Guide to Running Stairs: Why and How Runners Should Try It (2023)

Want to improve your speed, turnover rate, vertical jump, VO2 Max, and more without a ton of time or effort? Time to embrace the benefits of running stairs.

Stairs can help runners improve endurance, race times, and build strength, to name just a few benefits.

Running stairs may remind you of high school sports practice, and for good reason.

It’s a classic workout with huge rewards.

What Does Running Stairs Do for Your Body?

Running stairs offers a number of physical and health benefits. Let’s look at some of the top benefits of stair running one by one:

Improves Strength and Power

Stair running is a plyometric exercise that forces the muscles to exert their maximum force in brief bursts of movement, causing them to extend and contract quickly or ‘explosively’.

Running up a flight of stairs forces you to work against gravity, thereby enhancing your strength and power. As a plyometric movement, it builds speed, agility, vertical jump, and strength

Improves VO2 Max

When you run stairs, your heart rate increases rapidly, causing you to breathe faster in order to take in more oxygen.

As a result, your VO2max, or the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise, improves.

Increases Cardiovascular Fitness

According to a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, climbing stairs for 30 minutes every week in short bursts not only increased cardiorespiratory fitness but also improved longevity.

Another study found that the best thing about running stairs is that it can improve cardiorespiratory fitness even in short bursts.

Helps Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Stair running has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels. A 2016 study found that walking up and down stairs for 3 minutes 60 to 180 minutes after a meal reduced blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Other Benefits

Aside from improving fitness levels and reducing blood sugar levels, running stairs targets some of the largest muscles in the body, including the glutes, quads, and calves—the same muscles used for lunges and squats. Stairs also are much steeper than most hills, so running stairs will make climbing hills easier.

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Other benefits of stair climbing include:

  • Improves running cadence
  • Can burn 1,000 calories per hour
  • Engages the brain
  • Increased range of motion in hip muscles

Stair running uses different muscles than running and therefore counts as a cross-training workout. Cross training for runners helps correct muscle imbalances and prevent injuries, among a host of other advantages.

Guide to Running Stairs: Why and How Runners Should Try It (1)

What Muscles Do Running Stairs Work?

Running stairs works some of the largest muscles in the body, such as the glutes, quads, and calves. Interestingly, these are the same muscles used for lunges and squats.

Stairs are also much steeper than most hills, so running stairs will help you climb hills more easily.

Plyometric movements on stairs can help runners by teaching muscles to exert maximum force in short periods of time, using explosive movements.

This rapid stretch of the muscles builds the fast-twitch fibers that increase speed and power.

A 2005 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed a 17% VO2 Max increase in women after 8 weeks of short stair climbing workouts five days per week.

As you can see, incorporating regular stair workouts can boost running with a minimal time commitment!

Does Running Stairs Burn Belly Fat?

Yes, but no more than other cardio exercises. We see those big calorie burn numbers and for some reason think that means more of it must come from our problem areas…it just doesn’t work that way.

If you’re running for weight loss, then it’s a combination of easy runs to burn fat, intense workouts to burn more calories, and strength training.

Jennifer Lopez made running stairs popular again a few years ago because they are an intense workout and build leg strength! And you might notice that many fitness competitors use it….high burn while still building muscle.

And while I don’t love running with a weighted vest, stairs are a place where you can increase your total weight load and keep moving.

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Guide to Running Stairs: Why and How Runners Should Try It (2)

Why is Climbing Stairs Harder Than Running?

The intensity level is immediately higher, engaging all of your major lower body muscles which tells the heart and brain that you’re working harder.

Unlike running on a flat road, you’re being asked to not just carry your weight forward with some momentum, but to push it upwards.

How Stair Climbing Benefits Runners

In addition to the physical and mental benefits of running stairs, there are a slew of other reasons to consider adding a stairs routine as part of your training plan:

  • Avoid inclement weather, like ice and snow
  • Build balance
  • Teaches you to pick up your knees, like these running drills
  • No need for special equipment
  • Lower impact than running on pavement

Running stairs vs Running Hills

Since stairs are generally much steeper than hills, they will make hill climbing easier. This is a great option for trail runners who may not live in the mountains or have access to regular climbs.

Both hill running and stair running build speed, power, and strength, however, they do use different muscles.

Sticking to hills uses the same muscles used for running on flat surfaces, while stair running puts more emphasis on the quads, calves, and glutes.

Both hills and stairs work stabilizing muscles crucial for avoiding injuries and maintaining balance.

Stairs, on the other hand, can be found just about anywhere. This brings us to the next question:

Where to Run Stairs

Luckily, stairs can be found just about anywhere. Many athletes run stairs in a stadium, but you can also find stairs in a park or another outdoor setting. It can even be a stairwell in a building. Here are a few places to look when figuring out where to run stairs:

  • Apartment buildings
  • Parking garages
  • Stadiums
  • Parks
  • Pedestrian overpasses
  • Office buildings

How Often to Run Stairs?

In any endurance running plan, the goal is 80/20 of easy to hard days. So you need your stair workouts to be a small part of your total training to ensure you are also doing speed workouts and long runs.

Even a 5-minute stair workout twice a week is going to pack a punch!

If you aren’t running very many miles, then you might add in up to 3 stair workouts a week instead of adding miles.

(Video) How to Install a Stair Runner - The Right Way

How to Incorporate Running Stairs into Your Routine

If you’re brand new to stairs or new to running, there is an easy way to add it into your workout routine. First, start by walking the stairs until you build your cardiovascular system over the course of a few weeks. Then increase to a jog before committing to stair sprints.

  • Start by adding one stair workout per week
  • Incorporating up to three per week as desired (just remember to alternate easy and hard workout days)
  • Stair workouts are great finishers to any run and will help build fatigue tolerance by performing a high-intensity workout at the end of a run.

Apart from this, you can easily add stair workouts by substituting them for hill workouts.

You can also do them instead of strength training once in a while, during the first half of an easy run, or even in the middle of a longer run. Monitor the intensity of your workouts by measuring them by RPE (rate of perceived exertion) or heart rate.

How to Ensure Safety While Running Stairs

Undoubtedly, there are safety concerns associated with stair climbing, namely falling up or down the stairs. For this reason, it is essential to maintain focus and not allow your mind to wander while on the stairs.

If you begin to trip a little while going up or down as you get tired, it is a good idea to give yourself some extra rest between sets or to end your workout early if necessary.

Before your workout, you should also check out the stairs you plan to use, especially if they are outside.

If they’re covered in ice or snow, or if they’re wet and slippery, you should probably do something else until they’re safe to use again.

You should also look for a flight of stairs with wide enough steps that you can plant your entire foot or the majority of your foot on.

It’s important to always be considerate of other users of the stairs. Give those climbing the stairs the right-of-way, and let people know if you’re going to pass them.

How to Run Stairs (According to a Running Coach)

Running stairs is an easy process, but it’s important to make sure you do it safely to avoid injuries. Here’s what to do to get started:

If you’re brand new to stairs or new to running, start by walking the stairs until you build your cardiovascular system over the course of a few weeks. Increase to a jog before committing to stair sprints.

  • Start by adding one stair workout per week
  • Incorporating up to three per week as desired (just remember to alternate easy and hard workout days)
  • Stair workouts are great finishers to any run and will help build fatigue tolerance by performing a high intensity workout at the end of a run.

Warm Up

As with any workout, begin with a warm up by going for an easy one-mile jog. Then do a set of speed workout agility moves, like butt kickers, high knees, carioca, and strides.

Take care going down the stairs if you have a knee injury, as going down is more impactful than going up. You can go down at a side angle to mitigate any pain.

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Basic stair running workout

Look for a staircase with at least 10-12 steps (you’re looking for something that will take you about 10-20 seconds).

  • Sprint to the top of the stairs, then jog or walk back down
  • Repeat 5 times, resting for about 10 seconds in between each set.
  • Perform 2 to 3 rounds, with a one minute break in between

Next level challenge: Take the stairs two at a time (decreasing speed as necessary).

If you want to get fancy with your stair workouts, there are a number of ways to make the stairs more challenging. Here are some standalone HIIT workout for the stairs:

Make Up Your Own Stair Climbing Workout

Decide what your major goal is for the workout. Are you focused on building leg strength to power up hills or focused on building that explosive power which will help with speed…possibly both!

Strength focused movements:

  • Side stepping up and then back down will work those inner and outer thighs that are neglected in the forward motion of running
  • Calf raises on each step – ensure you lower your heels below the step for a full range of motion
  • Walking up taking two or three steps at a time
  • Walking backwards up the stairs (have a railing nearby)
  • Doing cross over lunges – you’ll be standing sideways and use your bottom foot crossing over the front to step up

Speed focused movements:

  • Sprint up the stairs and walk back down
  • Stair squat jump from one to the next – go crazy and jump up two stairs
  • Fast feet on one single stair – stepping up and down quickly for up to 1 minute rounds
  • Fast feet taps on a single stair – instead of stepping up you are quickly taping the stair with alternating feet

Guide to Running Stairs: Why and How Runners Should Try It (3)

Stair Climbing vs Running Stairs

If you have access to a stair climber machine or stair master or prefer it to a staircase, there are both disadvantages and advantages to choosing the machine over a set of stairs.

Advantages of a Stair Climber

  • Quicker turnaround speed in order to keep up with the machine speed
  • Lower impact, good for those with knee injuries
  • Increased likelihood of better form
  • Choose your own step size

Disadvantages of a Stair Climber

  • Requires purchase or gym membership
  • Can only climb up, but not down
  • Can be more boring to some
  • Less versatile

Looking for more training tips? Checkout these ideas!

  • Glute activation exercises
  • Tips to improve your running form
  • How to run downhill without knee pain

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FAQs

Is running stairs good for runners? ›

All these elements benefit runners. Stair workouts fall into the category of plyometrics or neuromuscular training. These kinds of programs have demonstrated excellent results which include decreased injury rates, improvements in speed and agility, improved vertical jump, and improved ground contact times.

Is Climbing stairs good for runners? ›

Running stairs gives your heart and lungs a good cardiovascular workout, so it can boost your aerobic capacity. Stair climbing makes you breathe faster to take in more oxygen and quickly accelerates your heart rate, which can improve your VO2 max. A greater VO2 max allows you to run harder and longer.

Why is running up stairs good for you? ›

Climbing stairs is one of the best exercises when it comes to pure FAT BURN, strengthening the lower body, toning the butt, thighs, calves, losing inches from those love handles and belly and building great abs. Along with these benefits is the immense good it does for your lungs and cardio vascular system.

What happens if I run stairs everyday? ›

Stair climbing requires about 8 - 11kcal of energy per minute, which is high compared to other moderate level physical activities. Active stair climbers are more fit and have a higher aerobic capacity. Even two flights of stairs climbed per day can lead to 6 lbs of weight loss over one year.

Is running stairs better than jogging? ›

Faster Benefits

When you stair climb, you burn twice the fat in half the time than if you run and three times more than walking. An intense stair-climbing exercise session will produce more aerobic benefits in a shorter amount of time than running or walking.

How can I run up stairs without getting tired? ›

Not your average squat

Keep your back straight and gaze upward. With your right leg take a large step forward, landing on your heel. Follow this by taking an equal-sized step with the left leg so your body is positioned in a low squat. Keep your body weight in your heels and hold for two breaths.

Is Climbing stairs better than treadmill? ›

THE BOTTOM LINE. Milton says the two activities boast similar results: On average, a 150-pound person burns roughly 204 calories walking on a treadmill uphill at 3.5 mph versus 272 calories walking upstairs for 30 minutes. “[Mechanics-wise] they're both working on triple extension through hip knee and ankle,” she says.

How do you train to climb stairs? ›

Aim to do 2-3 more floors or stairs than the first one, and keep challenging yourself to do more every 5 minutes. Don't underestimate your Spotify playlist—listening to music can also help you propel up the stairs. important to stretch for at least 5 minutes after your workouts; and most of all, listen to your body.

How many times should you run stairs? ›

Work up to about 10 sets per workout depending upon the length of your stairs. A 20- to 30-minute workout will give you plenty of intensity. Add stair running to your workout routine on your high-intensity training days or as part of an interval training workout. Do not do more than two stair workouts a week.

Why is running stairs so hard? ›

Simply put, it's because going up stairs demands a lot of your muscles. "Climbing a flight of stairs uses more muscles than walking," explains Kennihan. "You are basically doing lunges uphill and fighting against gravity.

How can I strengthen my legs to walk up stairs? ›

Do lunges and wall squats to strengthen your quadriceps and glutes; jump rope and do one-leg hops to increase impact tolerance. 2. Train on a Stairmaster. Rain or shine, you can always build your stair-climbing muscles at the gym or on your home exercise equipment.

How do I build my stairs endurance? ›

Speed and repetition work wonders at enhancing endurance. If you have access to a step machine such as a StairMaster, aim for 20 minutes on it. If not, spend 20 minutes quickly marching up and down your stairs at home.

How many times a week should I run up stairs? ›

The suggested amount is at least 3 times per week, the longer the staircase the better. There are many ways to vary your stair climbing workout but initially, just running up the stairs and walking back down is enough to get your body used to and conditioned for stair climbing.

Is doing stairs better than walking? ›

Burn more calories

First, walking up and down stairs burns more calories than walking on a flat surface at a moderate pace. How many calories you burn depends on your weight, but going down stairs burns between 175 and 275 calories per hour and going up stairs burns 530 to 835 calories per hour.

At what age do stairs become difficult? ›

1 in 4 participants who did little to no exercise each day found they experience difficulty with everyday activities around the age of 60. 14% of over 65s who carry out moderate exercise found things like walking and climbing up and down the stairs a challenge.

Does climbing stairs damage knees? ›

Damaged cartilage may not cause pain when you walk. But as running, deep knee bends, squats or climbing stairs subjects the knee to additional stress, the pain increases. These types of motions force the kneecap to slide up and down. Worn cartilage cannot keep the kneecap in the groove when the knee is under pressure.

How many floors of stairs is a good workout? ›

If the goal is improved health and longevity, the Harvard Alumni Health study reported that climbing 10-19 flights a week (two to four flights per day) reduces mortality risk.

What muscles do running stairs work? ›

Stair climbing activates your core muscles in your legs, such as your hamstrings, quads, calves and gluts. As a result, your legs will become stronger and enhances your movement. In fact, stair climbing targets the same muscles as squats and lunges – so if you're not a fan of those, hit the stairs!

How do you lose belly fat with stairs? ›

Climbing two stairs at once, but while descending, descend one ladder. Keep pace and climb through the nose while climbing and landing. Do this as many times a day as you can. This will reduce your weight rapidly and reduce belly fat.

Why am I out of breath after climbing stairs? ›

Even if you consider yourself "in shape," it's still normal to feel out of breath after climbing stairs. That's because you're transitioning from a resting state to a high-intensity exercise quickly, and your body needs more oxygen to deliver to your muscles (hence why you start breathing heavily).

Does stair climbing reduce hips and thighs? ›

Climbing the stairs won't automatically drop your thigh circumference several inches, but it can burn a lot of calories during each exercise session. As you habitually burn calories through exercise, you'll lose weight and may trim fat from your hips.

What workout is equivalent to stairs? ›

Bodyweight Squat

Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width. Stiffen your core and abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine. Hold your chest up and out, tilt your head slightly up, shift your weight back into your heels.

What burns more fat treadmill or stairs? ›

In general, running on a treadmill burns more calories than climbing stairs, but walking on a treadmill burns fewer calories than stair climbing. Any of these workouts will help you expend calories, stay in shape and shed unwanted body fat.

How long should a beginner climb stairs? ›

Anyone with generally healthy knees and hips can walk single stairs.
  1. Beginners: 5-15 minutes.
  2. Intermediate: 20-30 minutes.
  3. Advanced: 30+ minutes.
  4. Intermediate: 15-30 minutes.
  5. Advanced: 30+ minutes.
  6. Intermediate: Every 5 minutes you walk stairs (single or double), perform triple stairs for 1-3 minutes.
16 Feb 2021

How can I train to climb better? ›

10 exercises for climbers
  1. Push-ups. Push-ups are a great antagonist exercise, meaning they target the pushing muscles not commonly used during climbing. ...
  2. Pull-ups. ...
  3. Wide grip lat pulldowns. ...
  4. Lying triceps extension. ...
  5. Resistance band pull-apart. ...
  6. Front dumbbell raises. ...
  7. Single-arm dumbbell rows. ...
  8. Kettlebell swings.
27 Jun 2022

Are stairs strength training? ›

While stair climbing might be most commonly noted for its booty-shaping benefits, it's actually a better total-body strength workout than you might imagine. Plus, it's an A-plus form of cardio training, which allows you to do more for your heart health in less time than other forms of exercise might require.

How many stairs a day is good exercise? ›

According to the American Heart Association, that means at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. The good news? Both can be achieved by climbing 10 flights of stairs a day.

Is it better to go up stairs 2 at a time? ›

Based on the subjects' heart rates, the researchers estimated calories burned. They found that volunteers who took the stairs two at a time had a higher rate of energy expenditure over the 86 steps they climbed – but those who climbed one at a time burned more energy in total over the entire staircase.

What causes weak legs climbing stairs? ›

Vascular diseases like PAD, or other conditions that affect blood circulation in your body, can cause weakness in the legs while walking or climbing stairs. PAD and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are two conditions that may make exercising, daily activities, and climbing stairs close to impossible.

Are stairs good for knees? ›

Strengthening the knee is one way to prevent knee trouble and deal with a knee condition you already have. One exercise that's simple to do is stair climbing.

Why are stairs so hard on knees? ›

This is because going down the stairs puts significant force on the knee and the patello-femoral joint located beneath the kneecap. This force is intensified for people who have weak quadriceps or thigh muscles, because there's no muscle to absorb the force of each step. The entire impact falls on the knee joint.

How long should the run be on stairs? ›

The 2018 IBC building code for rise and run of stairs is a maximum 7" rise and minimum 11" run (tread depth). The OSHA standard for rise and run of stairs is maximum 9.5" rise and minimum 9.5" run (tread depth).

Is stair climbing good for seniors? ›

The authors showed that regular stair climbing can be done by older adults and can limit aging-induced physiological decline [17]. Popular walking programs use a pedometer to encourage older adults to be more physically active.

Is running stairs better than running hills? ›

Stair running can burn about 500 calories in 30 minutes. It's harder to calculate the calorie burn for hill running because each hill is different. However, running coach Tom Holland estimates that if you run up a hill and jog down the other side you'll burn up to 50 percent more calories than running on flat terrain.

Are stairs good for athletes? ›

Often thought of as a workout for athletes, running stairs benefits include a great, high-intensity workout that helps build speed, power, agility and cardiovascular fitness.

Are stairs harder than running? ›

Stair-climbing requires more energy, or calories per minute, compared to running,” says Dustin Slivka, PhD, associate professor of health and kinesiology and director of the exercise physiology laboratory at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Do runners damage the stairs? ›

A stair runner enhances the appearance of the stairway and adds warmth to the space. It also preserves the surface of wood, laminate or tile stairs from damage and provides a soft, noiseless padding for those ascending or descending the stairway.

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