SIG SAUER - Never Settle

Corps Strength – Step It Up

In my opinion one of the most basic measures of useful fitness is the ability to carry a load. No smart ass not that type of load, LOL. What I mean is the sheer physical ability to carry something from one place to another, this is nothing fancy, it’s just about getting that whatever, from here to there. Infantryman , Urban and Wild Land Firefighters, SWAT guys, lumberjacks, masons, etc, all have to deal with moving weight around and there are many other jobs that require you to lift and carry weight.


This straight forward ability is a real measure of overall body strength, endurance and durability. It also has a tough mental component as it can only really be developed through hard grind workouts, however as a foundation of fitness it has no equal. Now having said all that what is the best way to obtain and maintain this component of fitness? In the military forced marches with heavy packs is the go method to for them. Firefighters and SWAT guys train with gear and workers that have to bear weight do so every day as part of their jobs. But if your a person that isn’t in one of these occupations you can still gain a lot of benefit from doing some training in this area.


For myself and others I’ve trained, I’ve seen the best results (in the shortest amount of time) from stair climbing with a weighted vest. Now while from time to time I do some long hikes humping a heavy pack, but for really digging into this, I find weight vest stair climbing is the best. I’m not talking about running up and down stairs, which without a vest is mostly an aerobic workout, but deliberately paced weighted walking up and down stairs. One good thing about stairs is that they are pretty much every where; indoor fire escapes are in every building and outside there are parks, sports stadiums and many other places that have some great places to climb stairs. Here on base where I work there are several places, but my go to is a 44 step outdoor fire escape on the base auditorium building. Once a week I throw on my 40lb vest and stair climb. I walk without holding the rails on the way up, but do so on the way down to keep from busting my clumsy ass. Normally I will do around 45 laps in an hour (51 is my PR). Now that may not sound like much but look at it this way. The standard amount of steps per floor in a new high rise is 12. So 45 laps of 44 step is 1980 steps (counting up only), or 165 floors. Look at it this way, that’s the equivalent of climbing the 104 floors of One World Trade Center with an additional 61 floors. It’s a tough workout and though I normally run 2-3 times a week otherwise, this hour of stair climbing is a much harder overall body workout than running or lifting weights. My legs, back and hips are always sore the next day. It’s not easy, and at times a little boring, but I do it asI know it provides me a level of conditioning no amount of just running or gym work ever would.


The weird thing is I’ve had more than a few people attempt to caution me as too the long term effect of this workout on my back and knees, but I’ve been doing this exact type of workout for many years and never had any injuries from it. In fact it’s been the opposite, I think it has helped me prevent injuries by strengthening the core muscles and other tissue around my joints. I feel the immediate benefit when I go backpacking with my sons. We are doing some rock climbing and backpacking in the Adirondacks and in Yosemite this summer and I know by investing an hour a week in this workout will have me in prime condition for those trips. I highly recommend this for those who want to take their conditioning to a higher level without a large time investment. Start with a light load and short time and increase as you get used to it. Be sure to warm up well prior to and stretch out thoroughly at the end. Be cautious coming down, you don’t need to rush and I would recommend never to run on stairs with a weight vest, to easy to fall and get hurt. Give it a try, it’s not easy but well worth it if you are looking for a way for you to amp up your core fitness.

Be Safe always, Good when you can

Semper Fi



11 Responses to “Corps Strength – Step It Up”

  1. Nick says:

    Awesome advice. As someone who carries heavy things on my back and hips for long durations, I’ve noticed that there is no better way to gain strength and aerobic capacity than stairs with weight.

    It’s great to see more of these posts and a return to functional fitness.

  2. Matt says:

    What great advice. I’m going to start that next week on our abseil tower with my PC on. Thank you

  3. SG says:

    I love that MGunz talks about mindset. Running and stair climbing with a device pumping words or music into your head is hard, but without it you don’t have anything to distract you from the arduousness of the task at hand, it really does push your limits and build better mental fortitude in the long run.

    You got out and climbed: Good.
    You got out and climbed and pushed yourself hard: Great.
    You got out and climbed and had to be in your own head with nothing to think about but how much it sucks/hurts?: Perfect.

  4. Seamus says:

    Very sound advice. As for risk of injuries, IMHO it will be lower (provided you down fall down the stairs.) Unlike weightlifting, running, calisthenics, or circuit training it is, low impact, relatively slow and methodical, no weight being held above your body (think barbell) and no bending or twisting motions involved. I would also like to point out that in my time in Afghanistan the simple act of moving from point A to point B WAS the mission. Simply moving was the hardest part of the mission, everything else quickly became secondary. Those hills and mountains were unreal and the terrain unforgiving. Nothing save time-in-ruck could come close to preparing anyone for those hills. I am so glad I never had to buddy carry anyone out of there. Very sound advise that I will have to implement to my training regimen.

    • straps says:

      To the point about falling down the stairs: NOT doing this is a function of Balance, which is a Thing. I doubt I have to tell you this given your experience in the mountains of Afghanistan but Balance is another neglected facet of functional fitness so it’s worth reiterating.

      • Seamus says:

        I agree. In fact so do many division 1 colleges who have their football players work on balance and coordination. They do it in many ways, but for some it can be a simple as dance class or ballet.

  5. Dev says:

    Brilliant advice. I live in a relatively low density area so most of the buildings accessible here are 2 storeys at best. I just do a 30 minute pack march trying to cover as much distance as possible while carrying 40kg, usually 3 times a week. Some days to make it interesting I carry a 12kg kettlebell. I’m spent afterwards usually.

  6. Eddie says:

    Just did this in my apartment building. 5 floors, 84 steps in total

    Pounded up and down with 35lb on my back for 45 minutes. Got up and down 22 times.

    Feeling it now, especially in the calves. Good workout! Gonna add this to the routine

  7. adil says:

    cant agree with this more. I may not be a LEO anymore but as a Dad with three kids, i typically end up with gear to hump for unexpected durations and distances (a three year old on the shoulder with an already overloaded 3 day pack kinds sums it up)

  8. Mick says:

    Good stuff.
    Quick question: weight vs. backpack with weight. Is there a reason one’s better than the other? Or just personal preference?
    I have an assault pack with like 60lbs of sand in it I’ve been wearing while walking with kids and/or dogs. I think I’ll need to cut that down and slowly build up…

  9. JKifer says:

    So after reading this I was like, fuck ya…cept I don’t have a weighted vest. Next best thing, 30lb plate carrier (plates and 3A inserts)..did the stairs and then a long uphill/downhill.. beer and protein to recover… will definitely be doing this weekly.

    To the question regarding weight such as a vest or plate carrier vs a ruck.. its a completely different workout (IMHO).. vest/pc more the legs, rucks get your back, core and legs…