Posts Tagged ‘stair climbing’

Stairs are faster than elevators

December 17th, 2011

A light-hearted study in the latest Canadian Medical Association Journal compared how long it took for four subjects to travel between floors at a hospital in Saskatchewan, using a variety of routes ranging from one to six floors. The results: 13 seconds per floor via the stairs, and 36 seconds per floor using the elevator (including time spent waiting for the elevator). By their math, that means hospital workers would save 15 minutes each day by taking the stairs — and, as I wrote about last year, taking the stairs during your workday can also make a measurable difference to health.

The study abstract is here, and a news article is here. Of course, your mileage may vary: hospital workers move between floors quite frequently, unlike many office workers. Still, I almost always find I can beat the elevator by taking the stairs.

Stair-climbing races in the NYT

February 1st, 2011

My rational mind knows that racing up the stairs of a skyscraper would be nothing but a world of hurt. But for some reason, the idea really attracts me — maybe because there’s some logic to the race, as opposed to simply running around in circles or loops. I’ll definitely have to find one to try one of these days…

Anyway, the New York Times has a nice article by Aimee Berg on the growing world of stair-climbing races, to mark tomorrow’s 34th running of the Empire State Building Run-Up:

Melissa Moon, 41, a schoolteacher from New Zealand who won the Empire State Building Run-Up last year on her first try, said, “I’ve done marathons, track, mountain running, half marathons and I’ve got to say this is the hardest thing mentally and physically when you’re racing all out.”

I’ve blogged about the physiology of stair-climbing races previously, and also wrote a Jockology column about it. Here’s Trish McAlaster’s graphic from that column, to give a sense of scale:

Convincing people to climb stairs

April 15th, 2010

In light of the Jockology column on stair climbing that I just posted, I found this post on the Obesity Panacea blog really interesting:

In this new study, Megan Grimstvedt and colleagues placed signs near the elevators of 4 university buildings in San Antonio. The sign said simply “Walking up stairs burns almost 5 times as many calories as riding an elevator” and included an arrow directing people to the nearest staircase, as well as a cartoon of the school mascot walking up a flight of stairs…

At baseline, only 13% of people used hidden staircases, while 43% of people used visible staircases. Even more interesting is that overall stair use increased 34% as a result of the intervention, an increase which persisted 4 weeks after the signs had been removed.

There’s more data and analysis in the original post. Time to make some signs!

Jockology: taking the stairs actually makes a difference

April 15th, 2010

This weekend, about 7,000 people will tackle the 1,776 steps of the CN Tower in support of the World Wildlife Fund. Meanwhile, in Calgary, people will be climbing the Calgary Tower in support of the Alberta Wilderness Association. Also this weekend in Germany, there’s the Mt. Everest Stair Marathon, in which competitors go up and down a 397-step staircase 100 times, climbing the equivalent of sea level to the top of Everest and covering the distance of two marathons along the way.


So, all in all, it seemed like a good time to take a look at research into the health benefits of stair climbing for this week’s Jockology column. If you choose the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator a few times a day, does it really make any difference to your health?

Researchers in Ireland have been studying the benefits of dashing up the stairs periodically over the course of a workday, and they’ve observed surprising fitness gains.

“I think the key thing here,” says Colin Boreham, a professor at the University College Dublin Institute for Sport and Health, “is that stair-climbing is one of the few everyday activities at a moderate to high intensity that one can do surreptitiously without having to change, use special equipment or look foolish.” [read the rest of the column...]

As an aside, that’s the Colin Boreham who once held the British high-jump record and represented Britain in the 1984 Olympics as a decathlete alongside Daley Thompson.

The physiology and biomechanics of “skyscraper running”

February 5th, 2010

You’ve seen the news stories about races up various tall buildings like the C.N. Tower and Empire State Building… Now, in an upcoming issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, you can finally learn all about the physiology of these races!

pirelli-buildingIt’s actually a pretty interesting paper. The researchers (from the University of Milan) do a general analysis of 36 world stair-climbing records for buildings ranging from 48 to 421 metres high. They also collected a bunch of data from a specific race in Milan (up the Pirelli Building, a model of which is shown on the right), and compare their results to a mathematical model of stair-climbing.

The reason the sport is so well-suited to this kind of analysis is that stair-climbing is fairly simple, biomechanically speaking. We don’t store elastic energy in our legs with each stride — our main task is simply raising our centre of mass from the bottom of the building to the top. (To be precise, the researchers calculate that 80.4% of the energy expended by racers goes directly into counteracting gravity. Just 4.5% goes to accelerating limbs with respect to the body, and the remaining 15.1% goes into the turns between flights of stairs.)

So what’s the take-away message from this research? I’m not sure. Certainly this conclusion doesn’t sound too earth-shattering:

Our studies suggest that the best athletes are those who do not show any sudden speed change, and therefore that athletes must wisely dose their initial effort in order not to jeopardize the rest of the performance.

Still, reading the paper made me want to try one of these races. Apparently they demand a mix of aerobic and anaerobic energy, much like middle-distance running. And then there’s this:

Another attractive aspect relates to the presence, in most skyscrapers, of handrails that maximize the muscle mass involved and, consequently, the mechanical/metabolic power of the ascent, conferring the race with a feel of a global, maximal effort as in rowing.

“Global, maximal effort” — sounds like fun!