At one time or another, most people have come across a health, fitness, or weight loss article touting the benefits of climbing stairs rather than taking the elevator or escalator. This simple swap can increase your physical activity, burn a few extra calories, strengthen your legs, and even give you a burst of energy when you’re feeling lethargic.
There are numerous physical and mental health benefits of climbing stairs.
Whether you choose to take the stairs instead of riding up the elevator, head to your local stadium and run a stair workout, hop on the stair stepper machine at your gym, or do a stair walking workout right in your own home, you will reap the benefits of climbing stairs.
This guide will cover all of the fantastic benefits of climbing stairs, stair climbing workouts for beginners, and tips for making stairs climbing workouts fun, safe, and effective.
We will look at:
- What Is a Stair Climbing Workout?
- Modifying Stair Climbing Workouts
- 8 Benefits of Climbing Stairs
- Stair Climbing Workout Tips and Ideas for Beginners
Let’s get started!
What Is a Stair Climbing Workout?
Depending on your current fitness level and goals, a stair climbing workout can range from just walking up a single flight of stairs in your home or office to a vigorous cardio workout running every single flight of stairs in every section of an entire football stadium.
The following factors can determine what type of stair climbing workout is best for you:
The mode refers to the type of stairs you use for your workout. This factor is determined mainly by what’s available to you.
Options for stair workouts include:
- Basic steps in your home
- Stadium stairs at a local stadium
- Extended flights of stairs at an office building or skyscraper
- Portable, single-tier aerobic steps for up and down stair stepping
- Stair machines with pedals that go up and down
- Stair-climbing machines with revolving steps that you climb continuously
Climbing up stairs is more of a cardio and strengthening workout than walking down the stairs. However, when it comes to stair workout, in most cases, “what goes up must come down,” meaning that you’ll have to run or walk down any type of stairs you are climbing for your workout.
The exception here is stair climbing exercise machines. These machines inherently provide a more challenging workout because there’s no relative rest between flights you usually get when you have to walk or run back down the stairs before climbing up again.
Therefore, if you want to maximize the efficiency of your cardio workout, opt for using a stair climbing machine at the gym.
You can walk, jog, or run when climbing stairs. Obviously, the faster you go, the more intense the workout. You’ll burn more calories if you run up and down the stairs in your building rather than walk them briskly.
However, beginners might want to start with brisk stair walking because your heart rate can get relatively high when walking up stairs, and the risk of injury and falls increases with a faster pace.
Your stair climbing workout can range anywhere from minutes to an hour or so, depending on your fitness level, workout intensity, goals, and time constraints.
Stair climbing can be an excellent exercise for HIIT workouts. You can run, jog, or walk briskly when climbing the stairs for your high-intensity intervals and use the descent back to the bottom as the natural, built-in recovery interval.
Stair climbing workouts for beginners can be as short as 10-20 minutes, and you will definitely see the benefits of climbing stairs for 20 minutes. Gradually build up the duration and speed of your workout as your fitness improves.
Modifying Stair Workouts
If you are physically deconditioned or have balance or coordination issues, you can use the railing on the stairs to help you ascend and descend the stairs safely.
If you are using a stair-stepping exercise machine, there should also be handrails you can use for balance. However, if you have the stability and coordination to use the stair climber machine without holding the handrails, you’ll get a better workout if you forgo using them.
On the other end of the spectrum, to make a stair-climbing workout more difficult, you can run or climb at a brisker pace or add resistance by wearing a weighted vest.
8 Benefits of Climbing Stairs
The benefits of stair walking and stair climbing workouts include the following:
#1: Climbing Stairs Is a Great Cardio Workout
If you’re looking for a fantastic cardio workout, you’ll love climbing stairs. Climbing stairs is a total-body workout, so you’ll quickly elevate your heart rate and respiration rate.
In this way, climbing stairs can improve your heart and lungs’ health, strength, and function.
#2: Climbing Stairs Burns a Lot of Calories
According to Obesity, stair climbing burns more calories than jogging, so one of the benefits of climbing stairs can be an effective way to maintain a healthy weight.
#3: Climbing Stairs Strengthens Your Muscles
Another one of our stair climbing benefits is that climbing stairs uses nearly every major muscle in your body. Stair workouts strengthen your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves in the lower body, along with your core and arms, provided you don’t hold onto the railings.
The strength you build in your butt and legs from climbing stairs can translate to other activities, allowing you to run faster, jump higher, lift more weight, and boost athletic performance with exercises like cycling and rowing.
#4: Climbing Stairs Improves Markers of Health and Reduces Your Risk of Lifestyle Diseases
Physical activity has been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Evidence suggests that walking up and down stairs for 3 minutes 1-3 times after a meal can lower blood sugar levels.
Studies also have demonstrated that stair climbing can reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.
For example, a prospective health study of nearly 9,000 older men found that the number of stairs climbed on a routine basis was inversely associated with all-cause mortality. In fact, habitual stair climbing was associated with a more significant reduction in all-cause mortality than regular walking.
Men who climbed an average of at least eight flights of stairs a day had a 33% lower mortality rate than sedentary men, while those who walked an average of 1.3 miles a day had only a 22% lower risk.
#5: Stair Climbing Increases VO2 Max
Your VO2 max measures your aerobic capacity, and the higher your VO2 max, the better your cardiovascular fitness.
One study demonstrated that even short bouts of daily stair climbing could increase VO2 max.
Previously sedentary women who did up to five 2-minute bouts of stair climbing five days a week increased their VO2 by 17.1% over the 8-week study. Moreover, there was a 7.7% reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Another study using a similar protocol with short bouts of stair climbing found that stair climbing increased predictive VO2 max by 9.4% over eight weeks.
#6: Climbing Stairs Improves Balance and Coordination
Climbing stairs is a rhythmic, reciprocal, and repetitive activity. It requires mental focus, coordination, balance, agility, and core control, so routinely performing stair climbing workouts can help hone these aspects of fitness, another great one of our stair climbing benefits.
#7: Climbing Stairs Is a Low-Impact Activity
If you suffer from joint pain or arthritis, climbing stairs can be a great low-impact cardio exercise alternative to running.
A brisk walking pace while climbing stairs can increase your heart rate as much as jogging or running on flat ground, but walking places far less impact stress on your bones and joints.
Even if you choose to run the stairs, your stair climbing workout will have a lower impact on your joints than running on flat land because the force of gravity is reduced when your feet are traveling to a height that’s above where they started from (as is the case when climbing stairs).
#8: Climbing Stairs Is Accessible
If you’re working with a tight budget, it can be hard to swing the money for a gym membership, and if you’re super busy, being able to work out at home could be the only feasible option.
Fortunately, stair climbing workouts can remove both of these barriers.
You can do a stair climbing workout inside your own home with a single flight of stairs or a relatively inexpensive aerobic step.
From a financial standpoint, you can find a public office or commercial building with open stairwells or head to a stadium for an awesome, free workout.
Now that you are familiar with the benefits of stair walking and stair climbing let’s look at some workout tips to get started.
Stair Climbing Workout Tips and Ideas for Beginners
If you are new to stair climbing workouts, the following tips may be helpful:
- Wear supportive shoes with an anti-slip sole.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks to prevent blisters.
- Use well-lit stairs to aid visibility.
- Place your entire foot on the step platform for added stability.
- Vary your stair climbing workouts by changing the intensity or pace and modifying the duration by sometimes going by minutes and other times by the number of flights or steps.
- Try to stay light and quick on your feet.
- Stop if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, extremely breathless, or experience pain.
- Use upbeat music to keep you motivated and set a vigorous pace.
- Have fun and be proud of yourself! Even a short stair climbing workout is fantastic for your health.
So whether you have an entire hour or are looking to reap the benefits of climbing stairs for 20 minutes, let’s get going!
If you are looking for other fast-paced, intense training that isn’t strictly stair climbing, you can look at our HIIT workouts for runners!