Walking Up Stairs and Down: How to Ace Amalfi Coast’s Path of the Gods

Let’s face it: the Italian Amalfi Coast’s famous Path of the Gods can be a beast, with all those stairs to walk up and down. But not if you’re prepared. With the right exercises done the right way during the weeks preceding your trip, you should have little problem enjoying one of planet Earth’s most stunning coastal hikes.Staircase on the Cinque Terre

The following suggestions apply just as well for the Cinque Terre walking tours, which also boast some pretty challenging stairways. That said, if you’ve opted for a guided trip, you can skip climbing stairs altogether because your guide is sure to know ways to access various trail heads using the tour vehicle. Self-guided walking tours are somewhat different, though even on those you can arrange with your tour rep to skip certain portions of walks in order to avoid stairs.

Keep in mind, however, that stairs don’t exist only on the trails, but also within towns, especially Positano, for example.  So it would be a good idea to do at least some preparation, if only to ensure you’ll have an easy, fun time hiking in Positano.

Below you’ll find some common questions about exercising for walking up stairs, as well as a complete program of preparation.

(SKIP AHEAD TO THE STAIR WORKOUT)

How do I prevent being sore from day to day that walking stairs (and lots of them) might cause?

Have you heard of DOMS aka delayed onset muscle soreness? Basically it’s the pain you feel in the muscles after a vigorous workout or a new fitness regimen. The same thing can be experienced after walking lots of stairs on Amalfi Coast’s Path of the Gods if you are not properly conditioned. You can be in great shape swimming regularly each week. But that’s not what I mean by properly conditioned for climbing up and down stairs.

Preparing specifically for the demands in your itinerary dictates what your workout content should be. If your muscles are not prepared for the demands of ascending and descending stairs you will inevitably feel some level of soreness as soon as that evening, and most definitely by the time you get out of bed the next day. Not a great start to your multi-day coastal walking trip. You can usually push thru the muscular pain from day to day. However, with the proper pre-departure fitness preparation you can avoid that pain.

Why is walking up stairs so difficult?

Capri has many stairways to climbWalking up stairs you are going against gravity. Anytime you are required to carry your bodyweight against gravity – towards the sky – you are going to need strength. If you are going to climb stairs repetitively and frequently, as you would when walking in Amalfi, then you need strength and endurance. Your quadriceps, glutes and calf muscles will need to lift your bodyweight up from one stair to the next over and over hundreds of times. The name for these type of contractions for walking up stairs is ‘concentric’. The term concentric means that the primary muscles used will shorten while contracting. Remembering the name is much less important than understanding that the type of muscle contraction is different from descending stairs and trained differently.

Why does descending stairs feel different than climbing stairs?

The forces your quadriceps muscles endure going down stairs require different muscular contractions than going up stairs. These contractions are known as ’eccentric’. The unique part is that the primary muscles used lengthen instead of shorten while simultaneously contracting. Going down stairs requires vigorous eccentric contractions and is where delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs as a result. Hence eccentric contractions are the biggest culprit for soreness from descending stairs repetitively for consecutive days. Training for descending stairs could arguably be the most important part of your hiking preparation process, but conditioning for both is recommended.

Should I work on balance for stairs?

Great views from on high, and stairs to get there

As there are few banisters along the stairs on many Italian coastal hiking trails, you definitely want to be sure you have a competent level of balance. Here is something you have probably never thought about: Every time you raise your foot off the stair to ascend or descend to the next stair – and repeat over and over again – you have to balance for a brief moment. Repeating this hundreds of times on your walking tour presents as many opportunities to stumble.

To highlight the challenge try walking in slow motion with several seconds standing on one foot before switching (perform on flat terrain for safety). Definitely not so easy. Climbing hundreds of stairs is slower than walking on flat terrain to preserve the energy needed to get to the top; slower requires more balance. Working on balance is a good way to prevent stumbling on stairs.

If I am feeling pain in my knees or hips weeks before I depart should I get it checked out by an orthopedist?

You’ve booked the walking trip of a lifetime to Italy and you are going no matter what. But, you have pain in your knee and/or hip joints. Get a prescription from your doctor to visit a physical therapist (PT). Do what you can now to reduce or eliminate the pain. Perhaps all you need from your PT is an evaluation and a targeted rehab regimen you can do from home. Maybe you and your PT decided it’s better to come once or twice a week to be more aggressive to help allay pain before your departure.

Do step-mills and stepper machines (i.e. Stairmaster) provide the same training results as walking up and down stairs?

The answer is no. The benefits of walking stairs are superior when it comes to preparing for the best hikes in Italy, especially for Cinque Terre towns. The Stairmaster is great for other training benefits like general cardiovascular fitness and therefore can be incorporated in your Italy coastal walking trail tour workout but it does not replace walking up and down stairs.

Ground reaction forces are the important factor missing from using stair machines. Ground reaction forces propel you up the stairs as well as help you put on the breaks while you descend the stairs. In other words: As you push your foot toward the stair with muscular force you are going to ascend or control the speed of your descent. The stepper machines cannot provide the same benefit.

In fact the step machines or steppers require you to ‘keep up’ with the speed setting you program into the console. You are actually lifting your left foot up as the right foot sinks and then you switch and repeat repetitively. If you don’t lift your feet fast enough to keep up with the speed setting you settle to the floor and the machine stops.

At the top of the stairs on the Cinque Terre

STAIR CLIMBING EXERCISE PLAN FOR CINQUE TERRE HIKING and ALMAFI COAST’S PATH OF THE GODS

Plug the recommendations below into your current weekly workout. Explanations for Stair workouts and Resistance Training Phases are published below the chart. If you have any questions about this workout contact Marcus [at] FitForTrips.com, or visit the Fit For Trips website.

Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Weeks 1 thru 3
(Base Phase)
Single Stair Repeats x 3 to 5 Resistance Training Phase I Single Stair Repeats x 3 to 5 Resistance Training Phase I
Week 4
(Recovery Phase)
Stair Walking 15-20 min Resistance Training Phase II
Weeks 5 and 6
(Build Phase)
Stair Walking 20-30 min  Resistance Training Phase II  Stair Walking 20-30 min  Resistance Training Phase II
Week 7
(Recovery Phase)
 Double Stair Repeats x 3 to 4  Resistance Training Phase III
Weeks 8 and 9
(Peak Phase)
 Double Stair Repeats x 3 to 5  Resistance Training Phase III  Double Stair Repeats x 3 to 5  Resistance Training Phase III
Week 10
(Taper Phase)
 Double Stair Repeats x 2 to 4  Resistance Training Phase II Stair Walking 10-15 min
Week 11
(Leave for Italy)

Single Stair Repeats

Perform this workout anywhere there are stairs (i.e., staircase at home, stadium bleachers, stairwells).

Warm up for 5-10 minutes walking on a flat surface. Segue immediately to stair workout.

Begin workout by ascending to the top floor and descending back down repeatedly at a moderate pace for five minutes (work) followed by 1 minute (rest) of walking on a flat surface.

Keep your hands close to the handrail for safety. Repeat as per recommended on chart above.

{Single Stair Repeat formula: [5’(work) / 1’(rest)] x (refer to chart)}

Immediately following the Single Stair Repeats, cool down by walking on a flat surface for as long as time, inclination and motivation allow. At least 5 minutes.

Stair Walking

Perform this workout anywhere there are stairs (i.e., staircase at home, stadium bleachers, stairwells).

Warmup for 5-10 minutes walking on a flat surface. Segue immediately to stair workout.

Begin workout by ascending to the top floor and descending back down repeatedly at a moderate pace for as long as indicated on your chart.

Keep your hands close to the handrail for safety. Perform at a moderate pace.

Immediately following the Stair Walking workout, cool down by walking on a flat surface for as long as time, inclination and motivation allow. At least 5 minutes.

Double Stair Repeats

Perform this workout anywhere there are stairs (i.e., staircase at home, stadium bleachers, stairwells). IMPORTANT: Ascend taking two stairs at a time; descend taking one stair at a time.

Warmup for 5-10 minutes walking up and down the stairs at a moderate pace taking one step at a time.

Begin workout by ascending to the top floor and descending back down repeatedly at a moderate pace for five minutes (work) followed by 1 minute (rest) of walking on a flat surface.

Keep your hands close to the handrail in case you stumble. Repeat as per recommended on your endurance chart.

{DSR1 formula: [5’(work) / 1’(rest)] x (number here will indicate times to repeat)}

Immediately following the Double Stair Repeats, cool down by walking on a flat surface for as long as time, inclination and motivation allow. At least 5 minutes.

All resistance training exercises below should be performed 2 to 3 sets and 10 to 12 repetitions per exercise.

Resistance Training Phase I

Resistance Training Phase II

Resistance Training Phase III

A Staircase on the Amalfi Coast

Once you’re prepared to go up and down stairs you’re all set for some of the best hikes in Italy — the stunning walks on the Amalfi Coast and the famous Cinque Terre hiking trails. And of course, if you’re fit for the steep coastal trails in Italy you’re also in good shape for any of the less challenging walking tours that Italy has to offer. Enjoy your trip knowing you’ve earned that lasagna!

Written by Marcus Shapiro (adventure travel fitness expert)

Marcus crafts custom training programs for Girosole travelers and is founder of Fit For Trips. For every itinerary that presents a physical challenge (i.e., stairs, long distances, steep inclines) Marcus knows how to overcome it. If you are curious about a custom crafted training program for your Girosole itinerary contact Marcus [at] fitfortrips.com or visit the Fit for Trips website.