Blog By- Dr Rohit Bahuguna – BFY Faculty
Using stairs as part of our exercise routine is a great way to lose weight, improve our fitness and tone and strengthen problem areas, like our legs, tummy and buttocks.
Why climb stairs for overall fitness.
Stairmaster machines are among the most popular pieces of exercise equipment in gyms all over the world, but as with most things in life, there is no substitute for the real thing, and climbing stairs is no exception.
Climbing stairs for fitness and weight loss is great for many reasons. Here are just a couple of them :
- It is totally free and just about all of us can get access to a set of stairs.
- It leverages gravity and the heavier we are, the harder we’re forced to work and the more calories we burn.
- It is a relatively intense exercise that quickly increases our heart rate and in doing so can greatly improve our cardiovascular fitness.
- It helps strengthen and shape our most common problem areas like calves, thighs, buttocks and tummy.
- It is a very efficient way of burning maximum calories and is great for those of us with limited time to exercise.
- It can easily be mixed with other exercises, like walking, skipping and weight training, to maximize results and stair climbing workouts are easy to build progression into.
- It can be done by almost anyone, regardless of fitness level.
- Because it is weight bearing, it helps build bone strength.
- It has low impact and safe for the knees (providing correct technique is used and a preexisting condition doesn’t exist).
Starting stairs climbing
The hardest part of getting started climbing stairs for weight loss and fitness is usually finding some stairs to climb! To help you find suitable stairs near you, here are a couple of typical places to find them:
- High-rise car parks,Shopping centres, Office buildings,Apartment buildings,Train stations, Overpasses and road bridges, Schools and Universities,Parks, Sports grounds, Double storey homes,Local monuments and lookouts. Foot bridges.
How to progress
When we first start climbing stairs for weight loss, we may find ourself getting out of breath after only a flight or two and we may also find that our thigh muscles start to “burn”.
To help our body acclimatize to this form of exercise, we should start by limiting ourselves to walking up two flights of stairs followed by five minutes of walking on the spot. At the end of the 5 minute walk on the spot, when our heart rate has come down a bit, we can try walking up another two flights followed by another five minute walk on the spot. This may be enough of a workout for us in the first week or two.
after few weeks, we can try adding another two flights of stairs and another five minute walk on the spot each week. Eventually we should be able to climb all the flights of stairs we want without having to stop to regain our breath.
When we start to get even fitter and stronger, we might want to try to make our stair climbing workouts even more intense by doing one or more of the following:
- Lengthening the time of our workouts (doing more sets).
- Climbing two steps at a time instead of one.
- Adding to our body weight with a weighted belt, weighted vest or carrying dumbells.
- Reduce our rest intervals.
- Speed up our workouts by racing the clock, a friend or a workout partner.
For strength improvement it is best to walk up two steps at a time and limit the number of sets of stair climbs we do per workout to between 1 and 5 sets. And instead of running up 20 flights of stairs, it may only be necessary to walk up a total of 15 to 30 steps per leg.
As well as strengthening all the muscles in our legs and buttocks, it is possible to magnify the strength and shaping affect of stair climbing by changing our technique slightly.
- To work the inner thigh, stand sideways at the bottom of the stairs, place your hand on the rail (if available) for balance. Lift your right foot and place it on the first step. Transfer your weight onto your right leg as you lift your left leg and cross it over your right and up to the next step. Continue up the stairs in this fashion until you’ve reached the desired number of reps.
- To work the butt, start at the bottom of a flight of stairs, step up with your left leg and kick your right leg back (contract your right buttock when you do this), and then repeat with the right leg and left kick. Continue this until you’ve reached the desired number of reps.
- To work the hip abductor (the muscle on the outside of your hip that moves your leg out to the side), stand on a stair step sideways with one foot on the step. Without bending the supporting leg, lower the unsupported leg a couple of inches by tilting your pelvis, and bring it back up. Repeat 10 times and switch to the other leg.
To get the most benefit out of any aerobic exercise, we should do it at least 3 times a week, for at least 20 minutes per session, at an intensity that elevates our heart rate to between 60% and 90% of our maximum (which is calculated by subtracting our age from 220). With stair climbing however, we may not be able to continually climb stairs for a total of 20 minutes, so we may need to build up to this level by incorporating other activities with our stair climbing. Eg.. to walk on the spot between flights (as suggested above). Another is to skip in between flights, etc.
For a combined aerobic and anaerobic workout, alternate five minutes of stair climbing with sets of exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, dumbell curls and presses.
A combined workout example might include a five minute warm-up, thirty to forty minutes of intervals (consisting of 2-3 minutes of stair climbing followed by 1 minute of muscle toning exercises), a five to ten minutes cool-down and stretches.
Many people choose stair climbing regimens for regular exercise. Benefits of stair climbing that are not experienced with running or walking include:
When walking and running, your body moves in a horizontal pattern. With running, your body does experience slight vertical movement. However, with stair climbing, your muscles are forced to resist gravity and move in a vertical pattern. When you move your body vertically, you place high demands on the lower body. Your leg muscles must repeatedly lift your body against the pull of gravity. In addition, your muscles must stabilize and balance, which puts even more demand on the muscles in the lower body.
Stairs are generally readily available. Those who run for exercise generally prefer to have a span of distance over which they may travel. Stairs, on the other hand, are readily available in apartments, office buildings, on streets and in public areas. Stairs are “compact.” Those who prefer stair climbing to running simply need an ordinary staircase for their workout. In fact, all buildings that have elevators also have stairs. Those who prefer to stair climb for exercise may opt to take the stairs instead of the elevator when faced with this choice.
In addition, stair climbing requires no special clothing or equipment. You may want to wear comfortable workout clothes and shoes, but even if you are not dressed for a workout, you can still reap the aerobic and fat-burning benefits of stair climbing.
When you stair climb for exercise, you burn twice the fat in half the time than if you run and three times more than walking. An intense stair-climbing exercise session will produce more aerobic benefits in a shorter amount of time than running or walking. One hour of stair climbing will burn approximately 1000 calories.
Those who walk or run for exercise rarely do so in harsh weather or rain. On the other hand, weather need not become an issue for stair climbers. Indoor staircases are plentiful so weather is not as much of a consideration for those who choose to stair-climb for exercise.
Stair climbing exposes the legs, ankles and knees to less pressure from impact than running on concrete. Running places a considerable amount of pressure on the feet, as well. Stair climbing offers the benefit of less impact to the body while reaping more aerobic and muscle-building benefits.
Both running and walking burn calories and have aerobic benefits. However, those benefits may greatly increased with stair climbing. The calorie-burning and aerobic benefit of stair climbing is determined by how vigorously the activity is pursued. If you casually walk up the stairs, the calorie-burning and aerobic benefits are only slightly higher than running or walking, but if you expend some effort and energy, quickly moving up the stairs, the benefit is greatly enhanced.
To help avoid boredom we can:
- Cross-train using other activities such as bicycle riding, walking, jogging, etc.
- Use music to motivate us – wearing a portable radio, CD player or an ipod allows us to listen to all our favourite songs while climbing.
- Keep an exercise diary and track our progress – nothing motivates like success!
Safety tips for stair climbing
To help us get the most out of our stair climbing workouts and exercise as safely as possible we should keep the following tips in mind at all times:
- Always warm up and stretch before climbing stairs, paying particular attention to the major leg muscles (calves, hamstrings, thighs and buttocks).
- Start out slow and easy, and don’t increase our intensity by more than 10% each week.
- Be very careful coming down stairs. Don’t come down too quickly and NEVER run down stairs, it’s far too dangerous for no or little gain.
- Put our safety first and go at a speed that ensures we don’t lose our balance or strain too hard.
- Wear a heart rate monitor so that we can see how hard our heart is working and to ensure we stay within the desired target heart rate.
- Always carry water with us and stay well-hydrated.
- Stop if we feel faint, dizzy or in pain.
- Take sufficient rest breaks during our workouts.
- Always consult our doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
- Do not climb stairs if we have orthopedic or medical complications (such as high blood pressure, etc) that the intense nature of stair climbing may aggravate.
Maintaining the correct posture while climbing stairs is very important to get the most out of our workout and minimize the chance of injury. Correct technique means leaning forward slightly.