It doesn't matter how dedicated you are to fitness, there will be days when you fancy a break from the norm, or are forced to seek different way to exercise. You might have just finished a strenuous training programme and are looking for a new challenge; you might be away from home for a few days through work but, you love keeping active and you want to give your heart, lungs and legs a meaningful work out.
Well, that set of stairs at work, or those steps in the local sports stadium, or even the staircase in the town's multi-storey car park may hold the answer. If you want to burn calories, blow the cobwebs from your mind and give your cardiovascular system a serious workout, then get your trainers on and make your way to the nearest high-rise for a short, sharp workout.
Pounding up and down sets of stairs is also a great way to work the major muscle groups in your legs. Going up, your hamstrings and calf muscles take a battering; coming down and your quads will be screaming by the end of a hard workout.
Getting the Tower Running bugAnd if you want to get competitive, then you might look for a stair-case race. Known as Tower Running, this is the next big thing, particularly in urban areas. While your friends may think you are mad as you pound up and down the six floors your office and the ground floor during your lunch break, you are actually part of a growing global trend. Most people have no idea that tower-running, as it is known, is an official sport. There are a number of tower-running races taking place across some of the world's major cities. The Gherkin Challenge in London involves 1,037 steps; the Sears Tower in Chicago puts competitors through 2,109 agonising steps and Taiwan has the Tapei 101 with 2,046 steps.
These are no strolls up a tower with pauses to admire the view; this is high-octane, high energy racing at its best. There is even a World Cup in tower racing taking in 150 events across 25 countries. These events are serious and can attract thousands of athletes. At the last count 65,000 athletes world-wide had participated in a tower run.
Research backs it up. Dr Lewis Halsey at Roehampton University has found that climbing 100 steps, five time a day will burn more than 300 calories – more than jogging or cycling and as much as vigorous swimming.
Tough challenges for tough mindsTower running is the urban version of mountain running or fell-running. It is tough on the calves and hamstrings going up, it is torture on the quadriceps coming down. But a word of warning: it is not for the easily-bored. Training takes place in stairwells, never the most picturesque of environments and is not conducive to group running.
But, it is the complete training package. Hearts, lungs, bones, muscles and flexibility all get a workout and, as you spring up the stairs with confidence, it does mean you will never have to squeeze into an over-crowded lift again.
Getting startedGetting into tower running is easy - just find any building that has a set of steps – the flight of stairs at work, the local sports stadium, the pedestrian stairway in a multi-storey car park, the fire exit in the shopping mall – and then just do it.
As with any exercise start slowly and build up. You can set yourself targets and build these up over weeks. For complete beginners I would suggest the following: week one – three times a set of stairs with a minute break between each set (no more than 30 steps in each set); week two – five times a set of stairs with a minute break between reps; week three – two times a set of stairs with no break, then a minute rest, and repeat this sequence two more times.
And you can complement this training through your gym work. Squats and dead-lifts with high weight will help develop powerful quads and hamstrings, which will help you pound up those stairs. Chat to a personal trainer or gym instructor for further, individually-conceived advice.