Climbing Stairs: A Convenient Way to Workout

Woman Man Climbing Stairs - Masterfile Image

You don't have to join a gym or even change into exercise clothes to have free access to a fine piece of exercise equipment: stairs. Climbing stairs regularly can improve cardiovascular fitness and strength. Let’s go through the steps in climbing stairs for exercise:

  • Climbing stairs is primarily an aerobic activity—that is, it gives your heart and circulatory system a workout. It will improve leg strength, too.
  • Start with 25 steps or so and gradually increase the number you climb.
  • Keep your back erect or bend slightly forward from your hips.
  • Climbing two steps at a time is good exercise for major leg muscles (notably the quadriceps) and buttocks (gluteal muscles). But people with knee problems should be wary of trying this; and if your legs are short you may risk injuring groin muscles.
  • Going down stairs is also good exercise. It uses the thigh muscles—quadriceps and, to some extent, the hamstrings. Be careful not to overextend or lock your knees as you go down. If you go down stairs (or downhill) a lot, you may put excessive strain on the knees and/or develop sore quadriceps (though the soreness will decrease with practice).
  • To boost fitness, alternate stepping at a moderate pace with brief intervals at a faster pace.
  • If you do go to a gym, stair-climbing machines are a good option. You can increase the resistance to boost your workout. Some machines also give you an upper-body workout—via moving handles. Leaning on the console or hanging onto the handrails will reduce the intensity of your workout.

Be sure to talk to your health care provider before beginning an exercise program or increasing your usual level of physical activity, including climbing stairs for exercise.

Adapted from The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (January 2012)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 08 Dec 2011

Last Modified: 17 Mar 2015