I fondly remember when I was super crazy fit and genuinely enjoyed running stairs weekly. Yes, I looked forward to my stair running days. It was never easy, per se, but I had built up my fitness to a point where running stairs wasn’t the most excruciatingly awful activity I could imagine. I have no idea who that person was and I am a far cry from her now. However, I am committed to getting back to the occasional stair workout because stair workouts are crazy legit and a great way to build fitness. Also, I live practically next door to a giant (and I mean giant) staircase and it seems like something I should probably take advantage of.
That’s my long-winded way of saying, welcome to my inspiration for this week’s post on tips for getting stair fit!
Okay, let’s just come right out and say it: stairs suck. There. Does that feel better? I hear you. Walking or running stairs does suck. But here’s the thing: it’s also really, really good for your fitness. You’re combining tons of muscle groups with almost instant heart-rate elevation (particularly if you’re just starting out). I’ve done a fair bit of reading about stair climbing (mostly because I couldn’t figure out why they never seemed to get any easier), and it turns out that stairs are so damn good for you because you are fighting gravity with vertical movement, requiring your muscles to work harder. As a result, you not only increase cardiovascular fitness, but you also build muscle. Even running doesn’t have the same benefits (though it obviously does have many other benefits). So there you have it, stairs are awesome for your health…even though, yes, you’ll probably hate them.
A really important note here, when I say stairs, I mean legit staircases, not stair machines. I have no research to back this up, and am relying only on my own experience, but I have never used a step climber or stair machine that felt anywhere near as difficult as actual stairs. Maybe I haven’t been using the machines correctly, but the motion just doesn’t feel the same. I never feel like you have to propel yourself in the same way as on real stairs. It’s a total bias on my part, but I’m owning it.
How to Build Up your Stair Climbing Superpowers
1. Take it one step at a time (pun intended): This gets the prize for most obvious of tips but I don’t even care: start small and start based on your current fitness level. If you’re super fit already, you’re going to be able to start with running stairs. If you’re starting from square one, you’re going to want to walk before you run. If you’re somewhere in the middle, start with mixed intervals. Regardless, don’t be like me and decide to pick up stair running after a two-year hiatus with a set of 300 stairs. You’ll die. Find a staircase length that fits your fitness and goals and work with that. Build up from there.
2. Mix it up: Stairs offer opportunities for workout versatility. You can just walk or run, but you can also take two steps at a time. You can do two-legged jumps up a flight or two in between running flights. You can mix in some side steps, and even work in a side lunge motion. I can’t say the sky’s the limit, but I can say there are a lot of variations so that you’re not just mindlessly running up and down a set of stairs. Sometimes that simply gets boring.
3. Work on strength on the side: Sure stairs help your strength, but building strength will also make stairs easier. Squats, lunges, calf raises, wall sits, and virtually any other leg and glute exercises will help build up the muscles that will make stair climbing easier. Note, I did not say they will make stairs easy, just easier. It’s all relative.
Other Tips & Watch-Outs
1. Be prepared for sore muscles from going down stairs: There is something about running down a set of stairs that will really engage some lesser-used muscles. When I first run stairs after a long hiatus, I find myself in some serious pain…but only when I go down another set of stairs. It may not happen to you, but if it does, you’re not alone.
2. Watch your step (literally): The last thing you want to do is fall flat on your face when going up or down stairs. Be careful. Walk before you run. We all have varying levels of balance, equilibrium and grace. If, like me, you are on the lower end of these spectrums, take time to get used to the motion of stair climbing before launching into full-on sprints.
3. Always have water: Long sets of stairs are going to leave you tired and parched, no matter what. I spent years thinking I didn’t need water during workouts. I was wrong. Take a bottle, park it at the top or bottom of the set of stairs you’re using and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
4. Outdoors is always, always better: On my lazier days, I used to run the stair wells in my condo building. All 14 floors of them. It was dark and overly warm and completely uninspiring (not to mention I always had an underlying fear that I would trip and fall and be found dead, crumpled at the bottom of steep concrete stairs, days after my fall). Outside, you can at least distract yourself with people watching, fresh air, birds, traffic, and a million other things that will briefly take your mind off the fact that you’re running stairs. Trust me, finding an outdoor staircase is worth it.
So now that I’ve got you all fired up, get out there and get your stair climbing on!