You know the scene, everyone does. That miraculous part in Rocky, where Sylvester Stallone runs through the Philly neighborhoods to a chorus of cheers and ends up climbing the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs with his arms held high.
Inspiring, right? Most people think of the stairs as an antiquated inconvenience, but guess what? Simply walking up stairs counts as exercise. And, come winter, when physical activity tends plummet, stairs are a great way to build in quick bursts of exercise whether you’re at work, the mall, or the ballpark.
Why Bother Taking the Stairs?
You’ve heard it before. Take the stairs instead of the elevator (or escalator). But, will walking even just a flight or two of stairs really make any difference? According to some recent scientific studies, yes. One 2007 study revealed that sedentary people who used the stairs for only 6 minutes a day over an 8-week period increased their Vo2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen someone can utilize during exhaustive exercise) at a rate comparable to 45 minutes of daily walking. That’s a 9.5% increase! And, at the very least, climbing stairs can be one way to ease your body into more demanding workouts.
“Stair climbing and descending – the part you miss with a Stairmaster – is a great lower body and cardiovascular workout,” explains Steve Edwards, Beachbody’s Vice President and Results and Fitness Advisor. “Going up and down works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, feet and, to some degree, the core both concentrically and eccentrically.” On the way up you use your quads and glutes. On the way down, your muscles, especially the calves absorb the energy when your body makes contact with the step.
There are also psychological benefits of taking the stairs. People have seen positive changes in their mood even after just 5 minutes of moderate exercise and there has been plenty of research to show how exercise can be a mood enhancer.
Is One Step at a Time Better, Or Two?
Common sense would say that it’s better to climb two at a time, because that seems harder, right? Well, that’s not necessarily the case. According to a study published in PLoS One, if the set of stairs you’re going to climb is fewer than 90 steps, it’s more beneficial to ascend two steps at a time. Because you’re climbing for such a short distance, this was shown to be a harder workout than climbing one at a time, since you’d be lifting your bodyweight twice as high.
However, if you’re going to climb a longer set of stairs, you actually burn slightly more calories going up the stairs one at a time. That’s because when you ascend stairs individually, you are able to move your body faster for a longer duration. In addition to torching a few more calories, you also make your lungs and heart work harder, so it’s a better workout for them too.
If you’re looking to burn calories, this is what we recommend. Edwards also suggests switching your running (or walking) pattern every so often to increase muscle use, such as moving laterally so your workout also includes abduction and adduction movements.