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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
August 28, 2022
Believe it or not, when you were a kid, running up and down the stairs was probably at the top of your list of fun things to do - behind chasing down the ice cream truck and riding bikes around the neighborhood, of course.
Heck, you might’ve even gotten a piece of cardboard and slid down them, or found a creative way to make it down the railing without your feet touching the floor. At the time, you were likely having so much fun that you didn't even notice your pounding heart and heavy breathing.
While the thought of running up and down the staircase may not elicit the same joy it once did, we think it warrants a spot in an adult's fitness routine just as much as it does in a child's playtime toolbox. It's an ultra-accessible way to work out, and this article will not only show you how to turn the plain old stairs into a calorie-torching regimen, but we'll also cover:
Ready to feel the burn? Then let’s go.
This depends on your definition of good. If you’re the type of person who takes the escalator or has sore knees, then no, stair workouts probably won't fit under your "things that are good" list. But if you are looking for an effective cardio and leg workout that burns fat and helps strengthen your lower body, and you have healthy knees, then yes, stair workouts are great.
Climbing up and down the stairs is one of the best activities you can do when it comes to losing your love handles and toning your hips, glutes, thighs, and calves. Stair workouts are a combination of strength and cardio, and they burn a ton of calories.
Besides burning fat and calories, here are a few other reasons why stair workouts deserve a spot in your gym routine.
Staircase and Stairmaster workouts (more on this later) are tough but come with great benefits that make that burning sensation oh-so-worth it.
Climbing up and down stairs is an intense workout that activates a lot of muscles at the same time while your heart beats like crazy to keep up. This is true whether you do the stairs for longer at a moderate intensity or go all in for a short amount of time, like with HIIT. For every liter of oxygen you breathe, you burn five calories, and trust us, you’ll be breathing in a lot of O2 during your stair workouts.
Plus, this will increase your demand for oxygen after training, known as EPOC or Excess Post Oxygen Consumption. You’ll be burning calories and fat long after you have finished your stair workout.
High-intensity workouts like stair climbing will increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL, good cholesterol), which helps improve your blood circulation and lower the risk of heart disease. Plus, it helps lower your blood pressure and your risk of having a stroke.
Because you’re training against gravity and your body weight as you climb up and down the stairs, you’ll increase the strength of your lower body muscles and help improve core strength too. A cardio exercise that also builds muscle? Sign us up!
Every step you take on the staircase and the stair stepper is a single-leg stance. Every time you take a foot off the ground, your body has to stabilize to stop you from falling over. Performing regular stair workouts while focusing on going up in a straight line will improve your single-leg balance and is a great way to strengthen stabilizer muscles. You can challenge your balance even more by staring straight ahead the duration of your stairs workout.
Because stairs involve the large muscles of the lower and upper body, a large amount of blood is pumped to and from the heart to support this movement. This improves your cardiovascular endurance.
Cardiovascular activities like stair climbing have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression1. Plus, cardio helps your body produce feel-good endorphins, which put you in a better state of mind. Ever felt better after a cardio session or a heart-pounding AMRAP workout? Now you know why.
Both are good options depending on what you have access to and your preference. If you like being able to set the time, distance, or intensity during a workout, the stair climber benefits are likely for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy the convenience of using the stairs outdoors or in your house, a staircase workout is a great option.
All of the benefits we listed above apply to both standard stairs and a stair stepper, but there are three additional staircase benefits that a Stairmaster doesn't have.
First, with the staircase, there is a shorter learning curve compared to the Stairmaster. With the Stairmaster, it will take some time to find your groove and find the correct time, distance, and intensity. Plus, most likely, it is going to kick your behind the first couple of times. A simple set of stairs lets you ease into it at your own pace - no learning curve required.
With staircase training, you’re free to use your arms and upper body to propel and balance while exercising. Plus, you can stop and do upper body exercises on the stairs, like push up variations such as incline and decline push-ups. Not so with the Stairmaster. Unless you’re an advanced user, you’ll need your arms to balance, which takes the upper body out of the equation.
The Stairmaster is great for your lower body but the upper body, not so much.
Finally, if you have any low back issues you should use the staircase and not the stair machine. There is a tendency for exercisers to slouch or lean forward on this machine once they get tired and this may stress the lower back.
If you’re aware of this, you need to remind yourself of good posture. Like your mother used to say: Stand up straight!
Here are some great circuit workout options for you to check out. We promise they'll all get your heart pumping, breath rate up, and the sweat pouring. Pro tip: You can also burn a few extra calories per day by opting to take the stairs in your office building instead of the elevator.
If you’re a staircase beginner, give this workout a shot. And don’t just jump right into it, either. Perform a bodyweight warm-up for a few minutes with some squats, lunges, and inchworms - or any other dynamic exercises you'd like to include.
Perform each exercise in this circuit (except for the push-ups) for the length of the staircase. Rest for 1-2 minutes after the circuit and repeat another 2-3 times. Trust us, your leg muscles will love it! Just don't forget a few cool down exercises when you're done.
If you are an experienced stair exerciser and looking to step it up (literally!), we've got a calorie-torching routine that will also burn fat - no personal trainer required! Again, warm up for three to five minutes with dynamic bodyweight exercises to get you ready for this tough workout.
Perform each exercise in this circuit (except the push-ups) for 15 seconds each, or the length of the staircase. Rest for 1-2 minutes after the circuit and repeat another 2-3 times.
If you'd rather use a stair stepper machine, try either of these ideas for a heart-racing, fat-torching routine.
Give your glutes the attention they deserve with this booty-building workout. Repeat 2-3 times for a total of 3-4 circuits. To really build muscle, start the routine with these glute activation exercises.
In the market for a great workout that activates the whole body and will burn calories? Start with an easy three-minute warm-up either using body weight moves or a slow pace on the stair stepper. Once you're warmed up, follow these directions for the ultimate aerobic routine.
The training above is a great starting point when it comes to your stair workouts. But if you want to make it even more challenging while adding some variety to your stair training, you've come to the right place.
In staircase training, you can use the stair as a tool like a weight bench to perform bodyweight exercises. Using the circuit templates above, you can insert any of the following exercises for variety and to make it even more of a full-body workout.
Here’s a list of non-running exercises you can perform on a staircase that will work well in any routine and continue increasing your heart rate.
If you have a stopwatch handy or want to use the stopwatch feature on your phone, all stair exercises can be timed. Consider performing as many reps as possible with good form within a certain time frame with a recovery interval, like interval training. Some suggestions are:
With the Stairmaster, your upper body work is limited but this can be overcome by combining your cardio circuit and strength circuit in the same training routine. Using the circuit training above, finish one round, rest for 2 to 3 minutes, and perform a circuit of upper body moves before completing another Stairmaster round. Any dumbbell, resistance band, or body weight upper body moves work well here.
The sky is the limit as far as variety goes. To get you started, we've put together a sample routine. To complete the cardio portion, follow the stair stepper aerobic circuit training workout we explained above. After one round, move on to the strength portion, which can look something like this:
Complete 2 circuits of the strength training portion, rest 2-3 minutes, and then finish with another round of aerobic circuit training. Don't forget to include the best foods for after a workout to help your muscles repair.
If your goal is simply to improve your health, a Harvard Alumni Health study states climbing 10 to 19 flights of stairs per week may reduce your mortality risk2. This is advisable if you want the health benefits of climbing stairs without breaking a sweat.
If you want to open those pores and feel the sweat come pouring out, pick a staircase with 15 or more steps and perform the staircase training routines we highlighted above.
In terms of time, starting with 15 to 30 minutes works well. If you are new to stairs, start with 15 minutes and slowly build up to 30 minutes. When you can perform 30 minutes or more, it’s time to focus on workout quality and not quantity.
When you’ve got better endurance, step up the intensity rather than add time. Perform the training above for 25 to 30 minutes and increase the intensity of your sprints. Make sure you allow for optimal muscle recovery time, as the harder your intensity, the more time your body needs to recharge.
If you don’t have any pre-existing knee or back issues, the staircase and the Stairmaster are great options to include in your workout split. Both help burn lots of calories in a short amount of time, increase lower body and core strength, and train every major muscle in your lower body.
Using the training above two to three times per week combined with a session or two of resistance training will have you looking toned, buff, and sculpted in no time.
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