the worst stairs.
April 17, 2012 6:34 PM   Subscribe

Why aren't these stairs getting easier? Will they ever?

So here's what happened. There is a contest going on in my office over who can go the longest without taking the elevator. The winner gets 100 dollars. This has been going on since January. A lot of us have dropped out. About 12 are still in. I'm still in.

We are on the 4th floor of a very old loft-style NoHo building that has really high ceilings, so each flight of stairs is really more like a flight and a half. These stairs are brutal. Something about the way they are proportioned, and the intervals at which they are arranged, and the way the stone is very worn so they slant slightly downwards and are bowed in the middle, makes them much worse than ordinary stairs.

I know ordinary stairs. I live in a 5th floor walkup and I can run up those stairs comfortably.

I climb the work stairs at least twice a day, and sometimes up to four times a day. It never gets easier. I assumed that after doing this for a month, I'd not be out of breath every time I climbed them. Nope. It's been almost four months of stair misery, and still I heave. I am not particularly out of shape; I am not overweight; I do not have any medical condition. Nor am I particularly athletic, however.

Really, I'm just puzzled as to why these stairs are just as hard now as when the challenge began. Is it something particular about stairs? Am I doing it wrong? Any advice on how to make this less awful? Because I refuse to drop out of the contest.
posted by millipede to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried training on the stairs? As in, put on workout clothes and run up and down them over and over after work?
posted by at 6:40 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't do something harder, then those stairs will be the hardest thing you do all day. Which means your body won't adjust to make them "easy", because it is strong enough to accomplish the tasks you ask of it.

I recommend more stairs, and harder stairs, just every now and then. That will make these stairs easier over time.
posted by pmb at 6:41 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are the stairs you have at home made of the same material? Because there are huge differences in the impact of metal vs. wood vs. marble vs. poured concrete, in my experience. That plus an extra few inches of rise is more than enough to make a set of stairs noticeably harder.

Oh, and yeah - there are people in my office building who still get out of shape after several years of taking the stairs up four flights. It's when you're doing five flights regularly that four flights becomes easy.
posted by SMPA at 6:45 PM on April 17, 2012

Best answer: You don't have to do sprints up and down the stairs after work for this to get easier.

You do need to go up to the fifth floor and then come back down to the fourth on one of your climbs every third day, like Monday and Thursday. Maybe even M-W-F. That will make the four flights easier with time. But like others have said, as long as four flights is the hardest thing, it will be a very hard thing.
posted by bilabial at 6:55 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Moderate-effort cardio training such as this can be something of a dead zone: too short and demanding to force any aerobic adaptations yet not intense enough to challenge the anaerobic systems. This promptly leads to a persistent plateau, despite how many stairs you're climbing daily.

You'll see improvements in your cardiorespiratory performance if you shift your efforts either way: do less demanding exercise for longer durations (i.e. easy-paced jogging, cycling, elliptical, etc.), or more demanding exercise for a shorter duration (i.e. HIIT). If the issue is that your legs quit before your lungs, increasing leg strength with barbell and bodyweight movements will soon fix that.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:56 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although, if your coworkers get wind that you've been tackling those stairs with workout clothes and a water bottle and some Eye of the Tiger, they might be intimidated and drop out sooner.

Or step up their game.
posted by bilabial at 6:56 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I climbed 152 stairs once or twice a day for several months, and was always out of breath at the top. The body is profoundly lazy, and will not adapt unless it comes close to failing.
posted by wnissen at 7:00 PM on April 17, 2012

To actually improve your aerobic fitness (which will keep you from huffing and puffing so much), you need to stress your body for longer than it probably takes to walk up the stairs one time. You could do this with the stairs themselves, by walking up and down multiple times, at a slow enough pace that it doesn't kill you--maybe 10 minutes total of to begin with, however many reps that would be, something like 3 days a week, then adding an extra "lap". Do this for just a few weeks, and I will guarantee that it will become easier to do a single trip up the stairs. You'd probably also see improvement if you partook of some other moderately intense (intense enough to also get you huffing and puffing) aerobic activity, though probably not quite as effectively, since there's also an element of training the specific muscles involved in climbing the stairs.
posted by drlith at 7:01 PM on April 17, 2012

Response by poster: The stairs at home are carpeted, are at easier intervals, and are less steep. Very different.

Wow. I assumed it would just get easier with time, like any other skill. I guess not! I will try going to the fifth floor a few days a week.
posted by millipede at 7:03 PM on April 17, 2012

I think it has much more to do with the sudden load put on the muscles when you climb from a relative state of cardiovascular and muscular rest. My guess is that if you walked for 6-8 minutes at a rapid pace before climbing the steps you would be much more comfortable. I am guessing that most of the work in climbing 4 flights is anaerobic. When you climb the steps at home are you likely to have been walking a short distance before climbing--or is the grade is less.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:07 PM on April 17, 2012

Response by poster: When you climb the steps at home are you likely to have been walking a short distance before climbing

Actually, yes! My work is right across the street from the subway station, so I hardly walk at all between the subway station and the stairs. My apartment is a seven minute walk from the subway station, and I'm a fast walker. Maybe that is part of it!
posted by millipede at 7:12 PM on April 17, 2012

Also, depending on the layout of the subway station, you're probably climbing at least one flight of stairs just to get to street level, immediately after which you tackle your work stairs.
posted by telegraph at 7:19 PM on April 17, 2012

I lived on the 4th floor all through college and had this same experience -- I and my roommates always arrived panting. However, we discovered that what had happened was that over the months we gradually climbed faster and faster -- climbing with other folks made it clear that we were leaving them in our dust -- and thus always operating, I guess you'd say, at "our limit" of comfort. You might be experiencing the same thing.

Additionally, whether or not you're fit, your body simply needs more energy (and air) for a stiff climb than for walking on flat ground, so your respiration rate is always going to rise when doing the climb (and thus you are "panting" when you finally stop and need to transition back down). I don't think that will ever change.
posted by acm at 7:24 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmm. When I had a living situation with stairs, they definitely got easier after starting out with some difficulty. Eventually I was taking them two, three, sometimes four at a time if I was in a hurry or feeling particularly energetic that day. I'd hop up the stairs in big bounds. Walking up them became extremely easy. So maybe you could adjust your intensity/speed and see if that helps, too.
posted by empyrean at 7:38 PM on April 17, 2012

I regularly use the stairwell for exercise at work (after work). Have done so for the past year or so, usually doing three laps at a time (553 stairs in total - have to do up and down all stairs to count as a lap). It never gets any easier in that I'm always puffing and sweaty at the end. But on the odd occasion where someone else joins us, we realise that we are doing the laps much faster than we used to, without realising it. You are probably doing the same.
posted by dg at 8:17 PM on April 17, 2012

Stairs are good for interval training (e.g., sprint all-out up the stairs for 15 seconds, walk normally for 30, repeat a few times), which will help a lot. Just make sure there's nobody coming down the opposite way.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:23 PM on April 17, 2012

nthing you're not out of shape; you're getting faster.
posted by hollisimo at 8:35 PM on April 17, 2012

Yeah, have you actually timed yourself? A well-worn idea in cycling is that it never gets easier, you just get faster.

Also, when you're "out of breath" your body hasn't failed in some way, it has radically increased its capacity to do work. When you achieve the top of the stairs, your body doesn't demobilize its resources instantly, so you feel like it's somehow wasted, but it isn't. Climbing stairs is always hard, no matter how fit you are, and your body always ramps up its output to match the effort.
posted by klanawa at 10:57 PM on April 17, 2012

There's an common saying in cycling: "It never gets easier, you just get faster."
posted by distorte at 3:35 AM on April 18, 2012

« Older But you told me that was not valid....   |   What is a good entry-level DSLR camera model in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.