Can stair training really improve my performance?

Stair climbing is one of the few everyday activities you could do pre lockdown that could be completed with no equipment, without people asking why and with very little time/effort.  Now COVID-19 Has seen the masses head inside and get creative with their training. With that, we have seen a large number of clients and the wider community add stair training into their programs.  But is it worth all the hype or in reality are you just a less jacked and more out of shape Sylvester Stallone from Rocky 2?

Let’s look at the science.

Stair training forces you to work against gravity helping to build two of the elements which are essential for running.  Power and Strength.  There are many, many, stair case “races” around Dubai and the world.  So much so that in 2010, Italian researchers published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports that using the handrails to haul your body up and around the stairwell was a full-body movement resulting in “global maximal effort”.

They calculated that roughly 80% exertion was used to power yourself up against gravity, 5% to drive limb movement and 15% to turn on each floor landing.

But no one is going to be racing anytime soon so what benefits can stair training yield for the average athlete?

Stair training allows you to use muscle stabilizers due to the fact you are activating and balancing on only one leg when moving to the next step.  An example being the Gluteus medius whose role is hip abduction.  This muscle is generally neglected when running on the flat.

Stairs are steep – Steeper than what you are used to running on, steeper than your treadmill can go.  Some stairwells can hit 60-65% gradient when you do the maths.  No wonder when you climb stairs your HR goes through the roof in such a short space of time.  Stairs teach your body to use and convert O2 into fuel quicker, in short, you become faster at burning the fuel you are taking in.  This could translate to being able to run harder for longer.

University College Dublin Institute for sport and Health conducted an 8-week study looking at Undergrad students.  The study participants were required to be sedentary (or complete exercise on no more than one occasion per week).  They were asked to climb 199 steps, 2x per day, 5x per week and increase the reps throughout the study to acquire a max of 10mins of work per day.  They found that the stair climbers increased aerobic fitness by 17% compared to the control group and decreased LDL cholesterol by 8% reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

So Yes they are great and yes they are free so if you have access what are some workouts you can try?

What you need?  Some stairs – around 20-40 should do it

Warm up – Make sure you are well warmed up before hand and have performed some dynamic stretching

Sprints:  Get to the top of the stairs as fast as you can. Recover on the descent. Repeat 6-8 times.

Step lunges:  Step forward so your leading foot lands on a stair with a 90-degree angle (2-3 steps is probably enough), lower to a lunge then bring the trail foot forwards to meet the lead. Repeat on the other side. Recover on the descent. (Repeat 4-5 times)

Single leg hop ups:  Hop up each stair on one leg.  Recover on the descent. Repeat on the other leg.  (Repeat 3x per leg)

Stair squat jumps:  perform a squat jump but land on the next step up. If the steps are close together then you might wish to skip one and land every second step. Recover on the descent. (Repeat 3-4 times)

Thanks for reading.  If you have any questions feel free to mail me on or DM me on Instagram @robjonesendurance     

By; Rob Jones, Endurance Coach