Recently I got an e-mail from a friend, bemoaning that he ran out of breath while trying to climb a 14-er in Colorado. He was upset that he had to turn around at the 11,000-ft level and go back down with the women. I suggested that he use the Bob Pease Conditioning Scheme. You don't have to drag a "Stair-Climber" or treadmill inside a simulated high-altitude chamber, evacuated to 14,000 ft. You just have to walk and run up and down stairs--and not in a 20-story building (though I've done that, too). I do this running in my own house, where one flight of stairs is 9.90 ft high. I step with both feet on the ground floor and with both feet on the top level. I keep a good count. I keep up a good pace for 20 minutes. Then I lie down to rest a few minutes, and cool off, and take a shower.
I start out fast, two steps at a time ascending, and I scamper down. I slow down gradually to four or three flights per minute, and I always breathe through my nose. That's a good way to get your lungs in shape for high altitudes. Running up is great for your uphill muscles, and running down is great for your downhill muscles. Back in 2000, I got in really good shape for trekking in Nepal. I ran up (and down) 33,000 ft of stairs over several months. Then when we hiked up to Everest Base Camp, at 17,800 ft, and Kala Pattar at 18,600 ft, I was definitely in the best shape of all the (younger) guys. Muscles and breathing. I walked away from them. Of course, you have to keep hiking (or skiing, or bicycling) or whatever you are going to be doing. You need that, too.
How do I count the number of flights? I don't literally count them. I time them. I use an analog clock with a sweep-second hand to note what rate I am making, such as four flights per minute, exactly on the quarter minute. If I've done two minutes at five flights per minute, (every 12 seconds) and six minutes at four per, and then nine minutes at three per, plus a couple flights that I "gained" when I was going a little faster than three per, that adds up to 63 in 20 minutes. It's a surprisingly good way to "count." And surprisingly good exercise. And a well-calibrated method. It's easy to not cheat!
At the foot of the stairs, along with the clock, I set a big glass of water, which I need at ~12 minutes, and a towel to dry off my face, etc. When I'm in good shape I can do 80 to 85 flights in 20 minutes, in the comfort of my home, any hour of day or night, rain or shine. (Or in a hotel.) Usually, I use the stair-rail, but sometimes I don't. Obviously, I have to be careful not to trip or fall. Sometimes I wear light shoes; sometimes my heavy boots. I'll be doing a lot more of this shortly to get in shape for my next treks (see invitation in electronic design, Jan. 20, p. 18) and for some snowshoeing.
Any exercise program must be taken in moderation, in view of your own physical condition. Don't try to start too fast. Start at an easy rate, and work your way up to a vigorous rate. It's a good idea to keep your heart rate below your recommended rate for your age. Some people say 200 minus your age is a good maximum heart rate. If you are in doubt about your health for such vigorous exercise, consult your physician. Be careful not to fall on the stairs. And if any part of you gets unhappy with the exercise, slow down and take it easy!
And, for best acclimatization, try to ascend no more than 1000 ft/day, as we do when we're trekking in Nepal. In Colorado, nobody does that!
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