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Stair Exercises for Fitness & Weight Loss: Part 1
Virgil Aponte

The first questions people will ask when you talk about stair climbing is: can someone really get in shape by simply using stairs? The answer to that question is absolutely! If you have ever walked up more than 10 flights of stairs you can understand what I mean. In fact my discovery of stair climbing came when I had to walk up 19 flights of stairs to visit a friend of mine. At the time I hadn't been able to exercise due to an injury and walking up those stairs just wiped me out.

But as a trainer I thought to myself what an excellent tool for getting in shape. Ever since then I have used stair climbing for myself, my high school students, college athletes, elite professional athletes, and most of my private training clientele. Basically anyone interested in improving aerobic fitness, anaerobic conditioning, muscular strength, power and flexibility. In fact stair climbing proved to be such an incredible conditioning tool for me that I call it real stair climbing. I do this to distinguish it from modifications like the Stair-master and the Step-mill. These pieces of equipment are very valuable but can not compare to what real stair climbing has to offer.

So how can one lose weight, get in fabulous shape and look amazing using real stair climbing. The answer is quite simple: Follow the same principles and guidelines of an exercise program. Usually that calls for aerobic work 2 to 3 times a week combined with strength training 2 to 3 times a week. I myself stick with 2 aerobic/anaerobic sessions combined with 2 strength training sessions a week. In this article I'll discuss ways you can use Real Stair climbing to improve aerobic conditioning.

The following are the stair workouts I have used over the years and a few different ways you can use stairs to improve your aerobic conditioning.

Real Stair Climbing, Jargon, and Definitions:

Real Stair Climbing:

Real stair climbing is the actual use of stairs and stair cases. I do this to differentiate it from modifications like the Stairmaster and Step mill. Although equipment like the Stairmaster and Step mill can have great value they cannot compare to what Real Stair Climbing has to offer.

Climbs or Climbing: The actual act of walking or running up staircases.

Round or sets: From the first floor to the top floor and back down is considered a round of stair climbing. This is not written in stone. Call it what you like. I also sometimes call it a set. Also in my own workouts, I rarely walk downstairs. I usually take the elevator down for safety reasons, but also keep in mind in the high school I work in we have to use the stairs to get back down, but we make it a point not to run downstairs and just walk down and take our time. It is not going to improve our conditioning, but in this case safety takes the precedent over improvement.

Real Stair Climbing for Aerobic Fitness:

Aerobic fitness can be improved by simply walking up stairs. In my experience, I usually have access to 12 to 20 flights of stairs. My first round up to the top serves as a warm-up. I walk up slowly and take my time. Twenty flights takes me anywhere from four to five minutes. When I reached the top I stretch. Usually I'll hold each stretch anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. In my second round I picked up the pace a bit. One thing to remember is that it does not take much to increase the intensity with Real Stair Climbing. By simply picking up your walking pace just a bit will noticeably raise your workout intensity (it really doesn't take much). An aerobic workout can look something like this:

Round One: Warm-up: 20 flights at a slow pace (4 to 5 minutes) and then stretch* at the top.

Take elevator down.

Round Two: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 45 seconds).

Take elevator down.

Round Three: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 30 seconds).

Take elevator down.

Round Four: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes 15 seconds).

Take elevator down.

Round Five: 20 flights at a faster pace (3 minutes).

Take elevator down.

Round Six: Usually my last round at my fastest pace (2 minutes and 30 seconds to 2 minutes and 50 seconds). Relax and stretch a few minutes.

You can gradually increase this workout to 2 to 4 times a week. It all depends on your conditioning level, your schedule and your fitness goals. Doing this workout will improve your aerobic fitness but not do much for your strength. If you want to work on the strength then you will have to set up time for that as well.

The most frequent question I get asked is what if I do not have access to 20 flights. Simple, the less flights you have the more rounds you will need to get a sufficient workout. I think most people can get a great aerobic workout with at least ten flights. If you have five or less flights, it will be tough to get a sufficient aerobic workout, but there are other ways to achieve this goal as I will discuss later.

In part two discover how to take your stair exercise training to a higher level with anaerobic training.