There is a 300-step staircase that leads from below the stage at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colo., to the very top of the stadium seating. Thousands of people climb them every weekend in the summer months to enjoy live music, but on Saturday and Sunday mornings the steps are crowded with hundreds of elite and recreational athletes alike running up and down them. Few activities lead to the pain cave as efficiently as stair repeats, and as a result the massive rock formation has become a popular spot for training.
The University of Denver Ski Team makes a trip to Red Rocks a few times every fall and spring to do a combined workout of specific strength and intervals on the stairs. Head coach Dave Stewart likes the amphitheater because it presents his athletes with the hardest terrain they will ever see —once they’ve conquered 300 stairs a bunch of times, A-climbs are a piece of cake.
“I think it’s as much mental preparation as a good physical training session,” Stewart says. “It’s so challenging and so steep and so relentless that…Hermod’s Hill at Soldier Hollow doesn’t seem so tough any more.”
The atmosphere at the amphitheater also keeps things interesting. Hundreds of people flock to the stairs in the summer to make themselves suffer, a kind of presence that nordic skiers don’t often have in the off-season.
“One of the cool things about it is that other people are doing it at the same time,” Stewart says. “For nordic skiers, a lot of the training we do on rollerskis — you’re definitely the only people doing it. But you go to Red Rocks and there’s a handful of people running the stairs or running the bleachers or doing pushups, so it’s a really cool atmosphere… It’s kind of inspiring.”
For this edition of the college workout, we’re doing stair repeats. On top of being a good mental challenge it works the specific leg muscles you use to push of your skis, and will also increase lactate tolerance. DU does this workout in the off-season, but the average nordic enthusiast can do stair repeats at any time of year, weather permitting. Don’t live in Denver? Look to your nearest skyscraper!
20 minute warmup
15 minutes of spenst on the stadium bleachers. (These are done on deeper steps than the stairs. Spenst is a set of high-workload, low-repetition Plyometric exercises.)
5 or 6 reps of ~2 minutes up the stairs at Level 4 (do the same distance each time and try to keep your time the same throughout the workout), with 4 minutes rest in between
The short spenst session at the beginning of the workout works on lower body explosiveness, and is best done before the intervals destroy your legs.
“We’ve found that including the spenst early on, doing the more explosive shorter bounds early on, is a really good warm-up for doing the stairs afterwards,” Stewart said.
As for the intervals themselves, make a point of keeping your time the same on every repetition. Stewart says the 300-step set of stairs takes his men between 1:45 and 2:00 minutes, and his women 2:00 to 2:30.
How do you know you’re doing it right?
“Your legs are shaking like crazy by the end,” Stewart says. “I used to do it with them and I don’t think I’ve ever done it without throwing up. So it’s pretty tough…it’s definitely the thoughest one we do.”
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.