workout and enable you to handle more.

    One other variation is to change your stride pattern up the stairs: every step on one rep then every other step every other rep; occasionally try even every 3 steps with power bounding up (all depends on step distances). This will add variety to your stride length and power and range of motion. Also run the one-steppers lightly and quickly as possible.

    You’re also doing the right thing by adding the quick 2k afterwards.
    Keep it rolling!

  12. world says:

    Wow. I love this site. I’m so glad that I’ve found it. I am very enthused about working out & obtaining Movie star abs. So, I do a lot of cardio. I usually run hills 2-3 times out the week, so now I’m getting into running stairs. This article was right on time.

    Thanks,

  13. David says:

    Any ideas where do we find stairs to climb as the closest stadium is 15 minutes away by car. Thx

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Unfortunately I have no idea what your location is and can’t help you with locations for stairs specifically to do stair workouts. Some bigger cities have larger buildings – but any building with multiple stories that you can repeat the stair reps is good. Use stairwells that might be for fire escapes also.
      Just ideas – sorry I can’t be more specific. But hopefully this shows how creative you can get to do these workouts – a stadium is not necessary!

  14. Mark says:

    I believe in running up bleachers except instead just running up them i go around the track and run the 8 times. Is that a bad workout?

  15. Dean Hebert says:

    This is very good. Coaches have given them many names – usually after the school name and if you do them it’s the “mile”. So, if they are done at Mesquite HS they might be called Wildcat Miles.

    But, the optimal way to do them is to integrate different step patterns as described above.

  16. Gary Andrews says:

    Hi.I am really enjoying step running on Mondays,Tuesdays and Wednesdays resting Thursday and Friday then doing a session on Saturday . All sessions take about 25-40minutes. would there be any advantage to my fitness if i decided to wear ankle weights.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Gary,
      Weights can add difficulty/resistance to a workout. That means it can increase strength and burn more calories per workout. However, ankle weights are not the way to go. Putting weights at the end of a lever (your leg) increases chances for injury and makes you move unnaturally. So the solution? Buy a weighted vest instead. There are good ones on the market that fit very snug. They also have adjustable weights. Start with low weights – 10-15 pounds. Give your body time to adjust. Good luck.

  17. Wacky says:

    I’ve recenly (approx. 4 weeks) started doing Tour de Stade at one of my local stadia in Trinidad (Caribbean).

    I bearly have time to exercise so the most I get out of the week is maybe 2. But it’s working great! my legs are beginning to feel tight as well as my glutes and abs! :) this is really exciting… I just need to throw in some strength exercises to get some “cuts” in my legs and i’ll be ready for the greatest show on earth “Carnival”

    Good luck ppl.

  18. Jose says:

    Hi, thanks for the great article. I enjoyed it very much. I have a question regarding frequency. I have not been an avid athlete for quite some time (5 years or so). At the moment I play soccer twice per week. Do you think the following regimen is overdoing it? Thanks.

    M: Soccer (2hr pickup game)

    Tu: stadiums (will be including interval training and pushups, situps, pullups, etc. for a full body workout)

    We: stadiums again (Tuesday’s schedule)

    Thu: Soccer (2hr pickup game)

    Fri: REST/RECOVER (hit the sauna stretch relax etc.)

    Sa: Gym weights (STRENGTH/POWER: squats, cleans, dead lifts; MUSCLE DEFINITION: preacher curls, chest fly, shoulder raises)

    Sun: REST/RECOVER (hit the sauna stretch relax etc.)

    THANKS AGAIN!!!

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Jose,
      Too much of course is subjective because it depends on how an athlete is responding to the training.
      Usually you would not schedule the same workout on consecutive days. If it truly is a hard workout – great intensity on those stairs – then you would want to just rearrange it to maybe M & Th.
      Also change the nature of how you do the stairs… every step VERY fast to every 2nd or 3rd step for power. That optimizes the workouts.
      Keep up the good work.

      • Jose says:

        I will definitely try to vary the way I do the stairs. I will change my schedule accordingly. Thank you very much for the quick response!

  19. Garry Tinch says:

    my daughter plays fastpitch softball and needs to get quicker base running ability do you think running steps or stairs will help, we are starting to run at a local park dam with 45 steps she is running 10 reps every other day.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Gary,
      The stair running is good strength conditioning. But will not make her faster by itself. For ball sports, the better way to quickness is to integrate quickness drills, ladder drills, acceleration drills to improve foot speed and plyometric drills to develop explosive power.

  20. Ed Rawls says:

    Dean,
    My daughter run cross country track, she getting over injuries pervic overuse, and I was wondering if stair training once a week along with her typical work outs would help her get back speed and endurance.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Stair training is one aspect of training to get back in shape. It will contribute to making her stronger for sure. However, really it will only very indirectly add to speed and minimally add to endurance unless she is doing stades with laps in between. (i.e. run 3+ miles by running the track AND the stadiums each “lap” for a circuit). That would add to her strength and endurance. So, endurance itself is helped through longer runs. Speed is helped through general conditioning – yes – but more so by running FAST (intervals etc.). But, coming back from injuries the biggest thing is not to add too much too soon of anything! Once a week of stadiums is fine for a few weeks until you are sure injuries will not recur. Then add more reps on stairs, extend the workout before adding a separate one during the week. That way, there is recovery from stairs ANDit allows for other training to take place to have a well rounded program. Good luck!

  21. recognation says:

    Hi Coach Dean, thanks for providing such insightful and useful advice on running! Really appreciate it.
    I’ve recently started running the stairs in my condo building. I try to run from the very bottom to the top floor without stopping (even if it means I have to crawl the last few floors) and I alternate steps from one flight of stairs to another (single steps, double steps, single steps and so on). My building has 26 floors and altogether this run has close to 450 steps.
    When I first started, my legs were sore for the entire week! But now the same workout gives me fatigue, but no more soreness. I have a few questions:
    1) Does that mean I made improvements?
    2) What do you think of this workout routine?
    3) What should I add to this routine next?
    4) What benefits are there to running DOWN the stairs?

    Thanks so much again. Hope to hear back from you soon!

    - Gen, from Toronto, Canada

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Gen,
      You’re going great!
      You are most certainly improving! Your routine is very good.
      Here’s your next move:
      Try every 3rd step in more of a lunge than a run; real strength builder.
      Then, try reducing your total time going up. Get faster. Push the pace. Start logging your times and at least once a week try to finish your upstairs bout faster than before. Don’t do this everyday. You might even compare times for doing every step versus every 2 steps.
      Yes down stairs can develop lightness on your feet through neuromuscular training. Try some downstair repeats let your feet lightly touch each stair but rapidly move downward. It will take some practice so be patient and careful – hand on a railing might be a good idea.
      Keep it up! You’re doing good things.

  22. Enci says:

    Hi,

    Some of my friends have suggested to me not to do stairs running as it will deprove my normal running. Is it true, as i am also in the midst of considering to switch completely to stair running and racing.

    Thanks!

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Enci,
      If you are going to be doing stair running an racing then you will be very well served by training specifically on stairs. It’s the specificity of training principle.

      Now, if you are going to be racing many other kinds of racing it make your strong BUT it will indeed adversely affect your stride and normal running cadence. So, it’s ok as PART of training but NOT as all or the majority of your training in this case.

  23. Ben says:

    Hi Coach Dean,

    Thanks for the helpful article. I am a college baseball player looking to improve my speed in both the 90 feet to 180 feet range on the bases as well as the 5 to 25 feet or so range in the infield. Will stadiums be helpful? And if not, what would you recommend? Any and all help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Ben

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Stadiums can be helpful but it is always sport-specific. So, if you use them:
      1. CHARGE up the stairs @ 100% effort. Slow training will beget slow running.
      2. change your stair pattern – every step, every other step, every 3rd step, it forces different ranges of motion each rep focus on ONE pattern. But still… 100% on all.
      3. focus on forefoot contact, short stair contact time, like hot coals.. get your foot OFF the stair
      4. Higher intensity is what you need to work higher speed. But, you’ll also need to get down on the flats and do short acceleration drills – sport-specific – you must start in the same position you will in a game situation. So don’t start them like you’re a track sprinter, right?
      5. longer sprints are almost useless – you are in need of VERY high power acceleration – instantly and for a VERY short distance…
      Hope that helps. It’ll get you started in the right direction.

  24. Sabah says:

    Hi Dean, I run about 35 miles a week. I started running about 164 steps in our stadium once a week. I have been sore for almost 5 days. Is that normal?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Sandra,
      Nope… not normal. That just means you did too much too soon too hard. Muscle soreness after hard workouts should last about 2 days and not more than 3. More than that is a sign of overdoing it and you need to moderate intensity, duration, quantity, frequency (one or all).

  25. Terrell says:

    Hey Dean, I have never been a great runner but since I am in the military I make due and always pass my pysical fitness test. Currently, I’m averaging running about 2 miles, five days a week. I think my running limitations are more mental than anything because I always run better with others. Anyway, what are some quick and effective methods to improve my stamina and speed while running?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      To be clear – Stamina is the ability to hold a specific pace for a specific distance. Endurance is just the ability to run further – regardless of pace.

      There are many ways but basically you need to run more miles/yards at your goal pace. For instance if your PT test is 1.5 miles in 12:00: you might start with 8-10 x 400 meters @ 2:00 pace with a 45 second rest between. You have then run 2-2.5 miles at your goal pace for 1.5 miles. Even though you’ve taken breaks, the extra total distance builds your ability to handle that pace for a long period of time. To progress, you add more reps or decrease rest time between them.

      If it is endurance you want, just take ONE of your runs and progressively run further perhaps 1/2 mile at a time each week.

      • Terrell says:

        Thanks. It was endurance that I was looking for. I never knew that taking a break but continuing to run helps build your endurance. That helps. I know my gaol is to reduce or eliminate breaks but I have to gradually increase into it. Does running up stairs help endurance or stamina? I have just started doing this three days out of the week for 20-25 minutes. Running up at full speed and walking down.

      • DEAN HEBERT says:

        Running stairs won’t actually do either directly. This builds strength. But in a way, if you do lots and lots, it will build some endurance. Endurance is built by running for progressively longer periods of time. It’s about the total time or distance you go.

  26. Tristen Greene says:

    Hey Dean, I was wondering if running stairs would help my 40 yard and 100 yard?
    Thanks

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Tristen,
      The same goes for 40 yards as it does for ultra marathoning… stair work builds strength not speed. If you are not practicing @ or near your race paces with strides, flying 30s, 40s, 50s, accelerations, etc. you will not be faster because of stair work. Also, take a chance to read some of the other responses and guidance I’ve given on here to other comments for more guidance on your workouts.

  27. George says:

    Hi Coach,
    I coach youth track and have a couple of questions about kids ages 7 – 16. Most of them compete locally but some are national level. Do you find stadium steps effective for kids that age? Can steps be the first thing done at practice and if not, how much of a warm up should they do before they start on the steps? We only practice two to three days each week, should we try to do steps at least weekly?
    Thanks!

    • Dean Hebert says:

      George,
      Really good questions. First, yes, stadiums are a good basic strength workout… for anyone.
      Vary the way you do them (quick, power, long strides, short strides) and stay on the forefoot as much as possible.
      I’d do them 2-3 times a week in early season and then taper to once a week during later season. Also, I’d move towards fewer and far faster (100% efforts up for instance) reps.
      Keep your warm up a good solid warm up as you would for any workout. OR you could do some stadiums at the END of practice after they are well warmed up.. and then you get them to work on form on stairs WHILE TIRED. Great workout with purpose.

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