Stair Running Workouts to Build Speed and Power

young woman running on the stairs

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If you're looking for a high-intensity workout that helps build speed, power, and cardiovascular fitness, stair running is ideal. Running stairs is also a great addition to any agility training program because it builds quickness and foot speed while providing an excellent sprint workout. Here is what you need to know about running stairs including how it could benefit your training program.

Benefits of Stair Running

Running stairs offers a number of physical and health benefits. Aside from improving fitness levels and reducing blood sugar levels, running stairs targets some of the largest muscles in the body, including the glutes, quads, and calves—the same muscles used for lunges and squats. Stairs also are much steeper than most hills, so running stairs will make climbing hills easier.

As a plyometric exercise, stair running causes the muscles to exert maximum force in short intervals of time, causing them to extend and contract in a rapid or "explosive" manner. Running up stairs also forces you to work against gravity, building strength and power.

As you run stairs, your heart rate accelerates rapidly and makes you breathe faster to take in more oxygen. This, in turn, improves your VO2max—the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise.

In fact, a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that short bouts of stair-climbing for 30 minutes per week was not only effective in improving cardiorespiratory fitness but that it directly improved longevity. Another study found that the most impressive benefit of stair running is that even in short bursts it is enough to improve cardiorespiratory fitness.

Meanwhile, researchers have also noted that stair running can lower blood sugar levels. In a 2016 study published in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, researchers found that walking up and down stairs for 3 minutes 60 to 180 minutes after a meal lowered blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Where to Run Stairs

Many athletes run stairs at a stadium, but you can also look for a stairway in a park or other outdoor location. Even a stairwell in a building will work.

If you don't have easy access to stairs where you live, be on the lookout for a hill with a fairly steep incline. Hill repeats provide a similar workout to stair running and may be slightly easier to get started with.

When incorporating stair running in your workout, don't confuse it with using a stair climbing or elliptical machine. Running stairs requires more focus, more control, and more muscles to perform well. Plus, you don't have to join a gym or buy a new machine to get the benefit. Find a good set of stairs and you're good to go.

Getting Started

If you haven't done stair workouts before, you should plan to start slowly. Gradually build up your time and intensity.

Stair running uses muscles you may not have used before, and overdoing your first workout will result in unnecessary muscle soreness. Follow these guidelines as you build up to a regular routine:

  • Make sure you warm up thoroughly prior to your stair running workout. Walking briskly on a flat surface for 5 to 10 minutes is a good way to get the blood flowing and limber up.
  • Avoid running stairs on your first few workouts.
  • Begin by walking up the stairs, one step at a time. As you build up to a jog, keep your weight centered with your head up and eyes looking forward rather than glancing down at your feet.
  • Begin running around week three, or perhaps try to take two steps at a time.
  • Use the return to the bottom as your rest interval, and then do another set.
  • Work up to about 10 sets per workout depending upon the length of your stairs. A 20- to 30-minute workout will give you plenty of intensity.
  • Add stair running to your workout routine on your high-intensity training days or as part of an interval training workout.
  • Do not do more than two stair workouts a week.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Walking down the stairs may seem to be a breeze after running up them, giving you a chance to catch your breath. But, going down also has surprising benefits. According to a 2017 study, regular downhill walking demonstrated a significant decrease in both LDL cholesterol and insulin resistance as well as an increased glucose tolerance in healthy men and women.

Keep in mind, though, that walking downstairs puts more strain on your knees and ankles than walking up. You hit the ground harder with each step. In fact, it's often the descent that causes the most post-workout soreness due to the eccentric nature of the muscle contraction on the way down the stairs.

If you are new to stair workouts, take it easy on the way down for the first several workouts. And, if you have significant knee issues, stair running may not be the right exercise for you. Talk to a healthcare provider before trying to implement stair running into your workout regimen.

A Word From Verywell

While stair running has many benefits, keep in mind that it is a strenuous exercise and may not be suitable for everyone. Plus, stair workouts can be hard on the knees.

If you are wondering if it's safe for you, talk to a healthcare provider before beginning a stair running program. And always stop your workout if you notice any aches, pains or other injury warning signs.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Jenkins EM, Nairn LN, Skelly LE, Little JP, Gibala MJ. Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2019;44(6):681-684. doi:10.1139/apnm-2018-0675

  3. Honda H, Igaki M, Hatanaka Y, et al. Stair climbing/descending exercise for a short time decreases blood glucose levels after a meal in participants with type 2 diabetesBMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care. 2016;4(1):e000232. doi:10.1136/bmjdrc-2016-000232

  4. Philippe M, Gatterer H, Eder EM, et al. The effects of 3 weeks of uphill and downhill walking on blood lipids and glucose metabolism in pre-diabetic men: a pilot study. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2017;16(1):35. PMID:28344449

  5. Bottoni G, Heinrich D, Kofler P, Hasler M, Nachbauer W. The effect of uphill and downhill walking on joint-position sense: A study on healthy knees. J Sport Rehabil. 2015;24(4):349-352. doi:10.1123/jsr.2014-0192

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.