Climbing Stairs for Weight loss

Stair Climbing and weight loss

Most of us go out of our way to avoid stairs, but using them as part of our exercise routine is a great way to lose weight, improve our fitness and tone and strengthen problem areas, like our legs, tummy and buttocks.

This article explains why climbing stairs is such a great exercise for those of us with weight loss goals, and provides some very useful tips to get us started climbing stairs as safely and as effectively as possible.

Why climb stairs for weight loss

Stairmaster machines are among the most popular pieces of exercise equipment in gyms all over Australia and the world.

These machines certainly can provide us with an outstanding workout if used properly, but as with most things in life, there is no substitute for the real thing, and climbing stairs is no exception.

Climbing stairs for weight loss and fitness is great for many reasons. Here are just a couple of them:

  • It is totally free and just about all of us can get access to a set of stairs.
  • It leverages gravity and the heavier we are, the harder we're forced to work and the more calories we burn.
  • It is a relatively intense exercise that quickly increases our heart rate and in doing so can greatly improve our cardiovascular fitness.
  • It helps strengthen and shape our most common problem areas like calves, thighs, buttocks and tummy.
  • It is a very efficient way of burning maximum calories and is great for those of us with limited time to exercise.
  • It can easily be mixed with other exercises, like walking, skipping and weight training, to maximize results and stair climbing workouts are easy to build progression into.
  • It can be done by almost anyone, regardless of fitness level.
  • Because it is weight bearing, it helps build bone strength.
  • It is low impact and safe for the knees (providing correct technique is used and a preexisting condition doesn't exist).

Getting started climbing stairs

The hardest part of getting started climbing stairs for weight loss and fitness is usually finding some stairs to climb!

At first, it may not seem like there are any suitable stairs close by for us to climb, but when we start to think about it, it can be amazing how many stairs most of us have around us.

If possible, stairs with a reasonable number of flights is best, but with a bit of creativity it is possible to get a good workout even if the only stairs available have a single flight.

To help you find suitable stairs near you, here are a couple of typical places to find them:

  • High-rise car parks.
  • Shopping centres.
  • Office buildings.
  • Apartment buildings.
  • Train stations.
  • Overpasses and road bridges.
  • Schools and Universities.
  • Parks.
  • Sports grounds.
  • Double storey homes.
  • Local monuments and lookouts.
  • Piers.
  • Foot bridges.

Can you think of any more?

Getting the most out of stair climbing

With any form of exercise it is important to start off slowly and build progression into our workouts, and stair climbing is no different.

When we first start climbing stairs for weight loss, we may find ourself getting out of breath after only a flight or two and we may also find that our thigh muscles start to "burn".

To help our body acclimatize to this form of exercise, we should start by limiting ourselves to walking up two flights of stairs followed by five minutes of walking on the spot. At the end of the 5 minute walk on the spot, when our heart rate has come down a bit, we can try walking up another two flights followed by another five minute walk on the spot. This may be enough of a workout for us in the first week or two.

In future weeks, we can try adding another two flights of stairs and another five minute walk on the spot each week. Eventually we should be able to climb all the flights of stairs we want without having to stop to regain our breath.

When we start to get even fitter and stronger, we might want to try to make our stair climbing workouts even more intense by doing one or more of the following:

  • Lengthening the time of our workouts (doing more sets).
  • Climbing two steps at a time instead of one.
  • Adding to our body weight with a weighted belt, weighted vest or carrying dumbells.
  • Reduce our rest intervals.
  • Speed up our workouts by racing the clock, a friend or a workout partner.

Aerobic versus anaerobic stair climbing workouts

Depending upon how we use them, stairs can predominantly improve our aerobic fitness or our muscle strength.

For strength improvement it is best to walk up two steps at a time and limit the number of sets of stair climbs we do per workout to between 1 and 5 sets. And instead of running up 20 flights of stairs, it may only be necessary to walk up a total of 15 to 30 steps per leg.

As well as strengthening all the muscles in our legs and buttocks, it is possible to magnify the strength and shaping affect of stair climbing by changing our technique slightly.

Here are some tips for working the inner thigh, hips and buttocks using stairs:

  • To work the inner thigh, stand sideways at the bottom of the stairs, place your hand on the rail (if available) for balance. Lift your right foot and place it on the first step. Transfer your weight onto your right leg as you lift your left leg and cross it over your right and up to the next step. Continue up the stairs in this fashion until you've reached the desired number of reps.
  • To work the butt, start at the bottom of a flight of stairs, step up with your left leg and kick your right leg back (contract your right buttock when you do this), and then repeat with the right leg and left kick. Continue this until you've reached the desired number of reps.
  • To work the hip abductor (the muscle on the outside of your hip that moves your leg out to the side), stand on a stair step sideways with one foot on the step. Without bending the supporting leg, lower the unsupported leg a couple of inches by tilting your pelvis, and bring it back up. Repeat 10 times and switch to the other leg.

To get the most benefit out of any aerobic exercise, we should do it at least 3 times a week, for at least 20 minutes per session, at an intensity that elevates our heart rate to between 60% and 90% of our maximum (which is calculated by subtracting our age from 220).

With stair climbing however, we may not be able to continually climb stairs for a total of 20 minutes, so we may need to build up to this level by incorporating other activities with our stair climbing.

One example is to walk on the spot between flights (as suggested above). Another is to skip in between flights, etc.

For a combined aerobic and anaerobic workout, alternate five minutes of stair climbing with sets of exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, dumbell curls and presses.

A combined workout example might include a five minute warm-up, thirty to forty minutes of intervals (consisting of 2-3 minutes of stair climbing followed by 1 minute of muscle toning exercises), a five to ten minutes cool-down and stretches.

Think you'll get bored just climbing stairs?

Not a problem!

To help avoid boredom we can:

  • Cross-train using other activities such as bicycle riding, walking, jogging, etc.
  • Use music to motivate us - wearing a portable radio, CD player or an ipod allows us to listen to all our favourite songs while climbing.
  • Keep an exercise diary and track our progress - nothing motivates like success!

Safety tips for stair climbing

Generally speaking, stair climbing is relatively safe for most of us, but as with anything it is not totally without dangers.

To help us get the most out of our stair climbing workouts and exercise as safely as possible we should keep the following tips in mind at all times:

  • Always warm up and stretch before climbing stairs, paying particular attention to the major leg muscles (calves, hamstrings, thighs and buttocks).
  • Start out slow and easy, and don't increase our intensity by more than 10% each week.
  • Be very careful coming down stairs. Don't come down too quickly and NEVER run down stairs, it's far too dangerous for no or little gain.
  • Put our safety first and go at a speed that ensures we don't lose our balance or strain too hard.
  • Wear a heart rate monitor so that we can see how hard our heart is working and to ensure we stay within the desired target heart rate.
  • Always carry water with us and stay well-hydrated.
  • Stop if we feel faint, dizzy or in pain.
  • Take sufficient rest breaks during our workouts.
  • Always consult our doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
  • Do not climb stairs if we have orthopedic or medical complications (such as high blood pressure, etc) that the intense nature of stair climbing may aggravate.
  • Maintaining the correct posture while climbing stairs is very important to get the most out of our workout and minimize the chance of injury. Correct technique means leaning forward slightly from the hips with the back straight, looking forward, keeping our eyes on the stairs and placing our whole foot on each step.
  • End every stepping workout with a cool-down period that allows our heart rate to gradually return to about 100 beats per minute.
  • Dress comfortably and suitably. Newer synthetic workout fabrics tend to pull moisture away from the body and help keep us cool and dry.
  • Always wear appropriate footwear in the form of comfortable, well-cushioned cross-training athletic shoes.
  • Always use stairs that have good light and ventilation.
  • Always respect the public nature of stairs by keeping to the left and passing on the right, not stopping anywhere along the flight of stairs and giving people who are ascending the stairs right-of-way.
  • Lastly, consider the security factor. If we had to yell for help because we fell down, would anybody be able to hear and help us?


Climbing stairs is a great way to lose weight, improve our fitness and tone and strengthen our legs, tummy and buttocks.

This article explained why climbing stairs is such a great exercise for those of us with weight loss goals, and provided some very useful tips to get us started stair climbing and doing so safely and effectively.

Good luck with your weight loss and thanks for visiting

Copyright Ultimate Weightloss.

This article was written by Scott Haywood.

Scott is the editor of Scott has developed an expertise in fitness and nutrition, and their roles in weight loss, which led him to launch in 2005. Today, provides weight loss and fitness information, including hundreds of healthy recipes, weight loss tools and tips, articles, and more, to millions of people around the world, helping them to lead happier, healthier, lives.

You can follow Scott on Google+ for more interesting articles.

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