Running Stairs: The Benefits + 6 Workouts To Build Strength + Speed

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As a certified personal trainer and running coach, I am often asked for workout suggestions that are efficient and effective.

Stair climbing, stair sprints, or just running stairs are perfect forms of exercise to check both of these boxes.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of climbing stairs as a form of exercise, different ways to do stair workouts, the physical and mental health benefits of stair climbing, and examples of running stairs workouts for different fitness levels and training goals.

A person running stairs.

What Is a Stair Workout?

Stair workouts outdoors on stadium stairs or on a set of stairs indoors can involve running or walking up and down stairs exclusively or also incorporate other exercises like plyometrics, core exercises, strength training exercises like push-ups and lunges, jumping rope in between flights of stairs, and so on.

Options for stair workouts include:

  • A basic flight of stairs in your home or apartment building
  • Stadium stairs at a local sports stadium
  • Extended flights of stairs at an office building or skyscraper
  • Portable, single-tier aerobic steps for up and down stair stepping
  • Stair stepper machines with pedals that go up and down like a StairMaster
  • Stair climber machines with revolving steps that you climb continuously

Running up stairs is more of a cardio and strength training workout than running down stairs. 

However, unless you use a stair stepper or stair climber machine, you will have to run down the stairs or walk down stairs when using a regular set of stairs. 

Therefore, if you want to maximize the efficiency of your aerobic workout—in terms of keeping your heart rate elevated and increasing the number of calories you burn to aid weight loss, you should opt for a Stairmaster or stair climber machine rather than using a real set of stairs.

Depending on your fitness level and whether you need a low-impact workout due to joint pain, you can also sprint stairs when you are going up and then walk quickly going downstairs to reduce the impact forces on your knees.

People running stairs.

Is Stair Climbing Cardio Exercise?

Running stairs or climbing stairs at a brisk pace increases your heart rate, burns calories, improves your cardiovascular fitness level, and strengthens most of the muscle groups in the lower body including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves as well as your core muscles.

In this way, stair workouts combine aerobic exercise and strength training in one.

Moreover, as a personal trainer who works with runners and individuals who are just getting started with a fitness routine, I love that stair-climbing workouts can be scaled to different fitness levels.

Stair climbing can be modified to be a high-impact, high-intensity workout if you want to run up stairs.

Alternatively, you can make stair climbing workouts low-impact by using a stair climber or Stairmaster machine or walking up a flight of stairs rather than running flights of stairs.

A person on a stair machine.

What Are the Benefits of Running Stairs?

Here are some of the top physical and mental health benefits of stair-climbing workouts:

#1: Excellent Aerobic Workout

Running stairs is an excellent aerobic workout as it increases your heart rate and breathing rate, improving your cardiovascular fitness level and strengthening your heart and lungs.

#2: Great For Cross Training

Stair climbing is a great form of cross-training for distance runners because it helps build strength and power in many of the same muscle groups worked by running, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and core muscles.

#3: Burns Calories

Running up stairs is a great way to burn calories.

Depending on your body weight goals, overall training plan, diet, and intensity level and duration of your stair climbing workouts, it can help you create a caloric deficit necessary to lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight.

In fact, according to Obesity,1Eves, F. F., Webb, O. J., & Mutrie, N. (2006). A Workplace Intervention to Promote Stair Climbing: Greater Effects in the Overweight*. Obesity14(12), 2210–2216. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2006.259 stair climbing burns more calories than jogging, so it can be great for weight loss and fat loss.

A person running stairs.

#4: Improves Athletic Performance

Stair workouts combine strength training, plyometric training, and cardio exercise in one, especially if you are sprinting stairs or running stairs.

This makes running stairs a time-efficient exercise and transferable to athletic performance, such as sprinting on flat ground and running long distances on flat ground or up hills.2Barnes, K. R., Hopkins, W. G., McGuigan, M. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2013). Effects of Different Uphill Interval-Training Programs on Running Economy and Performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance8(6), 639–647. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.8.6.639

‌Running stairs can help improve your running form for uphill running and sprinting because the explosiveness that you need to bound up stairs can improve your knee drive, posture, turnover, foot strike, and propulsive power.

Stair running workouts are great for high-intensity interval training because you can easily get your heart rate up above 85% of your age-predicted maximum heart rate either running or sprinting stairs and you can walk down the stairs for your rest in between each high-intensity interval bout. 

Studies3Boreham, C. A. G. (2005). Training effects of short bouts of stair climbing on cardiorespiratory fitness, blood lipids, and homocysteine in sedentary young women. British Journal of Sports Medicine39(9), 590–593. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2002.001131 found that even just short bouts of daily stair climbing can increase VO2 max, which is a measure of your aerobic capacity or cardiovascular fitness level.

For example, one study4Kennedy, R. A., Boreham, C. A. G., Murphy, M. H., Young, I. S., & Mutrie, N. (2007). Evaluating the Effects of A Low Volume Stairclimbing Programme on Measures of Health-Related Fitness in Sedentary Office Workers. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine6(4), 448–454. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3794484/ found that stair climbing increased predictive VO2 max by 9.4% over eight weeks.

Running up stairs and running down stairs at a quick pace will also improve your coordination, balance, and agility.

A person running stairs.

#5: Can Improve Health Factors

There is evidence to suggest5Honda, H., Igaki, M., Hatanaka, Y., Komatsu, M., Tanaka, S., Miki, T., Suzuki, T., Takaishi, T., & Hayashi, T. (2016). Stair climbing/descending exercise for a short time decreases blood glucose levels after a meal in participants with type 2 diabetes. BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care4(1), e000232. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjdrc-2016-000232 that walking up and down stairs for 3 minutes 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 study6Rey-Lopez, J. P., Stamatakis, E., Mackey, M., Sesso, H. D., & Lee, I-Min. (2019). Associations of self-reported stair climbing with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Preventive Medicine Reports15, 100938. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100938 of nearly 9,000 older men found that the number of stairs climbed on a routine basis was inversely associated with all-cause mortality, and better for overall health and reducing disease risk than regular walking on flat ground.

As a form of aerobic physical activity, running stairs can reduce your risk of lifestyle diseases, decrease blood pressure, reduce stress, improve heart health, and improve cholesterol levels.

A person running stadium stairs.

What Are the Best Running Stairs Workouts?

Here are some challenging stairs workouts to try:

#1: Tour de Stade

Fashioned after a Harvard Stadium stair running workout, this stair workout can be done at any stadium.

After a 5-10 minute warm up jogging around the track or field, walk or run up the bleachers or seats and run down the steps. 

If the seats are aluminum bleachers or you can’t run on them, just run up and down the steps of every section in the entire stadium.

#2: Century Tour

Warm up 5-10 minutes and then run 100 stadium stairs sections or 100 flights of stairs.

#3: 20 Minute Stair Running Workout

Of course, this workout can be modified to any length, but simply run up and down the stairs as many times as you can in your allotted workout time. 

Keep track of your records and try to set a PR for the number of reps up and down the set of stairs you complete each time you try the workout.

Cool down with 3-5 minutes of walking on flat ground.

A flight of stairs.

#4: Running Form Power Workout

Warm up for 5-10 minutes jogging.

Run up the first set of stairs taking every single step, and then run down the same way. 

Run up the second section skipping every other step. Run down taking every step. Keep alternating, using the single steps to work on increasing cadence and then skipping steps to build power and explosive strength in your quads and glutes.

#5: Tabata Stair Climber Workout

This short HIIT stair climber workout is great when you have little time but want to get a hard cardio workout and burn calories

Warm up for 5-10 minutes on the stair climber.

Sprint as hard as you can on the StairMaster for 20 seconds. Step slowly for 10 seconds.

Cool down. 

Stairmaster.

#6: Stairs + Strength Workout

This stairs running workout gets in your cardio and strength training in one.

It is a great stadium stairs workout, but you can also use a basic flight of stairs.

Warm up for 5-10 minutes jogging.

  • Run up the first section of stadium stairs (or set of stairs). 
  • At the bottom, do 25-50 bodyweight squats, depending on your fitness level.
  • After the second section, do 25 push-ups.
  • After running the third section, do 20 burpees.
  • After running the fourth section, do 20 triceps dips on the steps.
  • After running the fifth section, do 25 forward lunges per leg.
  • After running the sixth section, do an up-down plank for 30-60 seconds (forearm plank then press up one hand at a time to a high plank, up and down between the two the whole time).
  • After running the eighth section, do 25 reverse lunges per leg.
  • After running the ninth section, do 15 V-ups.
  • After running the tenth section, do 20 step jumps—jumping with both feet up and down the first step like a box jump.
  • Continue this pattern starting back at the squats again for the entire stadium or duration of your home stair workout.

As with any type of exercise, gradually progress the duration or intensity of your stair workouts.

Remember, even a short stair climbing workout is fantastic for your health!

For more benefits of plyometric exercises, check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Eves, F. F., Webb, O. J., & Mutrie, N. (2006). A Workplace Intervention to Promote Stair Climbing: Greater Effects in the Overweight*. Obesity14(12), 2210–2216. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2006.259
  • 2
    Barnes, K. R., Hopkins, W. G., McGuigan, M. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2013). Effects of Different Uphill Interval-Training Programs on Running Economy and Performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance8(6), 639–647. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.8.6.639
  • 3
    Boreham, C. A. G. (2005). Training effects of short bouts of stair climbing on cardiorespiratory fitness, blood lipids, and homocysteine in sedentary young women. British Journal of Sports Medicine39(9), 590–593. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2002.001131
  • 4
    Kennedy, R. A., Boreham, C. A. G., Murphy, M. H., Young, I. S., & Mutrie, N. (2007). Evaluating the Effects of A Low Volume Stairclimbing Programme on Measures of Health-Related Fitness in Sedentary Office Workers. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine6(4), 448–454. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3794484/
  • 5
    Honda, H., Igaki, M., Hatanaka, Y., Komatsu, M., Tanaka, S., Miki, T., Suzuki, T., Takaishi, T., & Hayashi, T. (2016). Stair climbing/descending exercise for a short time decreases blood glucose levels after a meal in participants with type 2 diabetes. BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care4(1), e000232. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjdrc-2016-000232
  • 6
    Rey-Lopez, J. P., Stamatakis, E., Mackey, M., Sesso, H. D., & Lee, I-Min. (2019). Associations of self-reported stair climbing with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Preventive Medicine Reports15, 100938. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100938
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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