Thursday, May 26, 2016

staircase benefits: dubious?

Last night, I walked up thirty staircases. That sounds more impressive than it really is, mainly because only the first fourteen staircases present an actual challenge. Those staircases average about sixty steps each, and I try to climb them at faster-than-normal speed, so I'm puffing and progressively more sweat-soaked by the time I reach the top of each one. After Number 14, however, the remaining staircases on my route change dramatically. First, they switch from wood to stone. Second, the steps themselves get slightly taller, so that they're no longer munchkin steps. Third, the number of steps per staircase drops, in most cases, to less than half the number of steps for the first fourteen. Only one of those latter staircases has thirty steps; the rest have only twenty to twenty-five.

When you've just done fourteen staircases with sixty steps each, small staircases come as a relief. They're easy to do; you're done before you know it, and even a fatty like me isn't winded. Starting last night, I began running up the shorter staircases; that seemed to help a bit. However, it's becoming clear that it's the first fourteen staircases that really provide the aerobic and muscular challenge I need. So I'm pondering a change in strategy: what if I were to walk only as far as the fourteenth staircase, turn around, then do the same fourteen on the way back? That would be twenty-eight difficult staircases, all told. The aerobic benefit would go way up, but there's a trade-off: (1) my step count would go way down, and (2) I don't like the first half of my walk nearly as much as the latter half. You see, as you move farther and farther away from the Han, the number of people on the trail peters out, and there are segments where you might find yourself walking all alone. On cool, quiet nights, that sort of situation is a little slice of heaven for me.

Last night's 30K-step walk is a case in point. I walked out farther than I've ever walked before on the Yangjae-cheon trail (which seems endless), and it was beautifully quiet by the time I reached my U-turn point. It was also a bit creepy, as there was one dude behind me who slowly, slowly caught up with me and passed me; there were several minutes during which I could hear his approaching footfalls before he finally drew up alongside me and then pulled ahead. (I sometimes deliberately slow down when that sort of situation arises.) But aside from that one gent, all was calm and quiet and beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

So: do I switch to a 28-staircase workout or not? In terms of cardio, switching is the better choice. In terms of enjoying myself, though, it's not. Decisions, decisions...



Charles said...

I say switch to the 28-staircase workout. My reasoning is as follows.

On the positive side, this workout is clearly better for you in terms of cardiovascular fitness. The question is whether this benefit outweighs the disadvantages you cite.

The first disadvantage is that your step count would go way down, but I wonder if this would really matter. Are you gaining that much in terms of fitness from all those extra steps? And why are you doing all those steps in the first place? Is it just an arbitrary number that you are trying to increase? We cannot, of course, discount the fact that human beings seem to enjoy increasing arbitrary numbers (this is the fact that underlies the success of many "casual" games). So you may get enjoyment and feel a sense of achievement from walking a certain number of steps. But if you feel that the 28-staircase work would benefit you more in terms of fitness, then it would seem to be easy to write off this disadvantage.

The second disadvantage you cite has nothing to do with fitness, but it is still important. After all, you're not walking just to get in shape, right? You're also walking because you enjoy it. So here we are back to the enjoyment factor. It seems clear now that there are two basic factors at play in your walks: fitness and enjoyment. Since we've established that the 28-staircase workout is better in terms of fitness (right?), what this all boils down to is which aspect is more important to you, the fitness aspect or the enjoyment aspect. If it is the former, you switch. If it is the latter, you don't. I based my original opinion on the thinking that the fitness element is most important, but perhaps I am wrong?

Kevin Kim said...

"I based my original opinion on the thinking that the fitness element is most important, but perhaps I am wrong?"

Opinions being opinions, it's hard to see how they can be wrong.

I think you've laid the problem out clearly, but as I wrote on John McCrarey's blog recently, high step counts can also lead to physical benefits—it's just that the benefits won't be as plentiful. Still, objectively speaking, and as you mentioned in a different comment, a short-but-intense workout is more beneficial, on the whole, than a long, slow-burn workout.

Yet the enjoyment factor is huge for me. I wouldn't exercise at all if I didn't enjoy what I was doing. What I think I might do, then, is experiment: perhaps on some weeknight next week, I'll try the 28-staircase workout and see if it's really all that bad, enjoyment-wise. If it's not, then I might try it again, once, the following week, perhaps on a different weekday. If the second session is also not-bad, then maybe I'll switch over completely to the more intense workout, at least most of the week (i.e., 3 out of 5 walks).

Another wrinkle is that, as much as I enjoy my long walks, they do take time. Yesterday's 30K steps took a total of five hours (I march at about 6K steps an hour). That's a massive chunk of my free time on weekdays. For the moment, I don't begrudge the loss of time because I'm not involved in any projects or activities on weeknights that require my attention. But there are days when I come home around 10PM or 11PM and think, "You know... I walked right through dinnertime; now it's late, and I don't want to cook anything because I'm too tired." This can actually lead to bad dietary choices, like pouring myself a huge bowl of cereal instead of cooking.

Anyway, yeah: I'll likely experiment with the 28-staircase thing. But not tonight. My leg muscles are way too achy for me to do anything other than just walk home. I might try to rack up 20K steps without doing any staircases tonight, but it's more likely that I'll just walk home and crash, having done under 10K steps. We'll see.

Charles said...

Sounds reasonable. Experiment and see if it works. I've recently added interval training on the exercise bike back to my morning regimen (I had not been doing it for a while, primarily due to laziness), and although the first day left me a little sore, I'm already starting to feel more fit. Hopefully you'll see similar results from a more intensive stair workout.

(What I meant by the final line of my comment, by the way, was that I could be wrong in thinking that the fitness aspect is the most important to you. If that assumption was wrong, and the enjoyment aspect turned out to be more important, then my conclusion would not have been relevant.)

Kevin Kim said...

Yes, I suppose I could think of my staircase routine as a sort of interval training, given that the staircases are unevenly distributed over my walk.

(And thanks for the clarification.)

John from Daejeon said...

I used to think stairs were the way to go until I stumbled and busted me knee all to hell, but shit happens whether running or even walking. Just be careful.

BTW, you might want to catch Marvel's Jessica Jones. It's so good that Joss Whedon is considering doing a stand alone movie which would actually ruin it as it is better than anything Joss Whedon has ever done. Many people think it is the best Marvel property to ever air on film or TV which is surprising as the lead character is a whiskey drinking drunk whose powers are just strength and the ability to fall from extreme heights (not fly). Well, you have to watch the show, or read the comics, to understand the falling part. There's also David Tennant playing a supervillain with one of the greatest superpowers ever thought up. And comic book hero, Luke Cage, plays such a big part in the series, Netflix is giving him his own spin-off series. All in all, I think you will find it really enjoyable.