How to use Stair Exercises to improve your strength, power, flexibility and conditioning

My discovery of stair exercise workouts came when I had to walk up 19 flights of stairs to visit a friend of mine. His elevator was out of service. Anyone who has done this knows how tough this can be. After that day, I decided to give stair climbing workouts a try and have been using them ever since.

I initially used stair climbing workouts to improve my aerobic conditioning but as time went on I learned to use it for: Anaerobic Conditioning, lower body strength and power development and flexibility.

Here is a list of what can be done with stair exercises:

Part 1: Anaerobic Conditioning: Part 2: Lower Body Strength Development: Part 3: Lower Body Power Development: Part 4: Other Ideas: Flexibility, using other equipment, calisthenics and bodyweight exercises.

Real Stair Climbing™, Jargon, and Definitions:

Real Stair Climbing:

Real stair climbing is the actual use of stairs and stair cases. I do this to differentiate it from modifications like the Stairmaster™ and step mill™. Although equipment like the Stairmaster™ and step mill™ can have great value they cannot compare to what Real Stair Climbing™ has to offer.

Climbs or Climbing: The actual act of walking or running up staircases.

Round or sets:

From the first floor to the top floor and back down is considered a round of stair climbing. This is not written in stone. Call it what you like. I also sometimes call it a set. Also in my own workouts, I rarely walk downstairs. I usually take the elevator down for safety reasons, but also keep in mind in the high school I work in we have to use the stairs to get back down, but we make it a point not to run downstairs and just walk down and take our time. It is not going to improve our conditioning, but in this case safety takes the precedent over improvement.

Part 1: Real Stair Climbing™ for Anaerobic conditioning:

My favorite use of stair climbing is anaerobic conditioning. As with any workout start off with a warm-up and stretching. I suggest you use one round of walking up the stairs and then proceed to the anaerobic work. In my own workouts I prefer to run up the stairs for anaerobic work but you could also walk very fast. I also prefer to climb every 2 steps but you could use every step. Experimentation will help you decide what works best for you. In my own anaerobic workouts I usually climb 6 to 12 flights at full speed and then rest for 2 to 3 minutes. During my rest period I usually continue to walk up a few flights. I find this allows me to recover faster. Experiment to find what works best for you. I usually perform anywhere from 4 to 10 sets: Running up stairs

Running up stairs

As your conditioning improves you have many options to challenge you further.

You can climb more flights Reduce your rest intervals Increase your sets (rounds) Use a weighted vest

An anaerobic workout can look something like this: Note: in this workout I had access to 20 flights

Round 1: warm-up: walk up 20 flights at slow pace (4 to 5 minutes) Take elevator or walk down

Round 2: warm-up: Run up 10 flights (every other step and go half speed), (1 minute) Rest 2 minutes

Round 3: Run up 10 flights (full speed and every other step), (30 to 45 seconds) Rest 2 to 3 minutes

Round 4: Repeat Round 3

Round 5: Repeat Round 4

To start this may be enough for most people. As one’s conditioning improves you can add rounds, add flights or reduce intervals to continue improving or use a weighted vest.

Another great anaerobic conditioning tool is an all out sprint to the 20th floor (that’s if you have 20 flights of course). By the 18th floor your legs can barely move. You’ll be forced to walk but your body will still be in an anaerobic zone. When I’m pressed for time I use this as a workout. Just do 1 or 2 warm-up rounds of 20 flights and then use the third round as the sprint to the 20th floor.

Another fun way to do anaerobic training with groups (especially athletes) is to race up flights of stairs. One person uses one stairwell and the other the opposite. An all out race to the top will challenge even the best conditioned athletes. With the high school student/athletes I’ve worked with we had access to 12 flights and racing up those stairs proved to be one of the best ways to condition them. They didn’t see it as a workout but just a race. So just calling it a race really motivated them. Remember to try and pair people of equal ability.

Race up stairs.

There are many ways to do Anaerobic conditioning in stair cases. Just remember to be safe and what you’re trying to address. Anaerobic work should have you breathless. To get an idea of how you should feel, run a ¼ mile track at full speed and you’ll see what I mean.

I think the main reason I like anaerobic conditioning so much is because it gives you more bang for your buck. I find that conditioning is a limiting factor in many athletes. Many complain that they just don’t have the strength late in games. I think they have the strength it’s just their lack of conditioning doesn’t allow them to use it. I find myself outlasting many high school students in basketball games and I think one big reason is my conditioning. The only thing I usually have over the student/athletes is strength. They are usually quicker, more powerful, and more skilled. But my teams usually prevail in games because I don’t tire easily. It also helps that I’ve been playing for over 20 years but I certainly notice the difference of how I feel (great) and how they look late in games (gasping for air and bent over).

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