Can you walk downhill without hurting your knees? I was in a similar situation at the beginning of my plan, and by week ten, my legs and knees were strong enough to run downhill (unweighted). It’s very difficult to replicate trail running or hiking indoors. IMO, the stairmaster is good for pushing yourself–the pace is constant/unrelenting. But for Z1 and Z2 long runs, it’s best to fit in time outdoors. Others with more experience while chime in.
Rereading your post, if you really could not shuffle your schedule, I would consider dropping one of the strength/power sessions for distance. This whole program is built on TNSTAAFL. It sounds like you’re trying to get out of doing the hallmark workout: long, slow, nose-breathing distance.
My primary sport is ski mountaineering but I also alpine climb (rock, mixed and ice) throughout. I use the stairmaster extensively because if I run downhill too often my knees hate me. I usually do 2 hour blocks in zone 1, 2-3 times per week strength/power 2 days per week then get out on the weekends. I have noticed that when I do these strait master workouts unweighted (or run), my performance in the mountains noticeably suffers after several weeks. However, if I do them weighted (I usually use a 45lb pack) I feel much stronger. My question is, if I am keeping it zone 1, do these weighted stairmaster workouts continue to build my aerobic base or do I need to be doing additional low intensity volume? I ask because there is really not enough time in the week to do strength/power, multiple stair master sessions and long runs if I also want to get out on the weekends. Thanks for any input! Always appreciated.
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