Stairs are tough. Simply walking up them can make even the fittest person huff and puff. But we also know taking the stairs over an elevator is a super easy and realistic way to fit in more exercise throughout the day. So what if you took that notion to the next level and actually used a staircase in your next workout?
Stairs add an extra element of intensity to an otherwise straightforward bodyweight workout, which is one of the reasons they’ve been a fitness go-to for decades (hello, step aerobics of the 90s). “Climbing stairs engages the body’s largest muscle groups to carry your own weight against gravity, which is far superior to exercising on a flat surface,” says Matty Maggiacomo, certified personal trainer and instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp in New York City. Plus, studies show that taking the stairs can increase your cardio capacity and even help you live longer.
So the next time you need a quick workout or a break from your usual neighborhood jog, shake things up with a staircase workout. You could use a set in your home or even a nearby park or stadium. Just make sure you stay safe, Maggiacomo says. “Choose a staircase that is level and wide, free of debris, and if in a public place, less-trafficked,” he says. Take them as slow as you need, and use the guide below to master the stairs.
How to Use This List
Create your own workout: Choose 2 moves from each section (upper body and core strength, lower-body strength, and cardio) for a total of 6 moves. Perform each exercise back-to-back for 60 seconds. At the end of the set, rest for 60 seconds. Repeat the full set 4 times for a workout that’s just under 30 minutes.
Try our workout: Scroll to the bottom to try Maggiacomo’s killer workout.
Upper-Body and Core Strength
Face upstairs with knees on lower step and hands below shoulders on higher step. Engage core, keep spine straight, and bend elbows to lower chest to stair. Push back up to starting position. For more details on how to properly do a push-up, go here.
Make it harder: For an added challenge, start in a high plank position facing upstairs and do a classic push-up. Want even more of a challenge? Reverse your position to face downstairs and do a push-up as seen on left.
Sit on step facing decline with knees bent and feet flat on step below. Grip the edge of the step directly behind the small of your back. Bend elbows to lower butt to the step below, then press down to straighten arms and return to starting position.
Make it harder: Lift one leg straight up as you dip. Perform 10 reps keeping leg lifted throughout, then repeat on the other side.
Start in high plank position parallel to steps. Step right arm and right leg toward incline step and allow left arm and left leg to follow. Climb steps keeping torso parallel to steps, hips level, core engaged. Continue to move up steps in plank position for 8 steps, then travel back down.
Staircase Sit Squat
Face downstairs with feet wider than shoulder width, hips stacked over knees, and knees over ankles. Squat by sending hips back, keeping chest upright, and bending knees. Lower as far as your mobility allows. (Bonus points if you can tap your butt to stair behind you). Straighten legs to return to starting position.
Start with right leg on upper step, left leg on lower step, and feet wider than shoulder width. Squat by sending hips back, keeping chest upright, and bending knees. Lower as far as your mobility allows, pressing into right heel. Return to starting position by straightening both legs. Do 10 reps then repeat on other side.
Make it harder: As you stand to starting position, sidestep feet to travel upstairs with each squat. Perform 10 reps, then repeat on the other side.
Upstairs Alternating Lunge
Face upstairs with feet hip width, hands on hips or clasped in front of chest. Step up onto stair with right foot and shift hips forward to lunge so knee forms a 90-degree angle. Press into right heel to push weight back and return to starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating legs.
Make it harder: Do a lunge as noted above but instead of returning to start, travel up the stairs as you lunge. If you’d like an extra challenge, lunge forward with right leg then press into right heel and use lower abs to drive left knee up to chest. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side, or continue to travel upstairs while lunging.
Alternating Reverse Lunge
Start facing upstairs with both feet hip width on upper step, heels in line with edge. Carefully lunge backward by stepping right foot back to lower step and bending left knee to form a 90-degree angle. Press into left heel to lift weight back up to top step. Repeat on the other side, and continue to alternate.
Stand facing upstairs with left toes on step and heel hanging off. Lift right leg and place right hand on railing or wall for support. Slowly lower heel below edge of step to feel a stretch in calf muscle, then press into ball of foot to lift as high as ankle flexibility allows. Do 10 reps, and then repeat on the other side.
Stand with feet hip width on lower step, with right side nearest to upper step. Hop right foot onto upper step as you swing left arm across body and sweep left leg behind you until toes touch upper step. Bend right knee to curtsy lunge and touch left fingertips to right toes. Reverse the movement by hopping down step with left foot and swinging right arm across body as you sweep right leg behind you, coming into a curtsy lunge on the other side. Once you get going, this move feels pretty natural, like you’re speed skating across ice.
Start at bottom stair facing upstairs with feet hip width. Keeping head up and shoulders back, jog upstairs, using core muscles to draw knees up toward chest with each step. Scale stairs one by one for length of staircase keeping knees high. Take your time and focus on each step to avoid tripping.
Make it harder: Increase your speed as you get better.
Start facing upstairs on all fours with hands below shoulders and knees bent under hips. Lift knees so you’re on toes and crawl forward with right arm and left leg, then left arm and right leg. Keep core braced throughout.
Make it harder: At the top, turn around and crawl downstairs to the bottom.
Begin facing upstairs in a high plank, hands below shoulders on upper step, abs engaged, hips level, and feet on lower step. Bring right knee toward chest then quickly return right foot to starting position as you bring left knee to chest. Continue to alternate as quickly as possible.
Make it harder: If your steps are wide enough like the ones shown above, start in decline position facing downstairs with hands on lower step and feet on upper step. Drive alternate knees to chest one at a time.