Fitness Fun

7 Ways to Improve Your Stair Climbing Workout

Stairs were made for exercising on-the-go! Whether you’re hiking the stairwells at work, stepping your way up the Eiffel Tower, or training for a stair climbing race for charity, get ready to see your bod in serious shape.

Of course, just like sprinting, there are several ways to improve your stair climbing workout and avoid injury. I’m currently living on the 6th floor of an apartment building and I’ve been hitting the stairs every day to try out different things. If you’re aiming for toned glutes, quads, thighs and calves, a few tips before you start hoofing it:

1. Posture

Good form is important for avoiding soreness and injury while stair climbing. Lift your torso up and bend forward slightly as you start to climb. Try to engage your abs and glutes with each stride—you’ll get a better-rounded workout, and your quads and knees don’t get tired or sore as quickly.

2. Stride

Plant the ball of your foot first, then lower your heel all the way down. That’s pretty natural when you’re going at a measured pace, but when you start sprinting you may have a tendency to stay on your toes because it seems easier to propel yourself up quickly. But I noticed it puts more strain on the knees, as well as the ball of the foot. Striding ball-to-heel seems best. Pushing off from the heel also contracts more muscles in the glutes and hamstrings.

3. Cadence

You’ll get results whether you climb slowly or quickly, so it makes sense to start slow and gradually increase your pace. For an interval workout, you can alternate—jog or sprint a few flights, then switch to a brisk walk, then back to sprints. Or, do an endurance workout one day, then go for speed the next.

4. One step vs. two

Most people think you get a better workout from climbing two steps at a time, but expert opinions are mixed. I think it depends on your goals: If you’re going for cardio or endurance, take it one step at a time and climb quickly. Just like with cycling, “fast feet stave off fatigue” so a single-stepper will probably reach the top just as quickly as a two-stepper. But if you want a resistance workout, skipping steps would extend your muscles further and task them with hoisting your bodyweight further. For an interval workout, do both.

5. Pre- and post-climb

Stair climbing is typically easier on the joints than running on a flat plane, but it can be tough on the knees, and muscle tension can build up quickly too. Start slow and tune into what feels comfortable. As you ramp up your workouts, you’ll want to warm up for 5-10 minutes (or your hamstrings will be singing tomorrow), and give your quads, hamstrings, calves and hip flexors a good stretch afterwards. Some good stretches here.

6. Don’t biff it

One competitive stair-sprinter’s advice: have good dental insurance. *Shudder.* To avoid face-planting, take it slow on slippery, unfamiliar or uneven stairs. Stop if you feel faint or dizzy, and avoid dirty or dusty stairwells, which will make it hard to breathe. Marble staircases are a death wish.

7. Stairs in pairs

The buddy system is a great way to take your stair-climbing to the next level (ok, bad pun). But hitting the stairs of your city skyscraper or neighborhood park will definitely be less awkward with friends. Stair climbing communities and events like the Fight for Air Climb are also cropping up across the U.S. and internationally.

Bonuses: For upper-body resistance, add arm circles or pick up some hand weights (or shopping bags). I add leg kicks when no one’s looking, and wrap-up on the bottom step with front, back and side leg lifts.

Climbing down stairs may not deliver the same vertical challenge, but it’s a chance to work different muscles and it still uses your bodyweight. So save a little energy for the hike back down!

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert


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