The seemingly simple activity of walking up stairs is actually a very effective workout for your legs and also a good calorie burner. To increase your daily energy expenditure and work your legs without having to set foot in a gym, simply take the stairs whenever you can instead of using the elevator. If you want even better results, try walking up and down long flights of stairs, for example at a stadium, for a tough but fun workout -- weighted vest, backpack or dumbbells optional. Walking upstairs uses all of your major leg muscles.
Muscles of the Ankle
Located on the back of your lower leg, your calf muscles, consisting of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, are responsible for plantarflexing your ankles or, more simply, pointing your feet downward. Also known as your triceps surae, these muscles are more active if you place the balls of your feet on the edge of each step or make a point of really driving off your toes as you go from one step to the next. The more flat-footed your stair-climbing technique, the less active your calf muscles will be.
Muscles of the Knee
The muscles on the front of your thigh, your quadriceps, are the muscles you are most likely to feel during a long stair climb. Made up of four separate muscles -- rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis -- these muscles work together to extend your knee as well as flex your hip. On the back of your thigh, biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus, collectively called your hamstrings, extend your hip to push you upward. The higher the step, the more hip action occurs and the more active the hamstrings become.
Muscles of the Hip
The largest and potentially most powerful muscle in your body is the gluteus maximus, glutes for short, and better known as your butt. Located on the back of your thigh, the glutes work with your hamstrings in hip extension. On the front of your hip, your hip flexors, properly called iliopsoas, work with your quadriceps to raise your leg in readiness for the next step.
Adductors and Abductors
Keeping your knees and hips properly aligned is the job of your abductors and adductors, located on the outside and inside of your thigh, respectively. Although they generate little in the way of stair-climbing force, by preventing your knees from dropping in or out, they ensure your efforts are as efficient as possible and help protect your knees from injuries that could be caused by too much lateral knee or hip movement.
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. A lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a contributor to "Ultra-FIT" magazine and has been involved in fitness for more than 22 years. He authored the books "Military Fitness", "Live Long, Live Strong" and "No Gym? No Problem!" and served in the Royal Marines for five years.