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Cardio for Women

Step Up Your Cardio With Stairs

Here's how to make the most out of your stairs.

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Admit it, on more than one occasion, you had the choice between the stairs and escalators and you took the escalators. Or maybe you avoid the stair climber at the gym like the plague and swap in the treadmill for your cardio any time a workout calls for stairs. 


Kidding. Of course, we do recommend always opting for the stairs, but we’re not the stair police. However, research from McMaster University found that even a few short intervals of stair climbing during the day can make your heart healthier.  

Some people take stairs more seriously than just an easy way to get their steps in. Professional stair climbers are often called tower runners, and they’re all badass.

Kristin Frey is ranked No. 2 in the world for female tower runners and has climbed every major tower in Chicago, competed in the Empire State Building Run-Up in New York City and travels internationally to take on tower races in Switzerland, Vienna and Taipei.

Stair climbing impacts your entire body, not just your legs as some may think. Every step has you bending your ankles, knees and hips more than when you’re simply walking on a flat surface. You’re also pumping your arms to keep the momentum going up the incline.

If you’re interested in taking stair climbing more seriously, here are a few ways to start:

Step at a consistent pace. Begin climbing stairs at a steady pace; any pace that allows you to not get totally out of breath will do.

“Do your best to avoid bending forward excessively as you climb up the stairs, and try to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, as well,” says Christie Ward-Ritacco, Ph.D., ACSM-certified exercise physiologist. 

Place your entire foot, not just your toes, on the step as you go from one to the next. 

“Do your best to try and look forward (try not to look down for long periods) while still checking for the stairs at regular intervals,” Ward-Ritacco says.

Do speed intervals. Once you’ve perfected your pace and posture, take your workout up a notch by performing cardio intervals. 

“Vary your pace on the way up — try increasing your walking pace or jogging/running up the stairs while always using a pace that slows you to descend the stairs safely,” Ward-Ritacco recommends. 

Add in muscle moves. Incorporating full-body movements pushes your climb from cardio-driven to muscle-specific.

“Use the landings to complete bodyweight exercises,” Ward-Ritacco says. “For example, [do] bodyweight squats, wall sits, calf raises, push-ups and stationary lunges.”

Skip a step. Taking two steps at a time will fire up your muscles and propel your body faster. 

“Creative combinations like skipping a step when ascending and running down the steps when returning can improve the lung capacity and enhance agility and balance,” says Yvonne Ferguson Hardin, owner and president of Fergie’s Instructional Training. 

Use the descent. If you’re doing your workout on an actual flight of stairs, you may think it’s a piece of cake going back down after you’ve made it to the top. But like many runners know, going down isn’t any easier than going up. 

Going down stairs makes your muscles work to decelerate and control your descent. Choose your down-stairs pace conservatively, Ward-Ritacco cautions. 

“When stair climbing using a set of stairs rather than a ‘stair climber’ in a fitness facility, be sure that you’re in a safe location with stairs that are up to code (stable, spaced evenly, have a handrail for safety),” she says. “And keep in mind, there will be times where you should simply just walk and go slow on unfamiliar stairs.”