Get in Killer Shape With a Staircase-Based Workout

Source: Thinkstock

Walking up stairs | Source: Thinkstock

There are a million reasons why you tell yourself you can’t work out: the gym is too expensive, you don’t have time, or you don’t know where to begin. These excuses don’t hold up when there are stairs around. For starters, stairs are free and they’re everywhere. You can find them in your apartment building, your office, the park, or the stadium. Unlike heading to the gym, which requires a lot of time, a stair-based workout can be done in as little as 15 minutes and provides real results.

One small study found that walking up 200 steps twice a day, five days a week, for eight weeks can lead to a 17% increase in a person’s VO2 max, which is a common way of testing aerobic fitness. You can also scorch some serious calories. If there’s no way you can simply run stairs for a prolonged period of time, keep in mind that even walking up stairs can make a difference.

And stairs aren’t just for cardio seekers. They can be used for lunges, step-ups, and upper-body strength moves like push-ups and dips. The only thing you need to know is where to begin, which is where we come in. All you need to do is find some stairs, then get ready to sweat.


Source: iStock

Man running up stairs | Source: iStock

Before you dive into the workout, spend a few minutes heating up and loosening the body. First, get your heart pumping by jogging the set of stairs you plan to use for the workout. If they’re right outside your front door (lucky you), walk up and down the stairs several times to loosen up and mentally prepare for the workout.


If you’re here for the cardio, you’re in luck. A staircase-based workout can work for every fitness level. Try one of these options from Greatist, which offer something for advanced gym goers as well as newbies.

Beginners – Perform each exercise for 10 to 15 seconds allowing yourself to rest (and descend the stairs) for one to two minutes after each circuit. Repeat the entire circuit for a total of 15 minutes.

Start by walking or running up the stairs taking two steps at a time. Next, sprint up the stairs one at a time, before moving on to the next exercise: ascending the stairs with high knees. Regain your balance and then move back up the stairs hopping on one foot. You can take the stairs one or two steps at a time depending on your starting fitness level. Finally, jump with both feet over as many steps as possible.

Pros – Perform each exercise for 15 to 30 seconds allowing yourself to rest for one to two minutes after each circuit. Repeat for a total of 20 minutes.

Start in a full-out sprint, running up as many stairs as possible in the allowed time. Then hop on one foot, taking the stairs one or two steps at a time. Next, ascend the stairs with high knees while facing right, then switch directions and do high knees facing left. Finish with one-foot step hops, where you hop on and off the bottom step as quickly as possible, performing 10 reps on each leg. Finally, move up the stairs with deep lunges as you take two or more steps at a time.

Strength building

Source: iStock

Full-body workout | Source: iStock

The stairs aren’t just for cardio. These creative bodyweight exercises turn the stairs into your personal weight room.

Triceps dip – Sit on the edge of the second or third step and press your palms into the edge of the stair. Lift your buttocks off the step, extend your legs, and rest your heels on the floor. Slowly lower your butt by bending your elbows at 90 degrees. Press back up with straight arms to starting position. Check out the move at Real Simple. Do at least 10 reps.

Plyo push-ups – Standing at the base of the stairs, put both hands on a stair three or four steps up and get into push-up position with your wrists directly below your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart. Tighten your core and leg muscles as you bend at the elbows and lower your chest to the step. Keep your body straight and stiff as you explosively push up and off the step so your hands lift off the step. Catch yourself by allowing your hands to return to the stair and again lower down into push-up position. Repeat at a quick pace for at least 10 reps. You an see this exercise in more detail over at Shape.

Squats with reach – At the base of the stairs, try performing a squat variation from Livestrong. Get into a squat position. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a deep squat. As you do, drive your elbows back behind your torso. Press back up to standing and simultaneously extend your arms overhead in a fluid, explosive movement. Do as many reps as possible in one minute.

Calf raises – Don’t leave your newfound gym without giving your calves some love. Tone and Tighten recommended using the stairs to target this muscle group. Stand on the bottom step with your heels hanging off the edge. Press into your toes as you raise your heels up as high as possible and then lower back down going as low as you can. Repeat at least 30 times.

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