I’m not a huge fan of doing stair workouts, but I will admit, a good one kicks your a** and is great for building up endurance, punching up your cardiovascular workout, or curing a hangover. Any person who lives in the Marina, Cow Hollow, or even Russian Hill has heard of the challenge/torture device known as Lyon Street Steps.
The approximate 290 steps of pure pain start out at the intersection of Lyon and Green St, just bordering the Presidio. Lyon St dead-ends at the base of the steps. As you peer up the steepest portion (get the worst part out of the way first I say) you’ll probably notice a line of people running/ walking/ panting up and down the stairs. There are usually also small groups of people, part of the ever-growing network of bootcamp programs.
Every couple weeks I lead an impromptu bootcamp class for my girlfriends and incorporate Lyon Street Steps into the workout. If you’re looking to get back into shape for the holidays (or to just offset the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie you’ll be inhaling), doing this workout 2 times a week will definitely help. It’s about 1 hour in total.
I always start a bootcamp out with a run to warm up the muscles. Recommend doing roughly a 2-3 miler down along Marina Green depending on your speed, I’d say try and get a good 20-30 minute run in prior to attempting the steps. Our running route begins at Union/Octavia – run down Octavia to Bay – take Bay to Laguna to Marina Green (daters’ Safeway will be on your left) - follow Marina Green to Lyon St and cut up through the Palace of Fine Arts until Lyon ends at the steps. Do a quick 5 minute stretch (runners stretch, hamstring stretch) to get ready for the stair workout.
You can do these steps as many times as your body can handle, but honestly our workout is usually three full sets (up and down) - anything beyond this and vomiting may be a potential option. I also intersperse circuit training or strengthening exercises between each set.
The first set of steps is the steepest, and I recommend taking them at a speed your body will be pushed at (we usually jog them to get going on the cardio), just don’t go overboard. I once had a slight muscle tear doing a stair workout on cold muscles after not running stairs for a year straight so be mindful of your level and body.
When you’ve reached the top of the steep section, you’ll be at Broadway. Catch your breath as you cross the street and make sure to take in the mansions that surround you. Welcome to the neighborhood of Pacific Heights - or as some jokingly call it “Specific Whites.” Someone actually told me that the mansion at the top of these steps (you pass in your ascent – say hello to the security guard) belongs to California State Senator, Dianne Feinstein, but I’m not sure I believe this urban legend.
After you cross Broadway, get ready for the second part of the workout. The next set of steps are not as steep, and are perfect for running up or taking two-at-a-time. When you get to the top at Pacific, turn around and take in the view, it is a spectacular reward for all your efforts – you can see the entire Bay and the cityscape of San Francisco.
Don’t let your body warm down too long (no more than a minute) because the circuit training/strengthening exercises are next.
1) Quad squats: 3 sets – all weight on heels, toes lifted, knees do not move, butt goes up and down, back arched to focus weight on quads – helps strengthen those muscles, good for runners
2) Mountain Climbers (Start on your hands and knees and get into in a sprinter’s start position. Keep your hands on the ground and push off with your feet so you alternate foor placement (run in place). Do 3 sets of 8. Be sure to keep your back straight, not arched.
3) Oblique turns – Lower into a squat and rotate your upper body side to side quickly (90 degrees to 90 degrees) for about 3 sets of 8, keeping your core muscles tight – add on to this exercise by working your arms, adding in punches for 3 sets of 8
4) Regular and Tricep push ups – 1 set each – 10 per set.
You can warm down on the descent. Be careful on the steep section, I always get a bit tripped out running this part and working with my depth perception so don’t go too quickly, it’s a LONG way down! When you reach the bottom, turn right back around for set 2 of the stairs.
For second set of circuit training/strengthening (same location – at Pacific), you can do the workout before or interchange any of these exercises:
1) Mountain climbers advanced: Start standing, squat down, pop out into push up, come back to a squat, stand up, jump, repeat. Note, this should be done quickly. Perform 10 of these.
2) Chair dips (or in this case, bench dips). This is a great tricep workout. Use one of the stone benches at the top of the steps and lower your body using your triceps. Note – maybe leave this out if you have shoulder issues.
3) Side to side squats – start with feet together. Step out to one side, squat, come back in together, step out to other side and squat. 3 sets of 8.
4) Regular push ups – one set
5) Jumping jacks – 3 sets of 8
Back to the 3rd set of stairs!
Last set of additional circuit training/strengthening exercises:
1) Jump Lunges: Start in the lunge position – one foot forward and one foot back. Bend your knees and then jump up high and switch leg positions. Try to do this quickly, but in a controlled manner
2) Plank: This is a great isometric workout that will target your core. Get into push up position on hands and toes, or on elbows and toes. Contract your abdominal muscles (and core). Keep your back straight (don’t collapse in the middle) and hold this position for a minute. If you want to push it, you can push up onto your hands at the end, then do a push up while you lift a foot off the ground, alternate feet.
3) Side Lunges/Dips: Lung to one side, start with the back leg straight and front leg bent. Drop down until your back leg is 1-2 inches off the ground. Come up. 3 sets of 8.
Once you finish that last set, give yourself a big pat on the back. Take in a couple sips of water and get ready for the run (or walk) home. I recommend a 10 minute post workout stretch – especially if this is your first time, you’ll probably have some sore muscles the next day.