JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Stairway to heaven . . . or hell?

Date
There's one way to supersize a workout, and it's by running stairs.

There's one way to supersize a workout, and it's by running stairs. Photo: David Tease

All personal trainers get asked the question: 'what's the best piece of equipment I should be using'?

And the answer? 'No piece of gym equipment'. Because from Olympic athlete all the way down to couch potato, there's one way to supersize a workout, and it's by running stairs.

Why stairs? Because the stairs are hell. Because stairs call upon your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves, and they might be the only piece of equipment you need to get cardio fit, healthy, and strong.

I could bankrupt myself and many other personal trainers in saying this, but you don't need Zumba. You don't need the gym. You don't need your Ab Dominator – just the stairs.

And let's be clear - the stair machine visited so often by the tanned gym trixie is NOT 'the stairs'. A little weight shift-shimmy to the left and right is all it takes to get that piece of junk going, and it's not a full-body movement. Ditch the gym stair machine when you do your 20 minute routine, and try running real stairs for 20 minutes, then report back to me if you can still stand and breathe.

The best thing about the stairs? You can't cheat the stairs. There are so many exercises where people cheat – from cheat squats that don't use full range of motion, to cheat curls that don't utilise the right tempo, to crap exercise routines where you're cheating yourself the second you enter the gym.

Unless you use the hand rail or Grandma's motorised stair chair, the only way to get up the stairs is for you to move your body up those stairs. Here's how you can use stairs to make a change in your fitness and health:

Getting started

If you're getting started in your health and fitness regime, make sure you're doing more than just going for a casual walk while waving to the neighbours. Increase the intensity to see results, and climbing one hundred stairs is just the trick. Even by ditching the escalator during the day, you can get a little exercise in and have some fun – check this video out.

Ready to test yourself?

During a jogging session, find some stairs. After your heart rate comes down to resting level, time yourself running up and down 500 stairs. Run with 100 per cent intensity, and see how you go. Can you break 4 minutes and 30 seconds? That's a serious pace. Can you break 7 minutes? You're doing pretty well. If your times are higher than that, keep practicing, and you will get fitter and faster. And if 500 becomes too easy? Make it 1,000 or 1,500 to really push it during your run.

Use stairs for circuit training

The 108 stairs I visit in The Rocks, Sydney CBD are four sets of 27. I run 27 stairs, then it levels off for 3 metres until the next 27 appear. 27 more, then it levels again, etc.

During a level period, I might stop and perform 20 bodyweight squats, then continue climbing. At the next level, I will perform 20 push-ups, and at the next level 20 sit-ups. At the top level, I will stop for a 1 minute plank.

Anybody can incorporate body weight exercises during their stair workout to increase strength and make it an all-around workout. It's a guarantee to construct a stairway to hell-combo of sweat, increased heart rate, lactic acid, and swearing.

 Make it a sport

Around Australia (and the globe), people are competing in stair climbs from New York City (1,576 stairs in the Empire State Building) to Melbourne's 88 floors of the Eureka Tower, there are opportunities to test your stair fitness against the best in the world, and many raise money for some worthwhile charities.

Check out Tower Running Australia's website for more information on events around the country.

The stairs seem quite obvious – see stairs and run stairs, but there is some technique that will ensure a safe and efficient climb. Here are some tips:

❏ Pump your arms - your legs do most of the work, but your arms create momentum to get you moving upwards.

❏ Stay off your heels – you're wasting leg motion if your heels touch the ground with each stair. Stay on the front of your feet, and watch your ankle stability and calves strengthen.

❏ Be careful on the descent – on the way down, watch out. When you're tired and moving down a steep decline, descend at a safe pace.

❏ Switch it up – during some routines, run every stair (more emphasis on lower legs). During other routines, run every other stair (more emphasis upper legs).

During the cooler, Autumn months, it's a perfect time to hit the stairs and try something different in your exercise routine. And if you're away from your gym on business travel, all you need is to find a hotel stairwell.

Be safe, run with intensity, and watch your fitness and well-being increase.

How do you use stairs during your day and during your workout?

twitter Follow Michael Jarosky on Twitter

97 comments so far

  • very true. i head down to the 1000 steps in Ferntree Gulley for my weekly torture routine. up and down those steps X3 is one of the hardest workouts i've done and you can feel yourself improving every week. it's also really beautiful scenery!

    Commenter
    em
    Date and time
    April 11, 2012, 4:35PM
    • Bah... I do 100,000 ascents/descents at Eureka tower everyday! Beat that.

      Commenter
      Kel
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 1:06PM
    • lol..
      Once a week.
      Child please.....

      Commenter
      Timothy
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 1:12PM
    • Kel, the 1000 Steps at Mt Dandenong are way more intense than any office building steps -- so beat that! Plus it's at altitude so more intense on the lungs. I do the 1000 Steps x 4, 4 times per week, and I've been a fitness freak all of my existence and it truly is the most intense workout there is!

      The 1000 Steps are nothing like office building steps - they're uneven, rocky, slippery and some steps required 2-3 steps, plus there are long flatish stretches which are not considered 'steps' but they are still uphill and intense on the lungs. This workout really requires engaging ones core, especially on the decent.

      I detest show-offs who have no idea what they're making the comparison to. Eureka Tower vs 1000 Steps -- like trying to compare apples and watermelons.

      Commenter
      Kitteh
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 6:37PM
    • Ah yes Kitteh... But I do 100,000 !! Did you read that properly ?? Nooo... Read again: 100,000 !! & half of it is at altitude too ;(

      Anyway... Who cares?

      Commenter
      Kel
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 5:07PM
  • I second the first reply. I run every second day to work on a 4 km route, at the end of which is my workplace. But instead of taking the elevator to the first floor, I take the stairs all the way to the roof top (4th floor), take it easy on the way down and run back up to the roof top for another 2 runs. At the end of which I have sweat pouring out of my pores but I feel great and am more than ready for a day of sitting on my bum.

    Commenter
    Mr Otto
    Location
    Liverpool, Sydney
    Date and time
    April 11, 2012, 7:53PM
    • Ms Anthropist,
      You are a person after mine own heart. I concur 100% with your astute philosophy. I venture into the gym to try and fend off death for as long as I can, but would trade this for a scotch and cigar any time of the day. But alas, my state of health prevents me from so doing. Anyway, stairs, gyms, runs etc. are just a diversion from life's real enjoyments - sex, food, tv, friends and art. After this article I will never walk a stair again! Escalators and lifts are the future! The body is not the temple it is the brain.

      Commenter
      Jezabel
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 11:47AM
  • Life's too short to inflict pain on yourself. I take the stairs at every opportunity but I'm not going to seek them out and torture myself. I can't comprehend why people hand over their hard-earned cash to egocentric big-mouths to yell abuse at them. It's sick. I work in aged care, that's a noble job and I get a lot of incidental exercise. I look forward to a one way ticket out of this culturally devoid, expensive, irrelevant hell hole. Heading off to Europe where people actually enjoy their lives, eat lunch (and drink wine) on their lunch breaks, talk (about things other than brainless beauty tips and celebrity garbage), laugh, love, read and waiters smoke outside while the customers decide what to order.. bliss! It's funny when people try to convince themselves that they feel great after tormenting their bodies, it's a narcissistic, sado-masochistic addiction. I bet they'd really like to sit on their arse on the sofa and fall asleep like a normal person =D We're all going to die anyway, you can torture yourself all you want.....

    Commenter
    Ms Anthropist
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 1:09AM
    • Ha ha ha! Ten bucks says you haven't seen your own feet for a decade.
      Some of us love a challenge, and love to push ourselves to the max. How much living do you do sitting on your backside in front of the TV? Not very much, I would argue. Not everyone wants to lead a simple life, devoid of trials. How dull.
      Good luck in Europe! It's a great time to be heading there, lol!

      Commenter
      Sookie
      Location
      Coogee
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 10:42AM
    • Well there's no need to be a negative nelly neighbourino!

      Commenter
      Ned
      Location
      Evergreen Tce
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 11:01AM

More comments

Make a comment

You are logged in as [Logout]

All information entered below may be published.

Error: Please enter your screen name.

Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Please enter your comment.

Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

Post to

You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

Thank you

Your comment has been submitted for approval.

Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

Featured advertisers
Executive Style newsletter signup

Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

Sign up now