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The right way to do a stair workout

If you're bored of hills, trying hitting the stairs for the perfect blend of endurance and strength

We all know we should do hills, but actually pushing ourselves to do them is not always easy, especially in the winter when the roads are covered in ice, snow and slush. If you find chugging through hill repeats is getting old or you’re having a hard time getting in a quality workout thanks to winter road conditions, you may want to give a stair workout a try. When done properly, they can be just as effective as hills, and can help you build strength and power to make you faster on the roads.

stairs
Photo: JeCoursQC

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Like hills, stairs provide an extra challenge over running on flat ground thanks to gravity. As you walk or run up a flight of stairs, there is a greater load being placed on your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves, which jacks up your heart rate even higher than a normal run. For this reason, stairs are the perfect blend of cardio and strength.

Stairs are also a highly versatile workout, and you can change the workout simply by taking the steps two at a time instead of one, or get creative and add some strength exercises (like pushups, mountain climbers, and dips) at the bottom of the staircase between sets.

How to do a stair workout

The great news is, you don’t have to have a Grouse Grind-like set of stairs in order to benefit from a stair workout. Even a short flight will work, you just may have to do more sets in order to get a good training effect. If you’re not sure how many times you should run up and down your chosen stairs, a good place to start is by doing three to five minutes of continuous climbing and descending, followed by at least one minute of rest. You can repeat this pattern as many times as you need in order to feel like you got a good workout in, with the goal of increasing the number of sets each time you do the workout.

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If you want to practice quickness, take the stairs one step at a time, and if you’re trying to train explosive power, you can take them by two (or more). To really change things up, you could also try climbing them sideways, crossing one foot over the other as you ascend while holding onto the railing for support. As we mentioned earlier, you can also add some strength exercises into your workout by doing things like pushups, dips, mountain climbers and planks at the base of the staircase to make it a full-body challenge.

Safety during stair workouts

Of course, when doing the stairs there are safety concerns, specifically falling either up or down them. For this reason, it is important to stay alert and not let your mind wander while you’re on the stairs. If, as you start to get tired, you’re beginning to trip a little while going either up or down, it is a good idea to give yourself some extra rest between sets, or end your workout early if necessary.

You should also assess the stairs you will be using prior to your workout, especially if they’re outdoors. If they’re covered in ice or snow or if they’re wet and slippery, you should probably choose a different workout until they’re safe to use again. You should also look for a set of stairs in which each step is wide enough that you can plant your entire foot (or most of your foot) on the step. Stairs can get crowded sometimes, so always remember to be courteous of the other people using the stairs, giving people climbing the stairs the right-of-way, and warning people if you’re going to pass them.

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