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.
- When running stadiums run up with the quickest leg turnover possible. (Think “hot coals” under my feet.)
- 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.
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.
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!