It doesn’t matter how dedicated you are to fitness, there will be days when the gym holds no appeal, you don’t have time to go for a long run, or you simply don’t have the spare cash to pay for that swimming session at the local pool.
But, you have read all the literature about keeping active and you know that you should do something, so how are you going to give your heart, lungs and legs a meaningful work out?
Well, that set of stairs in your accommodation block, or the steps in the local sports stadium, or even the staircase in the town’s multi-storey 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 runners on and make your way to the nearest high rise for a short, sharp workout.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Tower running is the next big thing, and while your friends and colleagues may think you are mad as you pound up and down the stairs, 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 me 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.
Tower 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. And 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.
And I write from experience. I was on a week long conference, stuck in a hotel on the edge of an airport. There was nowhere to go for a run, the hotel gym was a sweaty little room with one step machine and a grubby exercise mat, and I needed some endorphins. And then inspiration struck. I was on the 14th floor, and there were stairs. So for a whole week, I became a tower-runner. Every morning would find me puffing my way up the stairs, or bounding, at a break-neck speed, down them. And if anyone asked me why, I would explain with a new disciple’s zeal that ‘every time you take the lift or escalator you are wasting an opportunity to increase your heart rate, burn some calories, improve your fitness and boost your energy levels.’
Getting 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. As your lungs and muscles get used to the exercise, so you can increase the intensity and decrease the rest period. Remember, it is as beneficial to your leg muscles going downstairs as it is going up, so don’t take it easy on the descent.
Tower running is tough on your legs, so it is important that you take a few precautions before you start any session. Firstly, ensure your footwear is up to the job. A good pair of running shoes is best, with the laces carefully tied up. For the early sessions, complete training kit is probably not essential, but as you develop your tower running training, you will reach a point where it is best to wear proper gear.
And stretch your muscles. Do a gentle warm up and stretch before you start, and stretch those muscles again when you finish. Concentrate on the calves, hamstrings and quadriceps, but also work the hips and buttock area as they will all feel the ‘burn’.
The beauty of tower running is that you can do it just about any time you want to. If you are an early riser, then you can do a few sets before work; if the weather is too wet for you to go for your lunchtime run in the park, then do some tower running in the dry. And there is the added bonus, that when the lift is broken at work, you will have no trouble negotiating the stairs, much to the envy of your work colleagues.