I just finished posting comments on questions I raised on stair climbing when I heard back from another of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) experts. You can read Stair Climbing – Part Three here.
Michele Olson PHD, FACSM, Professor of Exercise Science at Auburn University Montgomery offered the following answers to the queries I asked in the previous post. Doctor Olson is also the co-author with Henry N. Williford, Ed.D., FACSM, HFS of the ACSM brochure Selecting and Effectively Using an Elliptical Trainer or Stair Climber which is available free at the link and contains a super rundown on using these machines.
How does actual stair climbing compare with the machines? Is one more effective, healthier, safer?
Olson: ACTUAL STAIR CLIMBING IS MORE INTENSE BECAUSE YOU ARE MOVING YOUR BODY FARTHER AND FARTHER AWAY FROM GRAVITY AT EACH STEP. MACHINES WITH REVOLVING STEPS TEND TO BE MORE VIGOROUS THAN PUSH-DOWN PEDAL MACHINES. BUT ALL OF THAT CAN VARY WITH THE SETTING USED ON ANY MACHINE.
As I usually do about 15 flights in around five minutes, I was interested in whether or not this was beneficial. I asked, is there a minimum time required to benefit from stair climbing? Is five minutes a session enough?
Olson: THERE ARE RESEARCH STUDIES WHERE PARTICIPANTS HAVE DONE MULTIPLE BOUTS OF 2 MINUTES OF STAIR CLIMBING AND REALIZED CHANGES IN FITNESS. AS ONE IMPROVES, ONE WOULD NEED TO SPEND A GREATER AMOUNT OF TIME.
Is there a difference in physical benefits between climbing 15 flights of stairs straight up vs. 15 flights by walking three flights up and then two flights down.
GOING DOWN STAIRS IS ABOUT ONE FOURTH OF THE DEMAND AS GOING UP. SO IF A TOTAL OF 15 FLIGHTS ARE TAKEN UP AND THEN A FEW FLIGHTS ARE DONE IN A REVERSE, THAT WOULD BE MORE DEMANDING THAN JUST 15 UP. BUT DOING 10 FLIGHTS UP AND FIVE DOWN WOULD NOT BE COMPARABLE TO 15 ALL UP.
Speaking of down, is it a good idea to walk down stairs, or is it better, safer to take the elevator?
Olson: SURE. WE HAVE TO WALK UP AND DOWN OFF CURBS, IN AND OUT OF CARS, ETC. PEOPLE WITH BAD KNEES MIGHT NEED TO TAKE THE ELEVATOR DOWN, OR, DO A FEW FLIGHTS DOWN AND THEN JUMP ON THE ELEVATOR. BUT A MIX OF UP AND DOWN MIMICS REAL LIFE AND REAL MOVEMENTS DURING DAILY LIFE.
Many thanks to Dr. Olson for these very helpful insights.