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Benefits of Stairs Training for Road and Trail Runners

Using stairs for training will provide many benefits for both road and trail runners. Stairs can help runners improve endurance, running speed, build strength, a good workout with many benefits. And having access to stairs is easy, which we can train combined to a run, HIIT workout, a walk or only stairs session.

Benefits of Stair Climbing

  • High intensity training increases cardiovascular fitness.

  • Improves strength and power due to working against gravity.

  • Improves running cadence.

  • Plyometric movements build speed, agility, vertical jump, and strength.

  • Can improve VO2 Max because of increased oxygen intake.

  • Can burn 1,000 calories per hour.

  • Engages the brain.

  • Increased range of motion in hip muscles/flexors.

Stair running uses different muscles than running, so it counts as a cross training workout. Cross training for runners helps correct muscle imbalances and prevent injuries, among many other advantages. The plyometric movement of stair climbing targets the same muscles used for lunges and squats. Plyometric movements on stairs can help runners by teaching muscles to exert maximum force in short periods of time, using explosive movements. This rapid stretch of the muscles builds the fast-twitch fibers that help increase speed and power. And some research and results, showed that female runners who performed stair climbing workouts 5 days/week for 8 weeks increased their VO2 Max by 17%.

Which muscles running up and down stairs get activated?

  • Quads

  • Calves

  • Glutes

  • Feet

  • Core

  • all of which are essential for strong running

Stair Climbing Benefits for Runners

In addition to the physical and mental benefits of running stairs, there are a few other reasons to consider adding a stairs routine as part of our training plan:

  • Strengthens our whole core which we have to activate going up stairs.

  • Builds balance.

  • Teaches us to pick up and lift up our knees using our core.

  • No need for special equipment for great training.

  • Lower impact than running on pavement or concrete.

Running Stairs vs Running Hills

Since stairs are generally much steeper than hills, they will make hill climbing easier. This is a great option for trail runners, climbing stairs always feel harder than mountain climbing. Both hill running and stair running build speed, power, and strength, however they do use different muscles, so they are great training sessions to combine and alternate. Training only on hills uses the same muscles used for running on flat surfaces, while stair running puts more emphasis on the quads, calves, and glutes and core.

Both hills and stairs work stabilizing muscles, crucial for avoiding injuries and maintaining balance.

How Often to Run Stairs

In any endurance running plan the goal is 80/20 of easy to hard days. We need our stair workouts to be a small part of our total training to ensure we are also doing speed workouts and long runs. Even a 5 minute stair workout twice a week is going to increase our fitness level and muscle strength.

According to your training goal and plan, if you aren’t running many weekly kilometers, then you might add in up to 3 stair workouts a week instead of adding more kilometers.

Stair Climbing Workout

For new runners, or runners who don’t run up stairs, start by walking the stairs until you build your cardiovascular system over the course of a few weeks. Increase to a jog before committing to stair sprints. To focus on gradually training will save and support any heart or muscle issues.

  • Start by adding one stair workout per week

  • Incorporating up to three per week as desired (just remember to alternate easy and hard workout days)

  • Stair workouts are great finishers to any run and will help build fatigue tolerance by performing a high intensity workout at the end of a run.

Stairs Workout Warm Up

As with any workout, begin with a warm up by going for an easy 1-2km jog. Then do a set of speed workout agility moves:

  • Butt kicks

  • High knees

  • Carioca

  • Strides

Take care going down the stairs if you have a knee injury, as going down has more impact than going up. You can go down at a side angle (lateral) to prevent any pain.

Basic Stair Running Workout

Look for a staircase with at least 20 or more steps (look for stairs that will take you about minimum 10-30 seconds.)

  • Sprint to the top of the stairs, then jog or walk back down

  • Repeat 5 times, resting for about 10-15 seconds in between each set.

  • Perform 2 to 3 rounds, with a one minute break in between

Next level challenge- Take the stairs two at a time, decreasing speed as necessary, but building up more strength.

Other Stairs Strength Movements Exercises


1. Sprints- Start at the bottom of the stairs. Next sprint up as fast as you can, and use your arm swings pumping up to help lift your body, and land on each step and getting off that step quickly. Once you reach the top, walk or run down slowly. Using a proper technique running up the stairs is important. Keep most of the impact on the balls of your feet and your knees should be aligned over your feet the entire time, not forward the knees. Keep a nice straight spine, preventing slouching and bending at the waist. Perform 6-8 reps depending on the length of the stairs and your fitness level, if you can do more go ahead. This is a good workout post-run. Once you finish your run, you can do these stair sprints to really strengthen your leg muscles.

2. Step Forward Lunges- Start at the bottom of the stairs, then step your right foot on the second or third step, bending both knees at a 90-degree angle and lower into lunge. Then push off with your right foot to push yourself up the stairs, stepping your left leg up to meet your right leg, then stepping it forward and lowering into the next lunge. Perform the lunges all the way to the top of the stairs, and make sure your front knee is in line over with your toes, your torso should be upright to keep a good stability and engaging the core properly. Walk or run down slowly.

3. Squat Jumps- Start at the bottom of the stairs, then lower your hips down into a squat, engage your core and glutes, swing your arms and jump up to the next step with both feet, landing in a squat. Hold the squat for a couple of seconds and jump up to the next step. Keep squat jumping to the top of the stairs. If the steps are very small, you can jump over two steps. This exercise is similar to box jumps, which is very good training for runners.

4. Sprint & Skip a Step- Same as the sprint exercise, but this one aims to skip a step sprinting up. Make sure you pump your arms and keep a good form all the way up. Walk or run back down slowly.

5. Skater Steps- Start facing the stairs at the bottom, then step your left foot on the far left of the second step. Next, push off with your left foot and hop onto your right foot landing it to the right side of the next step. Continue climbing the stairs, alternating sides (skater) until your reach the top. Walk or run back down slowly.

6. Tricep Stair Dips- Start by sitting on the edge of the second or third step, depending on the height, with your feet on the floor and hands under your shoulders. Lift your hips until your arms are straight and extend your legs with your heels on the ground. Engage your core and keep your hips up, then start performing tricep dips by lowering your body up and down. Push from your arms, so you feel the arms and tricep strengthening, if you push mostly from your legs and hips, the triceps will not be activated enough. Perform 15 reps X 3 sets.

7. Side Step Up- Start by standing on the side, perform lateral step up all the way up. And then back down will work those inner and outer thighs that are neglected in the forward motion of running. Then switch side and perform side step up all the way up and down.

8. Calf Raises On Each Step- Ensure you lower your heels below the step for a full range of motion

9. Walking Up- Taking two or three steps at a time.

10. Doing Cross Over Lunges- Standing sideways and use your bottom foot crossing over the front to step up.

Stairs Training Exercises Video

Perform Good Stair Training Sessions, Feel Stronger and Faster, Enjoy Great Runs!


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