Running, walking or bounding up the cement stairs at Harvard University stadium, the second oldest college football stadium in the country, for many people including myself, never seems to get old. Case in point, you can travel to Cambridge, MA on any given weekend morning and you’ll see all types of people, male and female, young and old, moving through their workout at the stadium built-in 1903. The oldest stadium by the way can be found on the campus at the University of Pennsylvania, built-in 1895.
I found myself at the stadium once again with my friend, Dino, working out early on a recent Saturday morning. As always, there were other fitness-minded enthusiasts who ended up alongside us who were also walking or running the 15-inch high cement steps that include 31-steps, from bottom to top, organized in 36-sections (see video). The steps are typically used as bleacher seats during Harvard football games and other sporting events. The idea is to run or walk each step up to the top and then try to recover as you make your way to the bottom before repeating the meditative sequence. The goal is to traverse around a horseshoe layout designed stadium, moving from section one through section thirty-seven. By the time you’re done you have climbed approximately 1,147 steps. There are also a smaller flight of red-colored steps between each section that you can choose to use — and which if you’re smart — you’ll use on the descent to recover before ascending back up using the big boy steps. If you’re new to stadium stair workouts then your best option would be to start on the smaller red steps until your fitness level improves before supplementing with the bigger steps that are about double in height. Why? because of something known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which you will experience if you do too much too soon.
I believe it was Harvard’s legendary crew coach, Harry Parker, fresh from the 1960 Olympic Team, who started taking his teams there during that same year using stadium running as part of their year-long training program. Since then many coaches have adopted his methodology and have continued the tradition. There are amazing stories of high-level athletes running all the stairs, twice, in the same amount of time that it takes an average, fit person to complete them once! Individual athletes from other sports soon followed and then came people like you and me.
My first experience doing stadium stairs as a workout in Cambridge dates back to the summer of 1988 when I was working at a nearby health club in Harvard Square. The club and historic stadium were within walking distance of each other. In retrospect, it’s interesting to think about all the energy I have expended sweating through hundreds of workouts throughout the years, which for me includes more than four decades. Workouts consisted of either individual sessions or accompanied by family, friends or on special occasions, with large groups of members from area Koko FitClubs. During all that time I realized that it never once seemed like the same old workout; each time it seems fresh and exciting when I make the forty-five minute drive back to the city with the world-famous zip code of 02138. I can remember in my mid-20’s taking private clients to workout 3–4 times a week over at the stadium. I can remember one time walking back over the Larz Anderson Bridge following a stadium workout, crossing the Charles River and then waiting at the intersection at Memorial Drive for the lights to turn green. I remember feeling spent and then happened to look down at my legs that were shaking uncontrollably. Talk about overloading your neuromuscular system. Back then I had no problem running the whole stadium while today that may not happen but I do take pleasure in watching my daughter, Julia who run in college, take charge and own the stairs, like I once did, running all 37 sections. She has heard the stories of me putting my wife, Robyn, on my back, on our second date, and walking up to the top when I was just a few years older than her. Or another memorable time when I was in the middle of doing a stair workout with my buddy, Michael, when a helicopter landed in the parking lot of the stadium and out walked multimillionaire Malcolm Forbes and who to our surprise, came right over and said hello and asked us “how was the workout boys?” That was 1990 and not too long afterwards he passed away at age 70.
Workouts like stadium stairs are a great activity to do individually or with your family and friends. It’s especially nice though when your kids end up loving it and can work out with you. Maybe one day they will take their children there for a visit and continue the tradition. The only thing that continues to grow old, however, is us and not that great, iconic, cement structure that contains so much history and so many of our memories!
Nothing better than an early Sat. morning workout at @harvardfootball stadium. You can walk/run the stairs for 15-30 minutes to start and eventually progress to doing the full stadium which is more than 1100 steps! Add in some dips and push-ups once you complete a flight to give yourself a full body workout. Missed @juliawoodd this morning – will get back out with you when you return.