Dear coach: I see people using Stairmasters and running stairs near where I train—Is this helpful for tri?

This is the type of unorthodox training that many traditional coaches might dismiss without much thought. They’ll say, “We’ve always done it this way.” As a strength coach, I give consideration to things traditional endurance coaches might not. After all, it worked for Rocky!

Stair climbing works for the beginner triathlete because it builds strength, fitness, and training consistency–key factors in early development. Anything that keeps training fresh and enjoyable for someone adopting a new routine is great.

Stair climbing is particularly useful for the time-crunched or overweight beginner triathlete, as it combines strength training with conditioning in one short session. Running stairs keeps the intensity up without most of the risk associated with running’s eccentric loading. With that said, care should be taken when descending stairs. Stop the activity if knee issues develop or worsen.

Running stairs is also a way to coach running technique into even experienced triathletes. One must climb with proper knee drive, coordinated arm action, and full triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles. It will build explosive power throughout hip and knee ranges of motion—very similar to cycling. Triathletes benefit from periodically activating these powerful muscle fibers—particularly in the offseason. Especially for the injury-prone runner, stair climbing is certainly something to consider.

For running stairs, look for a staircase that takes at least 25 to 45 seconds to run. Run up, walk down for 20-40 minutes total including warm-up and cool-down.

To mix it up, try the sample workout below:

– 5-10 minutes light jog with 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching

– 3 rounds of 2 x 30-second staircase (two steps at a time) + 5-minute run

Jonathan Noon is a triathlon coach at Champion Factory Coaching and avid triathlete who recently finished Ironman Hawaii. He earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology from Baylor University. Noon is also CSCS and USAT Level 1 certified.