Forget the treadmill. Stair-climbing machines are likely the most dreaded piece of cardio equipment in the gym, and for good reason: Trotting up step after step is tough work. But that’s exactly why you should add climbing to your fitness routine. Running up stairs makes for a high-charged cardio session that you can knock out in minutes. Plus, it fires up your quads and glutes and pumps up your power — so you’ll end up stronger for all your flat-ground workouts, too.
“Running stairs is very similar to running hills,” says John Honerkamp, founder and chief fitness officer at J.R. Honerkamp Consulting in New York City. “You’re not able to run up stairs as fast as you can on flats, but you’re using your sprint muscles and mechanics. You use your legs more, engage your core more and drive with your arms, so it’s a full-body movement.”
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The Case for a Stair Workout
Depending on where you live, a running route with hills may be hard to find. And even the steepest hills in your city likely don’t come close to the grade incline you’ll get from a set of stairs.
If continuously huffing up and down a staircase sounds monotonous, not to worry: It doesn’t have to last very long. Tackling an incline (and moving against gravity) is so effective that even brief sessions can lead to major results. In fact, running stairs for just 10 minutes, three times a week, improved women’s cardiovascular fitness after only six weeks, according to a new study published in Medicine Science in Sports Exercise.
To work climbing into your exercise schedule, start swapping out one of your regular runs or elliptical workouts per week with 20 or 30 minutes on the stair master or some steps. Your high school stadium or nearby cement staircase will work. “Do stairs once a week and think of it as a way to break up the boring, easy runs,” suggests Honerkamp. Ready to rise to the challenge? Give this vertical workout designed by Honerkamp a go.
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Your 25-Minute Stair Workout
When running stairs, Honerkamp recommends going hard on the way up, and then jogging down at an easy pace to avoid heavy pounding on your joints. Besides playing with your pace, this workout also mixes in upper- and total-body strength moves between flights. So you can cross cardio and strength off your to-do list simultaneously. Now get stepping!
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