The Ultimate Leg Workout: Steps

Finding a set of stairs to run up is definitely a great workout idea.

This plyometric exercise strengthens the same muscles strengthened by leaps and by squats and helps improve both your cardiovascular system and aerobic capacity and when you run stairs you work to improve on the two essential areas of running: strength and power and as a runner you need both.

Whether you’re struggling to complete a 5km, whether you want to keep up the pace in the final kilometers of a marathon a good step running interval session can help.

When you start running up stairs the workout on the stairs also forces you to use stabilizing muscles, such as the gluteus medius, which aren’t normally recruited during your normal workout, because it forces you to balance and rest on one leg while the other goes to the next step. Strengthening the stabilizer muscles will reduce the risk of injury.

Finally the stairs are much steeper than most of the climbs that you’ll experience; For example, the interior of the buildings have an approximate gradient of 65%, while most of the climbs used by runners don’t exceed a gradient of 10%.

That’s why when you run stairs your heart rate increases quickly and makes you breathe so heavily. This, in turn, improves your VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise. And a higher VO2 max means that manage to run harder for longer periods.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that short repeats five days of stairs a week for eight weeks improved VO2 max by 17 percent in young women. Add these works up the stairs to your weekly workout schedule and your performance will soon improve.

Full Speed Ahead

Skyscraper and stair climbs are starting to take off in popularity for example the Vertical World Circuit Races circuit which includes the famous Empire State Building event, provide a challenging race even for experienced runners where competitors bit to ‘summit’ as fast as possible.

To run up flights of stairs uses a lot of explosive force and therefore competitors quickly reach their anaerobic threshold – the point at which the body produces more lactic acid than the body can remove from muscles. Train above your anaerobic threshold to improve that threshold and to be able to turn a faster pace before experiencing the leg “burn.” While you may not aspire to run up the skyscrapers, is certainly useful for your day-to-day run.

Workout: After 10 minutes of warming up, sprint up the stairs for 20-30 seconds and recovers walking downhill. Repeat for 20-30 minutes. Alternatively, up and down the stairs for 10 minutes after a long run, to help your body to build strength and overcome moments of fatigue.

Fitness Improvements


Once a week members of November Project, a group of Boston athletes complete a stair workout at Harvard Stadium this workout has been nicknamed “The Gilroy” (after Scott Gilroy, one of the members of the Project November). “This will improve strength over medium distances, because the effort is more homogeneous – says the coach Dana Evan – “It is also a great exercise for your calves as you use these muscles to cushion the step in the support phase”.

Workout: Warm up for 10 minutes and then jog for 20-30 seconds up the stairs with a fairly intense effort, similar to that of your average runs (slowing down if necessary to ensure that the constantly remains uphill). Then, without stopping, running back downhill. Repeat this cycle for 30 minutes. If you are in a stadium, up and down from the first to the last step of the stands maintaining a medium bottom effort.

In The Gym

If bad weather forces you indoors and you have no stairs available, you can use the StairMaster – the machine that simulates the climb up a flight of stairs – a great workout for in your gym to do in the gym, 20 to 30 seconds strong with 30- 60 seconds of recovery, all repeated from 20 to 30 minutes. Or a quick workout: 30 minutes at a moderately intense effort level. Or, again, use the treadmills, which set with a steep slope is very similar to the stairs to advance because you must use the same muscles. Obviously you need to adjust your speed. You may find that a brisk walk in this mode is the most that you can support.

Workout: After 10 minutes of warming up, increase the incline of the treadmill (reducing the pace if necessary) to at 15% or at least to the maximum allowed (plus the inclination is higher, the better). Make up to a minute gait, then back to zero tilt and recover for a minute, then do two quick minutes maximum inclination and two minutes of recovery. Proceed gradually, minute by minute, up to 5 minutes. At this point continue doing reverse the whole job, until you return to a minute of intense effort with a minute of recovery.