image of woman running up stairs

Climbing the Stairs | Stair Climbing for Fitness and Weight Loss

It seems too simple, but climbing the stairs, or stair climbing is truly one of, if not the best, activity for exercise. Nothing is more beneficial than being weight-bearing and propelling your body up against gravity. This is exactly what stair climbing does.

Benefits of Stair Climbing

Because climbing stairs is weight bearing and against gravity, it magnifies the typical effects of exercise. Those benefits are:

  • cardiovascular improvement-circulation, stronger heart, etc.
  • Increased calorie burning
  • Increased fat burning
  • Elevated metabolism

Strength and Cardio:┬áStair climbing has a unique benefit: Because you are lifting your entire body weight while you are stepping, you are also building strength while your are doing this cardiovascular exercise. Granted, it’s more muscular endurance than absolute strength, but that’s what the average person needs.

Low Impact: Although more intense than jogging, climbing stairs is less impact than jogging or walking. As long as the height of the stairs is not too high and does not hurt your knees, it is very easy on your joints.

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Weakness of Stair Climbing Exercise

Although climbing the stairs is one of the best cardio activities, it has one major inherent problem: You have to come down. The reason this is a problem is because going down stairs uses your muscles in a different way than going up. Going down uses primarily eccentric contractions on your muscles. This means that the muscles are lengthening as you are contracting them. I won’t go into the science behind this, but know that this is the part of the activity that will make you sore. Going up will be OK, going down causes the pain. You’ll have to ease into this to build a tolerance. If you are doing staircase exercises in a tall building, you may want to take the elevator down. There’s no shame in that. It’s what I would do.

Stair Climbing Muscles

The muscles used in climbing the stairs are primarily the quadriceps muscles on the front of your thigh and the gluteals (or buttocks). Because it is weight bearing and requiring balance, you are actually using nearly every muscle in our legs to perform this activity. When going down, you also add quite a bit of calf muscle. You”ll feel this the next day, believe me.

Options for Stair Climbing

In case you don’t have a clear option for climbing stairs, here are ideas for locations:

  • Stairwell in building: build into it one floor at a time. Remember, there’s no shame in taking the stairs down. There’s not much benefit in going down and it’ll make you sore.
  • Stadium stairs: great option if you live near a football stadium.
  • Stair master machine: Especially the ones with the rotating stairs.
  • Hills: Almost as good as stairs.
  • The Incline: If you’re ever in Colorado Springs, CO, I recommend you try the Incline. It’s 1 mile up the mountain on a retired cog railroad. It’s the toughest workout ever!

Note: One way to get better at stair climbing is to do the step ups exercise.

Mike Caton