It doesn't matter how many miles I run or HIIT workouts I sweat through — jogging up a few flights of stairs is still guaranteed to leave me winded. Something about the combination of cardio and activating multiple muscle groups (hamstrings, quads, glutes, and core) makes it a welcome challenge. I've even been known to incorporate a few flights into my runs, just to get that lactic acid burn in my quads.
While running just a couple of flights has the benefit of upping your heart rate and working your muscles, a full-on stair circuit is a whole other beast. Here's why you might want to add a stair workout to your schedule and how to do it safely. (Careful on those knees!)
Why Is Running Stairs Good For You?
"Running stairs is a powerful workout for numerous reasons," said Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and Bowflex fitness adviser. It burns major calories while strengthening your leg, glute, and core muscles. It's also a functional workout: regular stair running will help to condition and strengthen the muscles you use to walk up and down stairs and inclines on a daily basis. Tom noted that if you're looking to add more high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to your schedule, stairs are a great choice. Running up the stairs is the work interval; jogging or walking back down is your rest.
How to Run Stairs Safely
"Like any new workout, start slowly when running stairs," Tom told POPSUGAR. Run at a comfortable pace and lean forward slightly. You want to land on your toes as lightly as possible and keep your arms swinging comfortably, he said. And if jogging is out of your range right now, start by walking. Running stairs, like running on flat ground, is a high-impact activity; it's important to ramp things up slowly and allow your joints and muscles to get accustomed to the workout. As you get stronger, you can increase the intensity with faster speeds and more repetitions.
As long as you go with the right pace for your body, Tom said, running stairs shouldn't pose an increased chance of injury. Just be cautious and focussed during the workout, because it's easy to slip and fall if you're not paying attention.
25-Minute Outdoor Stair Workout
Tom created this quick workout to help you reap all the cardio and strengthening benefits of stair climbing in a short amount of time. You can make this workout as long as 25 minutes or as short as 11, whatever you have time for today!
- Warm up for three to five minutes with an easy walk or light jog on flat ground.
- Run up the stairs at a comfortably hard pace. Walk slowly back down to recover. Repeat for five to 15 minutes.
- Cool down for three to five minutes with an easy walk or light jog on flat ground.
"Adding stairs once a week to your workout routine will be a phenomenal addition to your overall exercise program," Tom said. (If you prefer the StairMaster over a regular staircase, try this 28-minute glute-focussed circuit.)