Stair climbing might just be the best workout you’re not doing. It’s fun, free and massively effective.
If gyms aren’t your thing or you don’t have access to a step machine, you can get just as good a workout outdoors – in fact better. Stair climbing is far more flexible and allows you to mix in all manner of training techniques that you just wouldn’t be able to do on a step machine.
Indeed, exercising on the step machine or stepper is the workout equivalent of bicycle training wheels compared to getting out and walking or running up real flights of stairs. On a scale of one to ten, stair climber machines and step-ups score an okay 6-7 whereas storming up the stairs at your local stadium will score a massive 10!
Whether you need a cross-training activity that will take your running to greater heights, want a low-cost option to get fit, are looking for an effective all-in-one workout, or are just searching for the next challenge – stair climbing yields incredible results.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better workout that combines cardio and strength, is low-impact, and insanely challenging.
Climbing stairs is a great way to strengthen your legs – from your calves to your glutes. The combination of simultaneous ankle, knee and hip extension against gravity means you work your legs naturally and without the impact commonly associated with jogging, running or sprinting.
Pushing your body up stair after stair against gravity is also a great exercise that develops cardiovascular fitness, while building both strength and power. And as no staircase is never ending, once you get to the top and walk carefully back down, you end up interval training without even realizing it. And interval training is one of the best ways to take your fitness to a whole new level.
- Beginners can get a very good workout by walking up stairs one at a time
- Advanced exercisers will enjoy the challenge of running up the stairs or even taking two steps at a time.
Stair Climbing: Tips
Start with a dynamic warm up, which should include exercises such as skipping or jogging, and cool down with stretching.
When it comes to stair climbing, like any other type of exercise, practice good form. You’ll be able to work out better and reduce the likelihood of injury:
- Don’t just use your calf muscles to power you up the stairs and avoid stepping just on your toes.
- Focus on using your larger leg muscles. With each step you take, make sure you lift your leg high, put your foot on the step and push off with your heel. This will help reduce strain on the knees and transfer the force to the hamstrings and glutes.
Read more: Why you need to practice proper form
The Ideal Staircase
Look for long, straight, wide staircases for your workout. Narrower staircases may have many tight corners to negotiate and spiral staircases may be equally troublesome.
Stair climbing is free – all you need is access to a set of stairs in the public arena. Public stairs, apartment blocks, malls, bleachers and office blocks are all viable stair climbing venues and no special equipment is required – just some basic sneakers and comfortable clothes.
To climb stairs safely follow the advice below:
- When climbing down stairs, it’s safest to descend using each step.
- Ideally walk, don’t run down the stairs as this stresses the knees and ankles. You can also do as some stair climbing experts suggest and walk or run up, but use an alternative means (e.g. elevator, sloping path) for your trip back down.
- Slow down and walk when you need to, or take a break.
- Remember to hydrate, especially in the summer.
- Stair workouts require good balance. Therefore, ensure you are steady on your feet.
- Stair climbing is a strenuous form of exercise, so start off slow and easy, and only increase the intensity and duration of your workouts gradually.
Read more: Post-workout recovery guide
STAIR CLIMBING WORKOUT IDEAS
There are lot of ways you can use stairs to get an awesome workout. But to save you coming up with your own ideas – and help you find your inner Rocky – here are 9 stair climbing workout ideas to try.
Each can be used as a standalone workout or combined with others to make a mega stair climbing program.
The number of repeats, for this and the other stair climbing techniques, will depend on your fitness level and the length of the staircase you are climbing.
Easy Does It
Walk, jog or run up and then walk back down. Rest a moment and repeat.
Do a set of push-ups, squats, lunges, burpees, or sit-ups on each landing as you ascend. For a double effective workout, do the same on your descent too!
Run up to the first landing and then back down. Then, run up to the second landing and back down. Turn around and then run up to the third landing and back down. Remember to take a pause when needed.
Keep on going up one landing at a time until you reach the top. Trot back down to ground level, give yourself time to recover, and repeat the whole thing again.
With a Friend
With a partner, do push-ups, squats or any other bodyweight exercise while your buddy runs up to the top of the stairs and back down. Change over and repeat.
Take it turns to select the exercise to be performed at the bottom of the stairs. Remember, the faster you run, the fewer reps your partner will have to do.
Instead of simply walking or running forward up the stairs, try walking sideways. When climbing the stairs sideways, do not let your feet cross – always lead with your high foot.
Changing the direction of you stair climbing will work different muscles. Practice caution and don’t rush.
Keep it slow and steady, hold onto the railing, and only pick up speed when you feel comfortable. For safety, walk down the stairs normally.
Bear & Crab Crawl
Bear-crawl up the stairs to get your upper body in on the action. If you are strong and brave enough, you can also crawl back down again although, for safety crab crawl down instead.
- A bear crawl is performed with your belly facing the floor and traveling head first
- A crab crawl is performed with your belly facing the sky and traveling feet first.
Take a jump rope with you and jump rope for a few seconds (it’ll feel like hours!) at each landing, if there is enough space to jump safely. Ensure that there is no one else on the landing while you are jumping rope.
Make them double unders to really crank up the intensity.
Read more: Ultimate jump rope workout guide
Beat the Clock
Set a time frame for your workout and see how many ascents and descents you can complete.
Give it your best and try to beat your record each time you repeat this workout.
Ascend as far up the stairs as you can in 30 seconds and then, giving yourself time to recover, walk back down to the start. Repeat several times while attempting to climb as high each time thereafter.
Read more: High intensity interval training
Don’t just stick to a dedicated stair climbing workout. Find and take stairs wherever you go. Avoiding the elevator at work or at the mall adds up and can go a long way to adding much needed exercise to your daily routine.