Step It Up! Indoor Stair Climbing 101
Updated March 19, 2019
Whether your fitness routine involves walking, running or sprinting up the stairs, you’re going to see results fast. According to trainer PJ Glassey, CEO of X Gym in Seattle, vertical training is huge.
“You’re working against the force of gravity, plus you’re strength training and building endurance all at the same time,” Glassey said.
Walking upstairs alone can torch up to 500 calories per hour. Pick up the pace to a run, and you’re looking at almost 1,000.* So what are you waiting for? Here’s how to get started.
Find some stairs.
The most ideal situation is to walk or run stairs in an elevator building, so you can take the stairs up and the elevator back down.
“Going up is more gentle on your joints and forces your heart and muscles to work extra hard. However, coming down is the opposite – it’s rough on your knees and not as good of a cardio workout,” Glassey said.
Seek an alternative
If stairs are not available. There’s nothing quite as effective as real stairs, but you can come pretty close with stair-stepper machines.
Practice good form.
Glassey recommends that you engage your core, keep your back upright, and do not lean into the stair’s railing (or handlebars, if you’re on a machine) while you climb.
“When stepping on a machine, allow your legs to complete a full cycle and let your foot go as high and as low as it can go each time,” Glassey said.
Try interval training.
Glassey follows a Tabata training protocol, which is 8 reps of 20 seconds of high intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest. If you’re new to stair climbing, Glassey suggests starting with the opposite: a 10-second sprint going upstairs at 80 to 90 percent of maximum effort, followed by a 20-second rest. Perform 8 reps or 4 minutes total and work your way up.
Once you can complete a 4-minute cycle without struggle, move on to a 15-second sprint followed by 15 seconds of rest, and work your way down to 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds rest.
Go at your own pace.
“Push yourself and suffer a little bit in order to see results – but that means different things to different people,” Glassey said.
“The oldest person we train is 83, and she, slowly, but surely, climbed all the way up the Columbia Center in Seattle.”
Create a goal for yourself.
Start small with something like, “I’m going to do 10 reps of the stairwell in my apartment building every day.” Or think big and register for a stair climb race up one of your local towers.
The Big Climb in Seattle takes you up 69 flights of stairs (1,211 steps) to the top of the Columbia Center and raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In Portland, the Fight for Air Climb race allows you to climb 40 flights up the US Bancorp Tower (“Big Pink”) and raises money for the American Lung Association.
Visit X Gym’s stair climbing site for additional training tips and race ideas.
*Calorie burn estimates are based on a 140-pound person.