Climbing Exercise Equipment

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 9.40.24 AMThe Versaclimber and I go way back. Back in 1992, I actually set the (unofficial) world record for the mile climb on one, doing 5, 280 feet in 22:40, a 232 feet per minute average. The craziest thing about that mile was that I wore a heart rate monitor and held 186 beats per minute for the entire ride. To put that into perspective, by then I was in my late thirties and had already had a full career as an elite endurance athlete (both marathons and triathlons), yet I’d never held my heart rate that high for that long. Nor since.

And in the last year, I’ve rediscovered it after a (too) long absence. Man, have I been missing out.

I’ve always said it’s the greatest piece of cardio equipment ever devised. I can think of nothing that gets your heart rate higher quicker. And it does so with very little unneeded stress or pounding on the joints. You are using both lower and upper body and since you’re upright, the heart is having to pump a bit more uphill to feed the arms. It’s a true total body workout — arms, trunk muscles, legs, glutes, and cardiovascular system are all called upon. Best of all, the work is spread out over the body, so you’re able to tax your entire system to a greater extent than if you were generating all the power with, say, just the legs (on a bike or treadmill).

You can adjust the stride length to make it so that you torch your glutes or, if you prefer, focus on the quads and calves. You can focus on the upper body, really stretching it out so every stride is like a single-armed supported pullup. In my opinion, that makes this the premium full-body glycogen depletion tool. Anyone interested in really emptying their reserves (say, a cyclic ketogenic dieter preparing for a refeed) should hop on the Versaclimber for a depletion workout; no muscle group gets passed over on these things.

How do you use a Versaclimber?

Today I primarily use it for intense intervals, doing a minute hard with a two minute rest for six rounds – or doing 1, 000 feet hard with a four minute rest for three or four rounds. On the tougher ones, I’m getting my heart rate up to 170 and holding it there, well beyond my 61 year old theoretical max of 159. Occasionally, I will just get on and hold a steady pace for 3-4, 000 feet as a time-trial or “tempo” workout.

There are some other options, too:

Reverse tabatas: 10 second all-out sprint, 20 second active rest for 8 rounds.

Is it just a Stairmaster?

No, emphatically. Stairmasters are cool, but the steps move on their own and you have to keep up. With the Versaclimber, you move the steps; they wait for you to initiate the movement. You have to be motivated, then, to train on this machine. You can’t just go through the motions because you are creating the motion.

My Versaclimber is fixed resistance, but models with adjustable resistance exist. I find the fixed resistance to be plenty hard, and I’m using it mostly for the cardiovascular benefits/sprinting, so I’m not looking for a strength session. Your mileage may vary. You could always wear a weight vest, I suppose.

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