Something bugging me about the Alpine Combine box step

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  • #7777

    In the book it says you have two choices, either a 305m steep hill or 305m of box stepping with 20% of bodyweight on your back and boots.

    But with the box steps you will be going both up and down for each step, but on the hill you will go straight up. Shouldn’t the different times for the two tests be different since you’ll be going twice the distance on the box steps?

    On a 50% incline for 305m to make it in 20 minutes you’d have to do something like a light jog (of course that’s hard enough). On my box I have to basically sprint to get the same pace.

    For the sake of equivalency, shouldn’t the time requirements for box steps be higher?

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    Anonymous on #7778

    Hey Thrusthamster,

    Great question. In my opinion, yes, for a couple reasons:

    # First, I agree that going up and down is going to take longer.

    # Second, any recommendation for a timed ascent–in meters per hour, etc–should be qualified by the angle of the terrain. The most efficient angle for trained athletes seems to be within 14-16 degrees (25-30%). In contrast, a typical staircase is usually 32 degrees (62%). Boxes in gyms are even “steeper”.

    Your rate of ascent for box stepping will depend on the height of the box. If it’s a typical box from a gym, it’s almost certainly going to be steeper than what’s most efficient.

    For example, to achieve an angle of 14 degrees (25%), your step need be only 4″ high… If you climb 3,000 4-inch steps, you’ll have your 1,000′ at 25% (1,000′ ~=~ 300m). You can imagine how much faster your cadence would be on a 4″ step than on a much larger step or box. For example, the sustainable cadence on a 4″ step is more than three times that of a 12″ step, thus making the vertical ascent speed faster overall.

    # Personally, I would use a treadmill for this test to make it predictable and repeatable. Unfortunately, most treadmills only go to 15%. But if you can find a gym with a Woodway 4Front or a NordicTrack Incline Trainer, you should be all set. The 4Front goes to 25%, and the Incline Trainer goes even steeper.

    Most importantly, regardless of the angle, be consistent between tests and, because of the variables, ignore the results of other people. Person to person, results are unlikely to be comparable unless done on the same “terrain”, whether that’s outside, on a box, or on a treadmill.

    I hope that helps.

    Scott S.

    Anonymous on #7780


    Scott S is correct. And for the sake of accuracy we should certainly have specified 2 times. However and this is a big HOWEVER: The point of putting this test in the book was to show climbers how un-fit they probably are. When we wrote this book you could count the number of climbers who trained on 1 or 2 hands. Yet most of the alpinists (even very good ones) we met considered themselves to be fit. I stand by the relative climb rates of poor/good/excellence that we used in the book for the box step. We should have omitted even mentioning the 1000foot hill climb for the reasons Scott S mentions. This box step test is more controlled and hence comparable.

    When we fist published the book we have several angry emails from “fit” climbers saying our numbers were off and they knew they were fit but still came in as “poor” in the box step test.

    In response I went into my gym with a 20% pack my La Sportiva Trangos and conducted this test on a 17 inch box myself. I was only 6 months out from a total knee replacement surgery and aged 60 and had not been training for several years as I was too busy coaching World Cup Cross Country skiers to have much consistency in my exercise routine. My time on this test was 24 minutes. At the fast end of the “good” range.

    My response to the climbers who complained about the test was something like this: If a 60 year old man with a bad knee who does not train is faster than you hiking uphill, you are not very fit and have a lot of work to do.


    Anonymous on #7794

    Ack. I let my geekery get away from me yesterday. One too many coffees.

    * I should have reviewed the TftNA box step test. If you want your results to be comparable to the prescription from the book, use that test. With a box height of 75% of shin height results should be comparable for all participants.

    * I’m not sure what I was thinking when I equated a 4-inch step with a 25% grade. That depends on the length of the tread. A 16″ tread with a 4″ riser would make for a 25% grade, but where are there 16″ treads? A 12″ tread with a 3″ riser would do the same.

    * Anyway, the gist is the same. Steeper is not always better. Outside, 14-16 degrees (25-30%) seems to be the sweet spot for uphill efficiency. (And it’s very unlike the slower smart-like-tractor approach that I used in my youth: going straight uphill.)

    Michaeltyoung on #7802

    A related topic came up in a facebook discussion a while ago: if you ran up 1000′ of stairs and back down, would your max effort time be the same as 1000′ on a box step? For comparability, let’s say step height is the same. It seems to me the box step is still harder in some sense because you’re changing direction for every step.

    In any case, it seems like the benefit of the box step approach is optimal because it’s an easily replicated protocol that can be used to compare fitness between individuals.

    But if you’re just comparing how your own fitness changes over time, it’s probably best to just measure your time on your local steep trail since a trail will be more specific than a box or steps.

    Anonymous on #7840

    Hi Michael,

    I think you’ve answered your own question. The 1,000′ of stairs may be worthwhile if it’s the time trial that you prefer and something that you can easily repeat when necessary.

    The advantage of the box step test is that you can compare your results both over time and to others that have done the test.

    Scott S.

    bretparkhill on #47145

    Thanks for the search feature which let me find this topic. I just spent 3.5 months in my first base period and tried out the box step last night for the first time. I used a 12″ box and got 51 minutes. I was then dejected when I went back to the book and saw “Poor”.

    I’ll keep doing the test (I live in Iowa and don’t have many 1,000 foot hills) and just see if my time drops. My question is should I be paying attention to my heart rate when doing the box test? I did what I could to keep it down in the aerobic zone.

    Rachel on #47212

    I could be wrong but I have always been under the impression the Alpine combine uphill test should be done as fast as you can go.

    bretparkhill on #47233

    Yes Rachel, I found another post where Steve says go all out. One other thing I learned is that if all you’ve been doing the previous 3-4 months is the long slow distance, your legs aren’t going to be happy about 1,000 box steps with a weighted pack. My calves are still bothering me! I think the first time you should probably start with 500 and see what happens muscle wise.

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