Terrain Training – Steps and Stairs

October 3, 2017

Turn the terrain around your neighborhood into the ultimate gym.

One of my favorite workouts is what I call “terrain training.” Terrain training is simply taking advantage of whatever type of terrain you have and using it to your advantage. So for example, in the mountains, I like to make my way up a hill and use the downhill to slalom the pine trees (and sliding on their needles) to mimic skiing. Or using a dry riverbed for intense drills, by loading my legs and springing boulder-to-boulder. Other types of terrain training can involve grassy knolls, urban steps and sandy beaches. This is the first post in a series about terrain training – how to scout it, how to create workouts for maximum benefits, and how to keep it safe.

Get Started with Steps and Stairs

It’s pretty easy to find a decent set of stairs in any community. Many communities have public access steps that lead to public places and open spaces like, the beach, behind schools, parks, playgrounds and hiking trails. If you can’t find a good set, opt for the bleachers at the local high school athletic field.

Keep it safe
Take a walk on the steps to make sure they have integrity – strong enough to hold your weight, not delapedated and falling apart. Also, get to know the feeling underfooot – sand, gravel, leaves, twigs. Avoid greasy steps and wet, slippery wood surfaces.

Create a Workout
Think about all the ways you can move up the stairs – straight (linear), side-to-side, diagonally (zig zag), laterally (sideways). You can add fancy footwork by hopping, bounding, shuffling. There are SO many possibilities, all with distinct benefits, especially if you are an athlete! Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an athlete, working a set of steps will absolutely make you become more athletic.

Techniques for Uphill Step and Stair Climbing
There’s no need to make steps and stairs any more challenging than the already are. Here are a few tips to make your sessions more productive and easier on your body.

• When climbing uphill, tilt your body forward in line with the slope of the stairs, and direct the reactive push off the back toes, into your center-of-mass.
• Incorporate entrainment: Many people think the legs set the tempo for how fast you go. Not true. Your elbows set the tempo for your legs. With elbows bent, set the rhythm by naturally pumping your arms as you climb.
• Breathe diaphragmatically or rhythmically to enhance the oxygen flow throughout your body. Think “low and slow” – it will help to relieve any lactic acid burn and minimize its accumulation in your legs.
• Try to find a “relaxation phase” during your movement. For example, “As you lift your leg, relax your calf.”
• Muscles are either “on or off” – there is no in-between. No gray area, or “kinda using my quads.” Use only the muscles you need for the climb or descent; relax the muscles you don’t need. If you tighten up, you’ll recruit and fire muscle that you may not need at that moment; using up energy. So used a combination of power and relaxation.
• Stay light on your feet: “Think bunny feet, not elephant feet.”

For the Trip Down
• To prevent spills, especially on wet surfaces, keep your hands in your peripheral vision, and use the toe-heel technique.
• “Plant the ball of your foot then, snap your heel down to make contact with the surface. Every time.”
• Never descend with your hands in your pockets. I’ve seen the ugliness of impact!

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