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This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome

If you've been feeling a little blah recently in your cardio routine, you can shake things up with a sweaty stair-workout.

This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome

If you've been feeling a little blah recently in your cardio routine, you can shake things up with a sweaty stair-workout.

Using a series of steps for a stair workout in your house, apartment building or an uncrowded public area can be a perfect way to incorporate total-body training, strength, explosive capacity, balance, and coordination. Unless you have access to stairs — which makes it a safe option during the latest coronavirus pandemic — you can do it at home, so you do not need any extra equipment. Your body weight is exactly what you need.

A flight of stairs is a fantastic device that helps you to get into a great workout without going to the gym, tells SELF Janet Hamilton, CSCS, exercise physiologist, and Running Strong instructor in Atlanta.

So if you're not a runner or a cyclist (or maybe looking for a different kind of fitness routine), read on to find out how to turn a set of stairs into a fun workout — and why you really should try it out.

The Advantages Of Stair-Workout

If you've just walked up a flight of stairs, you know it will increase your heart rate, instantly. Yet what makes workouts on stairs — even short ones — feel so freaking hard? The answer to that is simple: gravity.

Compared to walking or running on level ground, walking or running up a flight of stairs places more muscle load in your lower half, namely your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, Hamilton says. That's because gravity is trying to drag you back down as you climb a staircase and your muscles have to work very hard to conquer this resistance. It's the same reason a hill running, hiking, or biking feels more intense — and jacks up your heart rate more — than a flat trail covering the same distance.

"Moving up steps is certainly more painful to the body," says track coach, licensed exercise physiologist DeAnne Davis Brooks, Ed. D, CSCS, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and USATF Level 1. "It's taller than walking on a flat field."

Stair exercises can be completely flexible, too. Depending on how quickly and vigorously you ascend, you can accentuate strength (especially if you pepper in movements that use the bottom steps as an elevated platform — like push-ups, dips, planks, split squats, calf raises, and mountain climbers), cardio, or a combination of both. According to Brooks, the fact that stair training can offer both strength and cardio makes them a good bang-for-your-buck workout tool.

And you can do more than just walking or running up and down: doing squat jumps upstairs will practice explosive strength (similar to making a box leap from one level to the next — you'd just want to make sure you 're wide enough to land with both feet firmly planted). Or climbing grapevine-style stairs sideways (facing the railing, holding on to it for balance, and repeatedly crossing one leg in front of the other, then backward) will test your coordination and work your muscles laterally, strengthening your inner and outer thigh muscles, Brooks says.

To add another advantage to the list: Stair workouts require – and practice – some serious balance, as "the support base is evolving and shifting as you pass," Brooks describes. (Secondary bonus: during these exercises, you won't be tempted to spacing out, because you'll need to concentrate to maintain your attention on the spot.)

What Makes A Decent Workout On Stairs?

Say, Brooks and Hamilton, the number of stairs you need for a good stair workout is not that important. Only work with that which you have. If you just have a short staircase, well, you'll only go up and down a couple of times more than if you've got a longer one.

Hamilton recommends performing sets of three to five minutes of continuous climbing and descending followed by one (or more) minute of recovery for a good aerobic workout. So repeat the pattern for as long as you feel like you've gotten into a sweat session of quality — beginners should start with only one set and develop from there, Hamilton suggests. When you're doing several stairway floors, Hamilton advises steady climbing and jogging back down. More experienced exercisers should step up their speed (try jogging, jumping, or even sprinting up the stairs) and prolong each set's working time, she says.

If you want to train pace, you can ride the stairs as quickly as possible without missing any steps. And if you are trying to develop explosive strength, you can run up the stairs as quickly as you can while missing one or two moves, Brooks says. Through raising your body weight at a large distance (two or three stairs at a time, opposed to only one) at a rapid rate, you combine work and speed, making this a power-centered move, Brooks explains. But if you're looking for more strength and stamina, you could slow down the pace you 're taking down steps to build a guided, excentric contraction in your quads, Brooks adds. Or, like the grapevine style mentioned above, you can vary the way you climb or descend to change the load a little bit, which challenges your muscles differently, Hamilton says.

You can throw in some strength-training exercises to make it more than just a fitness workout — in certain cases, you can easily change the pace of movement by adjusting the body posture and/or the number of steps that you are using. For example, with planks, side planks, and push-ups, you can stand at the bottom of the staircase and position your hand's several steps above to make the transition easier for beginners, Hamilton says. The higher your hands up the escalator, the easier it will be to push. Or you can speed up the challenge by putting your hands on the floor ahead of the first step and moving your feet one or two higher behind you.

You can bend your knees with dips to make it smoother, or you can straighten your legs in front of you to only hit the ground with your feet. Lift one leg off the ground for an even bigger opportunity, suggests Hamilton. Even, stairs are perfect for heel raises, strengthening your calves and the muscles around your ankles, Brooks says. And performing heel raises on a move (as opposed to flat ground), she says, helps you to reach a greater range of motion.

How To Stay Safe When Exercising On Stairs?

If you are using stairs where the tread (the part on which your foot lands) hangs over the riser (the vertical part of the step) be especially careful. Hamilton advises you are more likely to move on this form of phase. You should also pay attention to placing your foot, says Brooks, who suggests planting your whole foot at every move.

If you're new to stair workouts, place your hand on the railing for extra support and balance as you ascend and descend, Hamilton, says. With this extra support, you will still be having a great workout, and if / when you feel comfortable enough, you can turn to a hands-free approach. It's also a good idea to use railing for support when you're trying more challenging moves, like the ones mentioned above.

And if you are not careful you can go up or downstairs, it is important to remain mentally engaged during a workout on stairs. "Particularly when you get exhausted you need to concentrate, or you will bite the dust," Brooks says.

So if your form starts to falter or you struggle to stay upright, ease the strength of your exercise on the stairs. For example, if you're having a difficult time running upstairs, turn to jog or walking. And if you're really struggling, stop the exercise on your stairs and either move to flat ground or just call it a day, Brooks says: "You don't want to go down the flight of stairs where you can really slip and sustain a serious injury."

That's why practicing some moves at a steady, regulated pace is always crucial before trying them out in a workout. For example, with squat jumps, practice jumping one step at a time and returning in between each attempt to the base of the staircase, Hamilton suggests. If you have mastered the movement absolutely, you can walk up the staircase one step at a time, going down to the base of the staircase after every attempt, she says. Those are advanced movements, but when performing less advanced exercises, like jogging, you can try them on stairs only if you are fully comfortable in your body awareness and balance on stairs.

Remember, if any part of your stair-workout triggers pain (we 're talking about intense, acute pain — not muscle-working sensation), that's a warning that something's wrong. You may have pushed yourself too far or you are not yet at the required level of fitness for the move you are trying to make. Seek to change your form or regress the step (like, turn to walking rather than jogging). If the pain continues, immediately stop what you are doing. "Don't drive the pain through," Hamilton says. "You never get paid for this."

Typically, if you have a history of knee pain or injury, consulting with your doctor or physical therapist before completing a stair workout is a safe idea. And if your balance is impaired, you can absolutely miss stair-workouts, Brooks says.

A Sweaty 20 Minute Staircase Workout

This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome
This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome
This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome
This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome

What you're going to need: a set of stairs and your body weight. (Sure you wear comfortable running shoes.)

Directions: Do the following sequence straight through with no rest (although take breaks, of course, if you find you can't catch your breath or your shape falls). This exercise is supposed to be a strength-slash-aerobic exercise, so your heart rate can go up in terms of pressure, but you don't want to feel like you're gasping for the air, Hamilton says. If this is the case, take a break, or turn the volume down. Function any speed you like.

Perform as many reps as possible for the non-timed movements to feel like you've drained your muscles, but quit before you lose the ability to maintain the proper shape. It could mean 5, or it could mean 20 (or more). Function within your scope, once again. As described above, by adjusting where you position your hands and feet you can change the difficulty of the dips, planks, and push-ups.

This exercise will take about 20 minutes, but the exact duration varies depending on how long you shift your body weight. You don't have to do a warm-up in advance as this workout has one built-in. If you don't feel confident performing the more advanced movements (such as grapevine and squat jumping), then walk or jog.

The Workout:

  1. Climb up and down for 3 minutes. Go whatever speed you need to pick up your heart rate without feeling like you're gasping for the air.
  2. Elevated push-ups to fatigue.
  3. Grapevine, for three minutes, up and down. Once you return to the bottom of the staircase, make sure to move your lead leg so that you work both sides equally.
  4. Dips to fatigue.
  5. Climb up and down for 3 minutes. Again, go whatever speed you need to get your heart rate up without feeling like you're gasping for the air.
  6. High plank 15 to 45 seconds.
  7. Climb and get off at the same moderate intensity speed for three minutes.
  8. Elevated side-plank on either side for 15 to 45 seconds.
  9. Jump up squat; go down. Drive on for three minutes.

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YourFitnessRink - Fitness and Health Matters: This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome
This 20-Minute Stair Exercise Routine Is Awesome
If you've been feeling a little blah recently in your cardio routine, you can shake things up with a sweaty stair-workout.
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