Jennifer Lopez kicked off 2018 doing one of the things she does best: a killer workout. In a video posted on Instagram by her boyfriend, Alex Rodriguez, the pair crushed some burpees, barbell squats, and medicine ball throws on an outdoor track, along with some particularly badass sets of running stairs in the stands.

Running stairs has a varsity-esque vibe—maybe it reminds you of your high school sports days or classic movie training sequences. But just because it’s old-school doesn’t mean it isn’t majorly challenging. (If you’ve ever felt exhausted after climbing a few flights of stairs in a parking garage or apartment building, you know the feeling.)

If just the thought of a stairs workout makes you groan, you’re not wrong about how hard it can be. Compared to many other cardio modalities, “it feels like it’s more work because it is more work,” exercise physiologist and ACE-certified personal trainer Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness podcast, tells SELF. It also happens to be extremely effective.

You probably know that running stairs is great cardio because it drives your heart rate up, but it also incorporates some strength training. To power your body up the stairs, you also need to engage nearly every muscle in your lower body.

“On the way up, you’re doing a lot more hip flexion and extension—your hip is going through a much greater range of motion , so you’re getting more work out of your hip extensor muscles,” explains McCall. Namely, these include your glutes, hamstrings (the muscles along the backs of your thighs), and adductors (inner thighs). These are some of the largest muscle groups in your body, which is why running stairs is such a cardio challenge: Your body requires a lot of oxygen to fuel those large muscle groups.

This strength component ups the intensity of the cardio workout, and research suggests that running stairs really is as taxing as it feels. Here’s the deal: One measure of intensity is METs, or metabolic equivalents, explains McCall, which refers to how much oxygen your body uses during an activity. One MET is what your body uses at rest—specifically, 3.5 milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of bodyweight per minute.

For reference, running a 10-minute mile is about 9.8 METs (or 9.8 times the amount of oxygen your body uses at rest), according to the Compendium of Physical Activities. (The exact number depends on your personal fitness level; the standardized table is based on averages.) Running stairs? That’s estimated to be about 15 METs.

For some of us, the idea of running up and down stairs (on purpose!) seems a little strange. After all, we’ve spent years using escalators, travelators and lifts to do the hard work for us.

But if you are trying to lose weight, and also trying to get your recommended 10,000 steps in per day, it’s an AWESOME way to burn calories.

For instance, someone who is 75kg would burn 340 calories by running up and down stairs for 20 minutes.

Running on stairs gets your heart rate pumping, and also tones up the muscles in your legs, thighs, and butt.

You don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment at home to get fit this way. Stair running is free – and there are stairs everywhere!

Many people find the idea of stair running a little daunting. That’s OK. Like any new exercise, it can be a bit hard at first to get your head in the right frame of mind.

So with this in mind, we’ve put together a guide to get into stair running step by step

1. How to begin

Wondering what’s the best way to begin stair running? You guessed it – by running up the stairs. There’s no need to be great at running, or gifted on a cross trainer.

2. Warm up

Instead of beginning your workout on the stairs, begin with a short 5 minute walk on solid ground to get you warmed up. Then follow this with 10 star jumps, 10 push ups and 10 burpees. You should be feeling pretty warm and ready to go.

3. Start off slowly

Like any cardio exercise, it’s not a good idea to go from 0 to 100 flights of stairs in the first session. You need to give your body time to get used to it (and you may feel a little sore the next day after your first few sessions on the stairs). You will be using muscles that you don’t normally do. So after your warm up, take a gentle pace up and down the stairs for five minutes.

4. Build it up over time

For the first session, after your warm up begin to walk up and down the stairs at a moderate pace for 10 minutes. See how that goes. The next time, take it up to a jog for 10 minutes. From there, you can choose your own increments to build from, for instance 15 mins jogging, then 20 mins jogging. Or you may prefer to do a circuit of 1 min jogging and 1 min walking. Which leads us into…

5. Find an intensity that suits you

Some of you may be more than comfortable jogging the whole way, where others may need to mix it up between jogging and walking. Some people may be happy to take the stairs two at a time. Either way, you need to find a level that suits you. That’s not to say it needs to be easy – far from it. You should be breathless and find it hard to hold a conversation if you want to be burning calories. Just take care not to push yourself too hard which can lead to injury.

6. Wear the right shoes

A pair of properly fitted shoes is probably the only necessary piece of equipment for stair running. You will be putting pressure on your feet and ankles, so they need to be well supported to avoid injury and falls.

7. Remember you can split it up

If you don’t have a whole chunk of time to dedicate to exercise, you can always break your workout into more manageable pieces. For instance you may be able to fit 10 minutes in at home in the morning while the kids eat breakfast. Then you may find 10 minutes in the afternoon near the park. Incremental exercise is still very beneficial for weight loss, so don’t feel as though you can’t do it bit by bit.

8. Do it regularly

The next piece of advice is to keep doing it! Once you get started, you may decide to commit to two sessions of stairs per week. Or perhaps you can commit to 10 minutes of stair running per day. Either way, schedule it in and you will find that in time you get used to it and can push yourself harder or longer.

9. Remember to cool down

At the end of your workout, take another stroll around on the ground for 5 to 10 minutes to cool down. Then do some stretching of your quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. This can help to reduce soreness the next day.

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Stair climbing – which is better up or down?

The health benefits of stair climbing are well documented but almost all research has focused on climbing up. Now, however, scientists are finding that climbing down stairs produces a very distinct set of health benefits.

Why might climbing down stairs produce different results? The answer it seems has to do with the very particular physical forces climbing down stairs has on the body.

Going down burns just a third of the energy needed to climb up but it provides a gentle jarring impact on the bones and it stretches the leg muscles rather than contracting them – something known as “eccentric” exercise.

Jarring the bones has long been recognised as a way of encouraging bone growth and therefore reducing the risk of osteoporosis or brittle bone disease. This is a particular risk for women whose bone density naturally reduces at a much faster pace than men’s from middle age.

New Research

Eccentric exercise, on the other hand is much less reported on. And if a new study conducted by researchers at the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia is correct, it could help protect against diabetes – now one of the biggest health risks worldwide.

The study recruited 30 obese elderly women and put them on a 12 week programme, with half walking upstairs and the others walking downstairs.

Their levels of resting glucose, insulin and haemoglobin 1AC, oral glucose tolerance, and triglycerides and blood cholesterols were all then measured to determine what if any impact the 12-weeks stair climbing had had.

“While both groups recorded an improvement it was significantly greater in the down stairs group”, said Professor Ken Nosaka, the study’s lead researcher. “All of these changes will have lowered their risk of developing diabetes.”

As well as protecting against diabetes, the researchers found that the down climbers balance, walking ability, bone mineral density and resting heart rate and blood pressure all improved significantly more than the up stairs group.

“This is yet more evidence that not all exercise is created equal in terms of its health benefits,” Professor Nosaka said.

“If you work in a tall building … walk down the stairs when you go home. Or, if you are using weights, concentrate on the lowering the weights slowly, because the lowering action causes your muscles to perform eccentric exercise”.

The new research was published by ECU in the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

You can can find the full study at this link: “Effects of descending stair walking on health and fitness of elderly obese women”

StepJockey has a much fuller page on the health benefits of stair climbing here.

© StepJockey 2020

You’re heard “take the stairs, not the elevator,” a thousand times. But what if instead of it just being a healthier way to get around, the stairs became your new favorite toning tool? This workout is going to take you up and down a set of stairs—in your home, or wherever you want—while adding sculpting moves in between. Since moving up a flight of stairs forces you to work harder against gravity, you’ll build strength and power in your lower body while your heart rate soars. The mini cardio intervals will help you burn calories at a higher rate for longer after you finish, and the quick toning moves will fire up up your arms, back, butt, and thighs. At the end, you’ll be sweaty, stronger, and thanking the stairs for a free but fierce workout!

Here’s how it works: Do each exercise for 30 seconds. Perform as many reps as possible with good form. It doesn’t matter how big your flight of stairs is; just go for time. After the first time through, rest for 2 minutes. Repeat the entire circuit once more, and you’ll have yourself a 10-minute strength and cardio workout in one. Remember to use the handrail if needed and watch your feet, so you don’t trip. Looking fro more quick 10-minute workout routines? Get fit, firm, and fabulous with the Get Your Body Back DVD!

Cardio: Stair Run

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds
Start facing the bottom of the stairs. Run up quickly using each step. Pump your arms next to your sides as you move quickly. Walk down the stairs carefully. Repeat.

Strength: Walking Lunge

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds
Targets: Glutes, legs, core
Start facing the bottom of the stairs. Step your right foot onto the next step and bend both knees as you lower into a lunge, keeping your front knee tracking over your shoe. Push off with your right foot and use your arms to help you propel your left foot onto the next step and lower into another lunge. Continue alternating legs until you reach the top of the stairs. Walk or jog down as usual. Repeat.

Cardio: Sideways Stair Run

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds
Start at the bottom of the stairs with your right side of the body closest to the stairs. Leading with your right foot, run up the stairs sideways. (Pretend your feet are chasing each other. Right foot goes first but as the left foot starts to approach the first step, the right foot should already be lifting to move up to the second step.) When you get to the top, walk down the stairs normally. Repeat.

Strength: Push-Ups

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds
Targets: Chest, arms, shoulders, core
Place hands on first or second step with legs extended behind you on the ground so you’re in plank position. (The higher the step your hands are on, the easier the push-up will be.) Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart. Bend elbows and slowly lower your chest down to the step. Exhale as you press your chest back up to starting position, keeping your core tight throughout. Repeat.

Cardio: Repeat Stair Run

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds

MORE: 10 Exercises That Burn More Calories Than Running

Strength: Squat Jumps

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds
Targets: Glutes, legs
Begin at the bottom of a staircase with feet hip-width apart and arms next to sides. Lower hips down to a squat position, tighten abs, then swing arms forward and jump up onto the next step, with both feet landing together. If the steps are too close together, skip one. Land in a squat position. Swing arms behind you, then swing arms forward and jump to the next step. Repeat to the top of the staircase. Walk down.

MORE: Tone Your Butt Without Doing A Single Squat Or Lunge

Cardio: Repeat Sideways Stair Run

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds

Strength: Triceps Dips

Chris Freytag
Time: 30 seconds
Targets: Arms, shoulders, core
Sit on floor facing away from staircase with back against first step. Place hands behind you, shoulder-width apart, onto the first step. Lift hips up so arms are straight, keeping shoulders down and away from ears. Tighten abdominal muscles. Bend elbows keeping them right next to the body and lower hips almost to the ground, then press back up, squeezing triceps and straightening arms. Repeat. Chris Freytag Fitness expert Chris Freytag is the author of Shortcuts to Big Weight Loss and Move to Lose.

A Killer Workout You Can Do on Any Set of Stairs

Circuit #2: 10-minute lower-body strength & power series

The lower-body series is completed the same way as the conditioning series — simply set your timer for 10 minutes and cycle through the following exercises continuously until time runs out.

  • Two flights lateral squat climbs: Turn so your right side is facing the stairwell and place your right foot on the second step. With your weight in your heels and your core tight, press your hips back and perform a squat, lowering your glutes toward the stairs. Press back to standing and shift your weight to the right, stepping your left foot up onto the first step before taking another step up the stairs with your right foot. Perform another squat, and continue all the way up the stairs. Walk or jog comfortably back down the stairs. On your next flight, turn your body the opposite way to lead with your left leg.
  • 20 Bulgarian split squats (10 per leg): Stand facing away from the stairwell, placing the top of your right foot on the second or third stair (whichever feels most comfortable). Stand balanced with your weight primarily in the heel of your left (front) foot. Tighten your core and bend both knees, lowering your back knee toward the floor. Reach your hands toward the ground on either side of your left foot. Press through your left heel and return to standing. Complete all 10 reps to one side before switching legs.
  • One flight squat jacks: Stand facing the stairs, your feet slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart, your toes angled slightly outward. With your weight in your heels, squat down, then jump up into the air as you draw your legs together, landing on the first step with your feet side by side. Immediately lower yourself into a narrow-leg squat, pressing your hips back and keeping your core tight. Jump into the air again, spreading your legs before you land on the next step in a wide-legged position. Continue this squat jack sequence all the way up the stairs. If jumping is too hard, step it out, stepping your legs wide, then narrow, performing a squat on each step. Walk or jog at a comfortable pace back down the stairs.
  • Two flights step skips: Walk up the stairs slowly and methodically, skipping two to three steps at a time. At the top of the stairs, walk or jog down at a comfortable pace. Lead with a different foot on each pass.
  • Two flights angled lunges: Start centered at the bottom of the stairwell, take a wide step up and laterally with your right foot, skipping over the bottom step, so it’s positioned to the outer right edge of the second step. Step your left foot up, bringing it to meet your right foot before taking a wide step up and laterally to the left, placing your left foot to the outer left side of the fourth step (skipping over the third step). Continue this action all the way up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, walk or jog back down at a comfortable pace. On the next pass, lead with your left leg first.
  • One flight walking climb: This is a quick “recovery,” simply walk up and down the flight of stairs at your own pace before continuing the circuit.

After 10 minutes, rest for one to two minutes before starting the final circuit.

The Ultimate Staircase Workout for Serious Fitness Gains

A staircase workout is an incredibly effective way to improve your fitness and overall health. A 2005 study found that walking 200 steps twice a day, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks can cause a 17-percent increase in VO2 max, a common measurement of aerobic fitness.Boreham CAG, et al. (2005). Training effects of short bouts of stair climbing on cardiorespiratory fitness, blood lipids, and homocysteine in sedentary young women. DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2002.001131

Newer research highlights the benefits of stair-climbing too. A 2017 study found that a few minutes of sprint interval training (STI) on stairs three times a week improved overall cardiovascular fitness after just 6 weeks.Allison MK, et al. (2017). Brief intense stair climbing improves cardiorespiratory fitness. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001188

A 2019 study also found that “exercise snacks” (i.e., three quick stair-climbing breaks during the day) led to increased oxygen uptake, a sign that cardiovascular fitness is on the up and up.Jenkins EM, et al. (2019). Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? DOI: 10.1139/apnm-2018-0675

Plus, strength trainer Jordan Syatt says running up stairs is easier on the joints and better at improving an athlete’s range of motion than regular sprints.

But the best thing about staircase workouts? They can be done on any staircase — and they don’t cost a thing.

So find some steps and get ready, because Syatt has put together two incredible high-intensity interval training staircase workouts: one for beginners and one for the more advanced peeps.

You shouldn’t need too many stairs for this — just enough that you can run continuously for 10 to 15 seconds (about two to three flights). Remember to keep your focus on the top of the steps ahead of you. You can do it!

The Fat-Sizzling Stairs Workout


Want access to the best cardio and strength equipment anywhere? Take your workout to the sand, stairs, and hills to boost your burn and tone in less time.

Stair workouts not only kick your butt, they also firm it like nothing else. When you walk or run on flat ground, your glutes are basically taking a nap. It’s when you have to dig in and climb that they fire up. That’s why running up stairs burns 953 calories per hour. For the same burn on a level surface, you would have to hold an all-out sprint. (Turn Your Stairwell into a Fat-Burning Machine.)

What’s unique about stairs, says Brandon Guild, a trainer for Fulcrum Fitness in Portland, Oregon, is that the flat landing spot of each step causes you to strike with your midfoot rather than the ball of your foot. “You use your whole leg, not just your calf, to push off,” he says. It’s as if you’re doing a lunge and a rep on the leg press machine with every step. That’s a lot of extra firm with your burn.

Plus, if you take two steps at a time, your muscles are contracted-that is, working-over a wider range, says Lewis Halsey, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Roehampton in London. “Meanwhile, shorter steps are also great in that they require quicker muscle activation,” Halsey says. In other words, skipping a step requires more power, which can improve your endurance, and striking every step demands faster footwork, which can make you speedier. That’s why we’ve incorporated both methods in this routine-plus some strengtheners that will help you take your toning to the next level.

And since the steps make everything you do tougher, you don’t need to dedicate a ton of time to them to see results. Women who walked up and down stairs for 10 minutes a day five days a week improved their VO2 max (a measure of fitness) by 17 percent within two months, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

How it Works:

1. You’ll need at least one flight with 10 steps. Your entire foot should fit on a step tread, Halsey says. This will make it easier to move quickly during runs and give you enough room to do strength moves.

2. Handrails are also key. Lightly hold the outside rail on the way up and down until your body and brain get used to the movement, Halsey advises. You can also grab it as you get tired.

3. Carpeted stairs may have more traction than bare ones, so don’t discount indoor flights. They’ll also provide a gentler surface for your hands during pushups and dips, Halsey says.

Your Stair Workout

Burn more calories and firm more muscles with this 32-minute routine created by trainer Brandon Guild.

0 to 3 minutes

Warm up with an easy jog up and down. Keep your shoulders back and down, and try to gaze straight ahead rather than at your feet.

3 to 6 minutes

Do 10 reps each of the moves below. Repeat the circuit as many times as you can.

  • By Jessica Cassity

Health benefits of stair climbing challenges

Stair climbing is a unique form of exercise that can have a powerful and positive impact on your health over time.

While most of us think of exercise as ‘sport’, the scientific evidence shows it is everyday activities like walking and stair climbing that are most closely associated with improved health.

Stair climbing is recommended by doctors and health authorities worldwide because high-quality studies show:

  • Climbing just eight flights of stairs a day lowers average early mortality risk by 33%
  • Seven minutes stair climbing a day can halve the risk of heart attack over 10 years
  • Just two minutes extra stair climbing a day is enough to stop average middle age weight gain

Stair climbing delivers these benefits by improving our cardiovascular fitness. It’s officially classed as a ‘vigorous’ form exercise and burns more calories per minute than jogging.

Active Workplace?

Interested in making your workplace more active and healthy? Read our guide to corporate wellness programmes

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Heart, mind, muscles & bones

By raising our heart rate, stair climbing helps protect against high blood pressure, weight gain and clogged arteries. This lowers the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, vascular dementia and even some cancers.

Stair climbing also exercises our bones and muscles, improving strength, bone density and muscle tone. This is especially important for women in sedentary office jobs as they have a significantly higher osteoporosis risk than men.

Incidental physical activities like stair climbing are also associated with improved mental health. They cause our bodies to release endorphins, the so-called feel-good hormones. They also provide time think and reflect – key factors in managing everyday stress and tensions.

Easy to build into your life

The health benefits of stair climbing are only part of the story.

Equally important is the fact that stair climbing is easy to build into your life and make a habit of. This is vital because it is really only exercise routines we sustain over time that make a significant difference to our long-term wellbeing.

The reason why stair climbing is so easy to adopt as a daily habit is that it fits in with modern urban life, over 90% of which is spent indoors. Reasons for its growing popularity include:

  • It does not require any special skills, training or sporting prowess
  • It’s extremely time efficient, saving us time rather than eating into it
  • It makes use of the world around us and does not cost anything
  • You can start with just a few flights and build up over time
  • No need to get dressed up in Lycra or perform in front of others

Stair climbing is now so popular that more than 15,000 stairways have now been rated for calorie burn worldwide on the StepJockey platform.

If you are a corporate wellness manager go to our HR and wellness pages to get your company up and running. If you are in property go to our FM and property pages to get your buildings kitted out.

Stair climbing versus walking

Perhaps the best way to think of stair climbing is as a more powerful form of walking. Both are good for you but because stair climbing requires you to pull your weight against gravity, its health benefits accrue much more rapidly.

Even when climbing stairs at a normal pace, you will burn two to three times more energy than walking on the flat at a brisk pace. This extra benefit is reflected in health outcomes.

The Harvard Alumni Study, one of the biggest scientific studies to date, found that men who climbed an average of eight or more flights of stairs a day had a 33% lower mortality rate than men who were sedentary. That’s considerably better than the 22% lower death rate observed in men who walked 1.3 miles a day.

Small steps add up to big gains

Of course climbing a single set of stairs is not going to get you fit overnight. But because stair climbing is such a powerful exercise, most people start to feel stronger within a week and over a prolonged period those small everyday steps add up to big gains.

For example, a 45 year old woman, weighing 75 kg, who uses the stairs in the underground and then the stairs to her fifth-floor office and back just twice a day will burn over 17,000 additional calories a year, equivalent to more than eight days’ food.

It is statistics like this that explain why doctors, sports coaches and even modelling agencies recommend stair climbing. As Dr Harvey Simon, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, puts it: “Walking up stairs is one of the best-kept secrets in preventive medicine”.

Find out who else recommends stair climbing. If you think colleagues in your workplace would benefit from StepJockey Smart Signs and Challenges to incentivise stair climbing contact us today.

How to promote stair climbing

Promoting stair climbing is easy, effective and costs very little.

Visual stair prompts of the type StepJockey provide work and are recommended by major health institutions including the US Centers for Disease Control and the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Read more about the power of stair prompts and their evidence base.

StepJockey has also found that by turning stair climbing into a game or challenge, people can be incentivised to a far greater extent to ditch the lift and use the stairs. Our findings are that ‘gamification’ leads to a 500-800% increase in stair use over baseline levels.

Using this website you can rate your stairs for calorie burn and download free StepJockey Smart Signs. This is designed for individuals and non-profits.

To encourage stair climbing in your buildings as part of a corporate wellness or active buildings programme, check out our HR and wellness pages and FM and property pages as appropriate. We would love to get you on board!

A trusted evidence base

StepJockey is committed to providing objective and trustworthy information on stair climbing, calorie burn and physical activity.

StepJockey was seed-funded by the UK Department of Health and we take an ‘evidence-based’ approach to our business. In other words, we strive to ensure all our products and the claims we make for them are based on the best available scientific knowledge and data sources.

If you have further information you think should be included on this page or think we have got something wrong please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the StepJockey team.

Active Workplace?

Interested in making your workplace more active and healthy? Read our guide to corporate wellness programmes

Read guide

We wouldn’t blame you for thinking of a staircase as an annoying daily hurdle. But taking advantage of that steady incline can actually be a major boost to your fitness. Regularly walking up 400 steps — or about 33 flights — during the course of a day can substantially increase your endurance, giving you a 17 percent bump in VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in during exercise), according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

An even quicker, more effective way to see results? Turn your home or apartment’s staircase into a gym. Jason Walsh, the trainer responsible for getting Matt Damon into Bourne shape backs the approach. Walsh founded Rise Nation, a group fitness studio built around the VersaClimber (imagine a stair stepper and climber in one), and he says any flight of stairs can help you burn calories, build strength, and increase mobility. “Stair climbing — climbing in general — is a movement that we as humans are supposed to be doing; plus it’s low impact,” says Walsh, adding, “through climbing, you have an opportunity to strengthen the hips and get them working properly.” Stronger hips, Walsh says, can help correct common muscle imbalances throughout the body.

Try his workout below, and get a workout trifecta — body-strengthening, fat-burning, injury-proofing results.


Perform three rounds of the exercises below with little to no rest in between movements and rounds. Do it two or three times a week. As you get fitter — and crushing a staircase routine feels easier — Walsh recommends adding another round or two.

Alternating High-Knee Toe Touches

Stand facing stairs, and raise one knee up high to tap the first step with toe, then repeat on opposite side, moving quickly and pumping arms aggressively. Continue for 30 seconds.

Double-Step Step-Ups

Stand facing stairs, and step up two stairs with left foot, bringing right foot to meet left, then step left foot back to the bottom of the staircase, again bringing right foot to meet left; repeat on opposite side. Continue for 30 seconds. (If stepping up two stairs feels easy, try three stairs at a time.)

Step Bounds

Stand at the bottom of the staircase. Send hips back into a quarter squat and arms behind body, and bound up two steps at a time to the top of the staircase. Jog back down to start. Continue for one minute.

Every Others

Run as fast as you can up flight of stairs, skipping every other step on your way up. Jog down, using every step. Continue for one minute.

Step Jumping Lunges

Start facing stairs with right foot up two steps in lunge position with knee tracking over ankle. Explosively jump, alternating feet in mid-air. Continue for 30 seconds.

Plank Step-Ups

Start in high plank at bottom of stairs. Bring right hand up to first step, followed by left hand. Return back to starting position, down with right hand first, then left, keeping hips lifted and back flat without rotating torso. Repeat with opposite hand taking the lead. Do 10 reps on each side.

Decline Push-Ups

Start in high plank at bottom of stairs with feet on first step, hands on floor. Keeping abs engaged and back flat, bend elbows to lower your body until your chest touches the floor. Push through your hands to raise back to starting position, arms fully extended with elbows locked. Do as many push-ups as you can before your form gives out. (Each subsequent time you do the workout, try to increase your rep count.)

Step Sprints

Run as fast as you can up flight of stairs, hitting each step. Jog down. Continue for one minute.

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(Picture: Getty)

Loads of us work out regularly.

We run to work. We dutifully attend spin classes. We lift, bro.

We’re fit. And yet, give us a flight of stairs to run up and suddenly, we turn into panting puddles.

Climbing stairs is ridiculously hard, no matter how much exercise you do.

The same is true when running for trains and buses. You might have run marathons but nothing compares to that 15-second sprint you put on when you see your bus coming.

A few weeks ago, I went to a Versaclimber class at BXR. A Versaclimber is a vertical machine which simulates climbing, with your arms outstretched, pulling handles up and down, and your feet on peddles. It’s like climbing very very steep stairs, using your hands on the steps ahead to help pull yourself up.

The class itself is a little like spin; the studio is pitch dark bar for the electric club lights, the music is loud, the sweat is real.

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And it’s an absolute killer. 10 minutes in, I thought I was having a heart attack. After that, I settled and had a great time but that initial period really threatened to finish me off.

But why? Why are stairs such a nightmare, and can you ever get better at them?

It’s all down to which energy system we’re using.

Our bodies run on something called Adenosine triphospahte (ATP) – the petrol that keeps us alive and functioning. How much we produce and how quickly, depends on which energy system we use to produce it.

When you exercise, your body burns through fuel and it’s clever enough to know when to switch between certain sources of energy. When you’re running a marathon or doing any kind of slow, steady, long workout, you use your aerobic system – burning through carbs and fat.

If, say, you’re doing a 400m run, chances are that you’re using your lactic system – not quite a sprint but going at a good lick. That lactic system produces ATP without oxygen and is manufactured from the breakdown of glucose to pyruvic acid in the muscle cells.

The final energy system is our phosphocreatine system – our fastest source and most quickly expendable source of ATP. We access this first and rely on it for sprints, strength weight training and other explosive movements. It’s the system that give us that burst of energy, that raw power.

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When we climb stairs, we’re tapping into that system first – but it only lasts for 10 seconds (approximately) and comes from the glycogen already in our muscles. So once that 10 seconds is up, we start to transition into our next energy system and after some time, into our aerobic one which is the most sustainable and, arguably, least painful.

In other words, the longer the stairs, the easier it becomes. The initial shock of climbing up subsides as our bodies settle on how to fuel the movement.

Climbing stairs is the ultimate functional fitness test – you teach the body to become more efficient in how it operates. That’s why boxers use running up stairs as a training tool; they’re constantly having to push their lactic threshold with sustained, explosive movements.

If you don’t box, however, you can still improve your climbing skills.

Scott Laidler is a celebrity online trainer and he agrees that climbing stairs is often more difficult that it should be.

‘This is for two main reasons, firstly because we don’t really train for it, whilst we typically use stairs every day, our actual fitness pursuits are not centred around stair climbing, no matter how fit you are unless you explicitly train to get better at climbing stairs the chances are that they’ll always pose a bit of a challenge,’ he tells

‘Also climbing stairs is actually technically very challenging, you are often going from rest to a state of elevated heart rate, whilst propelling your entire bodyweight on one leg, against gravity with each subsequent step adding to the challenge, looking at it that way it doesn’t seem so strange that it’s hard!’


So don’t panic if going up one flight of stairs leaves you resembling a breathless sweaty tomato.

Being able to run up stairs isn’t necessarily an indication of your overall fitness or health – it’s how quickly you recover. If you’re still struggling to catch your breath 10 minutes after, you might want to think about working on your cardio.

Keep taking the stairs and just be aware of how quickly you recover afterwards. The more exercise you do, the faster your breathing and heartrate will return to normal.

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