WOW: Stairway to Sore Thighs

Complete six cycles for time:

Stair Sprint
15 Bodyweight Rows
15 Feet-Elevated Pushups


Warmup: 30 second Grok Squat, lateral, forward, and backward leg swings (10 each leg), 2 light stair runs at around 70% intensity.

I was listening to Led Zeppelin the other day while nursing my legs after a set of hill sprints, and the name came to me – “Stairway to Sore Thighs.” I thought it was a fun name and sprinting against gravity is always a good time. Plus, even the hill-deficient can find a few flights of stairs to sprint. Still, is it worthy of mangling a Zeppelin song title? Other than perhaps Crossfitting thruster fetishists with a penchant for anterior chain pain, no one would confuse a set of sore thighs with “heaven.”

This one is pretty simple. Find a set of stairs, minimum three flights. Shoot for five or more flights, though, or about fifty steps. Sprint up as fast as you can. Do fifteen bodyweight rows, using whatever is available. Walk down the stairs. Do fifteen pushups with your feet elevated. Rest for half a minute to a minute. Repeat five times.

Pretty simple, right? “Stairway to Heaven” hits me in the heart. “Stairway to Sore Thighs” will take care of the rest.

A few things to remember:

  • Do a few test runs on the stairs before going all out. Get a feel for the steps and figure out if you’re going to skip steps or hit each one while sprinting.
  • If you can’t find anywhere to do bodyweight rows, do pullups instead and drop the reps down to ten.
  • Try exploding upward during the pushups so that your torso becomes perfectly parallel with the ground. Throw a clap in there if you like.


Remember, three flights at a minimum. Those who can handle it are free to double or even triple that.

What Are WOWs?

  • Workouts of the Week (WOWs) are an optional component of Primal Blueprint Fitness that add a fractal and often fun and playful quality to the basic PBF protocol.
  • In most cases WOWs should only be completed by those that have mastered Level 4 of each Lift Heavy Things Essential Movement. Also, it’s recommended that WOWs replace one or both Lift Heavy Things workouts or the Sprint workout (depending on the WOW) each week instead of being done in addition to the Lift Heavy Things and Sprint workouts.
  • Learn more about WOWs and Primal Blueprint Fitness by getting the free eBook. And access all Workouts of the Week in the WOW Archive.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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8 thoughts on “WOW: Stairway to Sore Thighs”

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  1. Love this WOW! This particular one would be perfect for me to do at the office, since the building I work in is like 15 stories high! 😉

  2. Hey Mark,

    Love the website and love stairs workouts so I thought I’d add 2 tips I find useful on stairs.

    1 – When doing stairs sprints I like to pyramid the number of stairs I’m climbing each step.

    So for 6 sets, like in this workout, the first set I’d do every stair. The second set, I’d do each second stair. The third set, I’d do each third stair. Then reverse so the pattern through the 6 sets is 1-2-3-3-2-1.

    I find it gives the body some variation and it me something to think about and concentrate on other than the exertion.

    2 – When running stairs try to make your footsteps as quiet as possible.

    This forces you to pull up instead of drive down to create motion. It makes your movements more explosive. It also protects your joints from pounding.

    A friend who trained as a polevaulter and was on the national team for 10 years told me the ‘quiet feet’ trick and it’s served me and my joints very well.

    1. I have done the same thing in the past and can second your recommendation to try this method. By the time you get to 3 steps at a time, you’ve almost transitioned into a plyometric-type workout. Following this method allows you to hone endurance and power/agility in the same workout.

      I still need to focus on quiet feet though, I always start my distance runs quiet and agile and then by the end, my legs begin to tire and I’m clomping along like a Clydesdale, haha.

  3. When I was coaching, I would run ‘Dirty Dozens’ on the stairs during our dry land workouts. (Normally, dirty dozens are in the pool, 25/50M Fly Sprint, same push up increments at each end – also one of my favorites).

    Straight flights of approx 30ish stairs, depending on the stairs location.

    The goal was to work sets of 12, for each stair sprint and return, add one full push up. SO after each flight, the push ups increased i.e. first flight, 1 push up. Second flight, 2 push ups – all the way to 12. For those able, increments were 2 or 3 push ups per flight.

    Begin the sprint back far enough to get up to full speed by the time the first step is hit, 5 seconds or so.

    Warm Up: 3 EZ flights, be be sure to touch each stair.

    “Dirty Dozens”
    3-5 x 12
    Stair sprint, full speed up
    Quick jog down
    Push ups (1-12)

    Rest: 1:00 after each set of 12

  4. I found your website only a few days ago. AND I had been considering those new 5-toe finger Vibram shoes for a while. Then a chiropractor paddling acquaintance I met was wearing them and recommended them, then I found your website and read about them, here. I finally purchased a pair on Sunday (actually received as a gift from my two sons!) Then, this morning, Men’s Health News, daily e-mail – had this:
    Running shoes are on a diet. Over the past 2 years, the slimmed-down barefoot and minimalist sneakers have found their way into nearly every shoe store thanks to the popularity of Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run and a 2010 Harvard study that touted barefoot running’s forefoot strike and its low impact on bones and joints.

    But injuries are rising with shoe sales, says podiatrist Marybeth Crane, a foot and ankle surgeon in North Texas. “I’d say that 85 percent of my patients get injured trying to transition to the new shoes.”

    The problem for those trying it isn’t the shoes, though, but weak feet and poor form, according to emerging research.

    Our ancestors’ way of running—landing on the forefoot—produces almost zero impact on joints and bones, the Harvard study found. Researchers videotaped runners on treadmills landing heel first and forefoot first, and measured the ground reaction force of each footstrike. They found landing heel first, as 75 percent of all shod runners do, generates up to three times the body’s weight in impact force—shoes or no shoes. (Related from Men’s Health: Yes, You Were Born to Run.)

    So what’s causing the injuries? Some runners took to the road in thin-soled shoes without changing their foot strike accordingly—continuing to land on their heels, but now with less cushioning to absorb the impact. Minimal shoes drop their heel height from the standard half an inch to 1/7 of an inch, which can cause overuse injuries in unaccustomed calves and achilles. “Standard shoes have made our intrinsic musculature weak,” says Cane. “Too much, too soon, too fast in a barefoot shoe can strain the musculature to the point that it breaks down.” As a result, she says several newfound devotees are hobbling around with stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, and neuromas in their toes.

    Researchers are conducting studies as we speak that compare injury rates between minimal and standard shoes, but results may still be a couple years away, says Saucony Human Performance and Innovation Lab director Spencer White.
    Should You Go Bare?

    If you suffer from repetitive stress injuries every year, you might want to consider switching to a midfoot or forefoot running form to take some of the stress off your joints, says Daniel Liberman, Ph.D., the professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard who conducted the landmark heel-stike/forefoot-strike studies. Just make sure to adjust your stride, strengthen your feet, and don’t rush the transition from regular shoes to minimalist shoes.

    While it is possible to run with a forefoot strike in a regular shoe, experts don’t recommend it. It’s too easy to fall back into old habits. Plus, the midfoot strike—which can be easier to learn—is impossible in a thick-soled shoe. (It’s like running in high heels; since your heel is elevated, you’re not actually doing a proper midfoot strike.)

    Before You Begin: If you’re overweight, or have nerve damage, diabetes or any serious orthopedic issue, you need a more supportive shoe—minimal shoes aren’t made for everyone.
    Change Your Gait

    Overstriding—when feet land in front of your body—forces the heel to land first. “The most efficient footstrike is one that lands exactly below your center of gravity, usually under your hips” says Crane. Aim for a quick cadence of 180 steps per minute and your feet should fall into place.

    If you’d rather not overthink it, White suggests getting on a treadmill and force yourself to run quietly. “If you worry about landing on your midfoot or forefoot, you’ll work too hard,” says White. “Listen to the sound of your steps and make them quieter. It’s about treading lightly—a heel striker can’t do it. Your body is smart enough to figure out how to modify that motion.” To run quietly, your body must fall into place—your stride will shorten, feet will move under your hips, posture will straighten up or move forward slightly and it will be easier to land midfoot.
    Build Slowly

    Run no more than 200 to 400 meters during your first time in the shoes, and then, increase that distance by only 5 or 10 percent for each consecutive run. You don’t have to drop your mileage, just spend a small percentage of it in the minimal shoes. “It could take you a month to build up a mile of running,” says Crane, who estimates that only 15 percent of her clients manage to stay injury-free right after switching to minimal shoes. “Our body gets stronger with small incremental increases in stress, but breaks down and gets injured with large incremental increases,” says Crane. “This is why we stress a slow, gradual transition.”

    Before you lace up your shoes, Crane advises you spend a month strengthening your feet for the job. “Our feet have been braced in shoes for most of our lives, weakening the muscles and muffling our inherent proprioception,” says Crane. A series of moves every day will prepare your feet for the new movements:

    Towel Crunches. Bulk up the tiny muscles that stabilize your toes by placing your foot on a towel and crunching it up with your toes. Do 10 times and then rest for 30 seconds; do three sets.

    Heel Walking. A quick way to strengthen shin muscles is to roll back and walk on your heels for 30 seconds before resting for the same amount of time. Do three sets.

    Inside Foot/Outside Foot Walking. Follow the pattern of heel walking. Roll feet inwards toward the arches until you’re balanced and walk to strengthen medial muscles (posterior tibial muscle and abductor hallucis). Then roll your feet toward the outside edge and do the same to strengthen lateral muscles (peroneals).

    Deep Forefoot Squats. Roll up and onto your forefoot, then squat down as far as you can or until your upper legs are parallel to ground and your butt is hovering over heels. Hold pose for 30 seconds and then stand up for 10 seconds rest; repeat 5 times.

    Balance Training. Balance on one leg with other leg bent for 30 seconds. Switch legs; repeat 5 times.

    Visit the Men’s Health Running Center for training plans, expert advice, and more ways to banish injuries forever.

    —Rachel Sturtz

  5. I did this workout today but I didn’t have a decent set of stairs nearby so I did jump squats instead…definitely still felt the burn! I got on my 2nd set and was like “ok, how many of these am I supposed to do again….six?!?! ah crap!!!”

    I think I’ll try this one again in a few days at the park where there’s a great set of stairs to use. Thanks Mark!

  6. How about this variation:
    Go a little more primal, and go on all fours up the stairs. After the 15 feet-elevated PU’s, do 5 HSPU’s (HandStand PushUp’s).

  7. This looks great. I work in a downtown area and have lots of access to stairs! I used to actually run stairs on a very regular basis because it was one of the most accessible workouts to do over lunch. Going to have to get back into that. Next sprint day I will give this a shot.