If you're looking to tone the muscles in your lower body and burn some calories while you're at it, climbing stairs may be the exercise for you. Climbing stairs is suitable for healthy people of all fitness levels; you can do it anywhere you find a set of stairs. Using double stairs, which involves stepping on every other step, makes the exercise more intense and helps reap more benefits.
Stair climbing strengthens almost all the major muscles in your lower body. As you climb stairs, you have to extend your hips to straighten your body. This engages your erector spinae in your lower back, hip flexors, glute muscles and hamstrings. As you straighten your knees, you also work your quadriceps. Flexing and extending your ankles as you step on the stairs also engages your calf muscles.
Other Health Benefits
Although climbing stairs will give you a good muscle burn, it will do more than just tone your tush. A study published in 2005 in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” concluded that even short bouts of stair climbing improved the heart and respiratory health of previously sedentary young women. Climbing stairs can burn fat efficiently. The American Council on Exercise estimates that a 150-pound woman will burn 91 calories in just 10 minutes of stair climbing. So you'll lose fat quickly and improve your heart health at the same time.
Climbing stairs two-at-a-time is better than single-step climbing for building muscle, strengthening your cardiovascular system and burning calories. A study published in the September 2010 issue of the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” concluded that climbing double stairs required a greater activity of propulsion, so it increased calorie burn and muscular activity. A separate study published in the December 2012 issue of the journal “PLoS ONE” noted that compared to single-stair climbing, climbing double stairs resulted in increased heart rate, oxygen consumption and calorie burn.
If you really want to work your lower body muscles, avoid leaning on the handrails. Instead, pump your arms at your sides and use the handrails only for balance when necessary. When putting your foot on the step, ensure that your entire foot, including your heel, is on the step. Letting your heel hang off the edge can cause damage to your Achilles tendon. Because stair climbing is a repetitive activity, alternate it with other exercises to avoid overuse injuries such as muscle and joint strains.
- Georgia State University: The Exercise and Physical Fitness Page: Stairclimbing
- The Bone and Joint Journal: Telemetering Electromyography of Muscles Used in Walking Up and Down Stairs
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Training Effects of Short Bouts of Stair Climbing on Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Blood Lipids, and Homocysteine in Sedentary Young Women
- American Council on Exercise: Physical Activity Calorie Counter
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Metabolic and Muscular Differences Between Two Stair-Climbing Strategies of Young Adults
- PLoS ONE: The Energy Expenditure of Stair Climbing One Step and Two Steps at a Time: Estimations from Measures of Heart Rate
Kevin Charles is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor with more than 14 years experience working in fitness clubs as well as his own firm: My Favourite Trainer, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has written articles on fitness and nutrition for various Canadian publications over the last 12 years.