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How to Get a Killer Workout Using Stairs

running up stairs outside
Gina Harney - Blogs
By Gina HarneyCertified personal trainerAugust 20, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

With many of us currently working at home, it can be easy to fall into the same exercise routines. But our bodies respond when we change up the imposed demands, so it’s important to add new tools or stressors to prevent plateaus. Climbing stairs can be an effective way to add variety to our workouts, and the bonus is that many of us already have them at home or around the neighborhood. I also like that you can easily gauge progress over time by how many circuits or flights of stairs you can complete.

Benefits and what muscles you’ll work:

  • Stair workouts combine strength and cardio. You’ll increase your heart rate and receive the cardiovascular benefits of the exercise, while strengthening the muscles in your legs and glutes (butt muscles).
  • All you need is your own bodyweight – and if you’re doing stairs at home, you don’t even need to put on workout clothes. I’ll often climb up and down the stairs in my pajamas.
  • You’ll get an increased challenge in your legs and glutes because you’re working against gravity as you ascend. Expect to feel a challenge in your quads (front thigh muscles), glutes, hamstrings (back thigh muscles), core, and calves as they work to keep you upright and working against the resistance.

Sample workout circuit:

Warm up 5-7 minutes, simply by walking up and down the stairs continuously. Take deep breaths and focus on the muscles in your legs, working to push you up each step. As you walk down the stairs, really push through your glutes and land with a soft knee to protect your knees.

Alternating step-ups – 2 minutes: Stand at the base of the stairs. Alternate stepping onto the first stair: right leg up, left leg up, then right leg down, left leg down. Repeat, starting on the opposite side. Continue for the entire 2-minute block.

Plank – 1 minute: Place your hands 3-4 steps up and keep your feet on the ground. Press your hands towards your ankles, retract your shoulder blades, squeeze your glutes, and keep your core pulled up and in. Breathe and hold for 1 minute and take breaks as needed.

Squat jump and step down – 2 minutes: Starting on the ground, exhale and spring up to jump 1-2 steps above. Land with a soft knee and sink it low into a squat before stepping down to repeat. Make sure your entire feet land on the steps.

Decline push-up – 1 minute: Place your hands on the floor and your feet 3-4 steps up. Make a long line with your spine - make sure your neck is long - and pull your core up and in. Bend your elbows out 45 degrees and stop when your elbows are in line with your torso. Exhale to squeeze your chest and push up. Repeat as many times as possible during the 1-minute block. To modify, switch these to incline push-ups. Your feet will be on the floor and your hands will be 3-4 steps up.

Alternating speeds – 2 minutes: Run, jog, or walk up the stairs as quickly as possible. Walk or jog down the stairs slowly. Repeat for 2 minutes.

Side squat with side leg raise – 30 seconds each side: Face the right side and step your left foot 1-2 steps up. Make sure both feet are facing straight out from your hips. Lower down into a squat (weight in your heels, chest lifted, core is tight, and shoulders down) and exhale to rise. Place your weight into your left foot as you lift your right foot up and out to the side. The goal is to get your leg almost to hip level. Keep your toes pointing straight forward. Lower down with control and repeat for 30 seconds before switching to the opposite side. 

Stair calf raises – 1 minute: Stand on the first step with your toes on the step and heels slightly off the back. Hold onto the railing for balance. As you exhale, press onto your toes and lift your heels off the floor. Lower down with control as you inhale. Exhale to press back up. Repeat for 1 minute total.

Complete the entire circuit 1-2 more times.

Tips and cautions to take:

  • Watch your foot placement. As you step onto each step, make sure your entire foot is flat and your whole foot or shoe is on the step – don’t let your heel hang off the back edge. (Exception: calf raises.)
  • Use the railing as needed for extra support and balance, especially when performing unilateral (one-sided) exercises.
  • Move slowly and efficiently. This will reduce the chance of losing balance or falling. It’s more important to move slowly and safely than it is to work extremely fast. If an exercise feels too intense, move it to flat ground.
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About the Author
Gina Harney

Gina Harney is the blogger behind the healthy lifestyle brand, The Fitnessista, which reaches millions of viewers all over the world. She’s been featured on Greatist, Forbes, Buzzfeed, Shape, Fitness Magazine, and Well + Good. She’s the author of “HIIT It!” and the voice behind the Healthy In Real Life podcast. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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