Fitness Trend: Stair-climbing your way to the top

Offering benefits such as toned arms and legs, stair-climbing is the latest workout craze. Find out why this fitness trend is picking up in popularity

Fitness Trend: Stair-climbing your way to the top

Source: Web exclusive, August 2011

Last April, Rebecca Lui climbed the CN Tower stairs’all 1,776 of them, two at a time. Although the 34-year-old Toronto web editor was already physically active, she says, "that rush" after climbing the CN Tower “motivated me to really kick-start my fitness regime.”

"Stair-climbing has been around for quite a while," says Trevor Folgering, fitness trainer and Canada Stair-Climbing Association president. Climbing became popular in 1978 with New York’s Empire State Building Run-Up. Its popularity dwindled until recently, and it’s now growing as a Canadian fitness trend. Folgering, who coached Lui before her climb, founded the Canada Stair-Climbing Association in 2009 and now operates it from Regina, with various chapters in cities across the country. The Association empowers individuals to get fit by climbing stairs, and provides support through meeting groups, training sessions and online information. Folgering has ascended the CN Tower in 11 minutes.

The benefits of stair-climbing

Although stair-climbing can be challenging, “it’s a great workout,” says Folgering. "You burn more calories during 20 to 30 minutes [of stair-climbing] than you would if you were running."

Lui add that climbing energizes her and makes her feel lighter. "My endurance has improved vastly," she says. "I started running last summer, something I was not able to do before I started stair-climbing."

Research has proven that stair-climbing benefits cardiovascular health‘even short bouts of the exercise. A 2000 study published in Preventive Medicine monitored the health of 22 sedentary college-age women who began climbing stairs progressively over seven weeks. By the end of the study, these women were found to have reduced heart rates, oxygen uptake and blood lactate levels uptake while climbing. Their HDL ("good") cholesterol levels had also increased.

Stair-climbing also receives gold stars for its weight-loss benefits, while helping to build muscle, tone your lower body and strengthen your core, says Folgering. It builds leg muscle mass and strengthens arm muscles because holding the railing pulls your arms up.

Lui was even motivated to start cross-training. "I started working out more regularly and joined a boot camp," she says.

Get started

The convenience of stair-climbing is certainly one reason for its popularity. It’s a workout that "can be done anywhere, anytime," says Folgering. If you’re not using the stairs at your home or apartment building, office buildings, hotel stairwells and outdoor stadiums offer other alternative places to climb, although Folgering cautions against climbing outdoors in the winter.

"The main technique is to climb two stairs at a time," says Folgering. He recommends warming up on the ground first by either skipping or jogging. Once you’ve started climbing the stairs, ensure you maintain proper form: with each step you take, lift your leg high, place your foot on the step and push off with your heel. This will help you keep up your pace and prevent injury. When climbing down the stairs, it’s safest to descend using each step.

“I focus on using my larger leg muscles," says Lui, who avoids walking on her toes to prevent pulling the calf muscles.  She says climbing is "literally one step at a time to a healthier lifestyle, [and a] better body.”

Ready for a race?

If you’re up for a challenge, the Canada Stair-Climbing Association posts cross-Canada events on their website, including mini-climbs and competitions. A monthly Canada Stair-Climbing Association membership costs $9.95, while 10 climbing sessions with a meet-up group cost $75.

Before participating in a competition, Folgering recommends first training for about three months. "Don’t start too fast," he says. Find a 20- to 30-storey building and build upon your pace until it’s at a level for racing. Count the number of stairs to calculate how many climbs will equal the competition’s stair-count.
Always check with your doctor before beginning any fitness regime. Then get climbing.

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