You consider yourself a pretty fit person. You work out regularly at the gym. You can run for miles and lunge your way to the grocery store and back. But a couple of flights of stairs? Holy crap. Here’s why stairs are your nemesis, even if you’re in shape.
The picture above depicts the start of my dread-filled climb of the famous Koko Head Trail on O’ahu. It’s an old railway that goes on seemingly forever. Uphill. Basically, you’re doing bodyweight step-ups for 20-30 minutes, depending on your pace. Many of us had to take frequent breaks and seriously think about our decisions in life.
It’s completely normal for anyone—yes, even the crazy fit ones among us—to huff and puff going up stairs. That’s because stairs are hard. That and climbing each step takes more and different muscles than just walking. So when you go from walking to pushing yourself up onto each step, it’s a quick burst of energy that could leave you short of breath. As Joe Holder, a New York City-based performance coach, tells TIME:
In order for you to continue fighting gravity and going up stairs, you might start to feel breathless as your muscles demand more and more oxygen. Because you’re combining an activity that requires oxygen with strength, when exactly you start to feel like death depends on your fitness level. Some people tap out more quickly than others.
The good news is that, like anything, you can get better and more efficient at climbing stairs if you train your body for it. As Greatist notes, you can incorporate lower body strength-building exercises, such as lunges, split-squats, and reverse lunges to get the climbing part down, pat. Or simply take the stairs more.