Why I've chosen to perform only two repetitions of the Cathedral of Learning stair climb

Four times now in the past two weeks, I have done exactly two repetitions, no less and no more, of the 36-floor Cathedral of Learning stair climb.

A friend of mine who also started the stair climbing, inspired by my one-repetition initial climb before New Year, was very excited about immediately going to two, and then after that, going to three reps. I, on the other hand, have chosen to stay at exactly two. So yesterday I did two, as planned.

Here’s why I’ve chosen to stay at exactly two.

The question of goals

Even before we begin an exercise program at all, we should be very clear and explicit about our goals. It is impossible to effectively and efficiently achieve our goals if they are too vague or casual.

Sometimes we expend all our “serious” energy on school or work or family, but do not carry out the same discipline when working on our goals outside the really big ones that in some sense are forced upon us. Typically, in these bigger, institutionalized realms, once we get involved at all, they have their own built-in feedback mechanisms to prevent us from totally slacking off (although of course there are workaholics who ignore their family as well as those whose highest priority is leaving the office at 5 PM sharp in order to get to the real business of having dinner with the family).

Having specific goals enables we to break down into action steps, supported by theory and practical experience and know-how.

Example questions we have to answer about our goals:

For me, my overall goal in exercise is always general, not tied to a specific event, but I always have secondary and tertiary increasingly specific goals, that I try to make as consistent as possible with the general goal, and exploit as rewards and milestones along the way for motivation and calibration. So for example, regarding my brand new stair-climbing component of my exercise regimen:

Hill and stair climbing has always been a weakness of mine, so this is the year when I am going to systematically improve it.

Analysis of goals

Given my goals, we see that there is a mix of possible “zones” to target. I want both endurance and power. I’m not planning to do hilly ultramarathons, so maximizing endurance is not of interest. Therefore, I am not even thinking about building up to ten reps of the Cathedral of Learning stair climb.

However, I want to achieve a certain amount of endurance, for the long runs and hikes.

But for the shorter term, I want to optimize for the Fight for Air Climb, which is only 45 floors (897 steps). Given that, doing one fast rep of the Cathedral stair climb simulates best that particular event.

The process of conditioning

Then there’s the question of how to build up to where I want to be. It doesn’t happen all at once. Progress is gradual. The muscles need to grow and become efficient. How best to train?

I’ve chosen to do two repetitions in order to simultaneously build up endurance and power, neither maximally, while in the early stages of training. My plan is to get enough endurance from this that I can then transition to more targeted training. In particular, I expect not to move up to three reps, but instead, to either drop down to one rep, or instead change the parameters entirely, training anaerobically with sprints upward.

The record so far

Here’s my history so far for the two-rep workout that I began this year:

In four workouts so far this month, I have made improvements while adhering to some deliberate constraints:


I’m going to stick to two repetitions until I reach an inflection point at which point I will make some big change. Staying with two allows me to gauge my progress along certain dimensions.

What is your preference when you work out? What variables do you change and monitor? Number of repetitions? Recovery time? Increase in distance? Increase in speed? Increase in weight load? And why? What are your goals?

(Update of 2013-03-04)

Over a month later, I finally moved up to three reps.

(Update of 2013-03-10)

And then four reps.

A gradual progression made the improvement seem natural rather than painful and forced.

comments powered by Disqus