How to turn climbing stairs into an unbeatable fitness workout

From couch potatoes to elite athletes, we all have a love-hate relationship with the stairs.

Getting off the couch and hitting the stairs for one month guarantees two things: tone and weight loss.

Further, studies show that climbing just 200 stairs, twice a day, increases VO2 capacity (that's a test of cardiovascular health) by up to 17 per cent.

Work off the St Paddy's Day beers over the next month with this killer stairs program.

Session 1

Time 500

A standard outdoor stairs session with me includes a jog with some kind of bodyweight exercises and a skipping rope to get sweating and swearing. When my clients' heart rate slows, we find some stairs and time ourselves climbing 500 of them with greater than 90 per cent effort.

One client smashes the Woolloomooloo/Potts Point stairs in 3min 30sec, while another might eclipse a 7min pace. Both are winners in my book, because the latter has lost 52kg, and I attribute some of that to our stairs sessions.

Session 2

Bodyweight work

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Climb up and down 30 stairs, then drop for 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups and 10 incline push-ups using the stairs (lower part of your chest), 10 sit-ups, 10 decline push-ups (upper part of your chest into the shoulders) and 10 more sit-ups. Repeat three more times.

This isn't just a legs-cardio, stairs session – it includes core, chest and arms movements that will test you from head to toe.

Session 3

Change the angle

Find 100 stairs and climb using quick, single steps. On the second round, perform double stairs (two at a time). On the third round, perform triples. When you change the angle, you change the exercise. Your heart rate climbs, and you work varied parts of the legs from ankle stability to calves, quads, hamstrings and your bum.

Session 4    

Increase stairs, decrease repetitions

This is a brutal session for the more advanced:

  • Climb up/down 100 stairs, then perform 50 squats, push-ups and sit-ups, and 100 skipping ropes;
  • Climb up/down 200 stairs, then perform 40 squats, push-ups and sit-ups, and 200 skipping ropes;
  • Climb up/down 300 stairs, then perform 30 squats, push-ups and sit-ups, and 300 skipping ropes; then
  • Climb up/down 400 stairs, then perform 20 squats, push-ups and sit-ups, and 400 skipping ropes.

Don't label these sessions as 'cardio' or 'running' … calling the stairs 'running' is like labelling wall-climbing a slow, vertical walk. And don't be concerned with high-tech gym machines.

Mix it up

Stairs are simple genius because they do nothing but turn your body into a high-intensity machine. Over a month, mix stairs sessions into your week like this:

Week 1: Session 1, 2, and 1

Week 2: Session 2, 3, and 1

Week 3: Session 4, 3, and 2

Week 4: Session 4, 2, and 1

Your final time to cover 500 stairs in Week 4 should be loads quicker than Week 1, Session 1 – that's accomplishment.

If you hit the stairs with passion and add some intensity to your healthy kitchen, you will change your health.

A long way to the top

Some quick notes on form for us all:

  • Take it one stair at a time on the way down. I cringe to see people doing downward doubles. One trip, and you're in the hospital;
  • Your arms lead your legs, so pump your arms on the way up with relaxed shoulders;
  • Stay on the front of your feet – heel striking only makes it harder;
  • Scale it down. The above sessions are a guide. Move with intensity but at your own/safe pace while decreasing reps as you see fit; and
  • Your form in the kitchen matters just as much as form on the stairs.

Do you incorporate stairs into your daily fitness routine? Or at least take the stairs instead of the lift at work?

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