If you crave muscular glutes, toned thighs and calves and a kick-butt cardio workout, then it's time to climb some stairs. Everyone from elite athletes to weekend warriors to beginners can climb stairs, making it an effective overall workout for all fitness levels. Not only are stairs a fantastic cardio workout, but stair workouts can also shred the fat around your waist and leave you with that flat stomach you’ve always desired.
Climbing stairs alone won't give you a flat, toned stomach. In order to achieve the flat stomach of your dreams, you'll need a multi-prong approach of diet, cardio and strength training.
Why Stairs Work
When you walk or run upstairs, your entire body is utilized. From your calves and glutes to your arms and abs, every muscle is activated to propel your body upward. There are multiple ways you can climb stairs — slowly, quickly or in intervals. For optimal fat burn, it is recommended to climb stairs in high-intensity intervals. As you increase your heart rate and activate the muscles of your body in this high intensity exercise, The Journal of Obesity conducted a study that found that “high-intensity intermittent exercise…may be more effective at reduce subcutaneous abdominal body fat than other types of exercise.”
Gabe Hihira, personal trainer, said that stairs "present our bodies with a very unique and tough challenge. Anatomically speaking, it's basically a much safer on the knees walking lunge. The body needs to work unilaterally, therefore engaging stabilizers, as well as making the power delivery completely single-legged. The unilateral part of this exercise is fantastic for working out any weaknesses you may have from your left or right side as we are all a little dominant in some way. Incorporating every muscle from the abs down, including the posterior fascia chain which is the group of tissue responsible for holding your body straight during posture."
If you don't have access to outdoor stairs, you can use a stair-stepper to mimic the movement. "If using a stair master (machine) in a gym, set the speed on slow. Don't use your hands as much as possible and really concentrate on each step as a single leg pressing type movement. This will burn fat, target leg strength and develop the booty at the same time," Hihira added.
Stair workouts can be an intense interval workout. As you walk or run up the stairs, your lungs and muscles are taxed. In order to climb more stairs, you must walk back down the stairs, allowing your lungs and muscles to recover during that time. Because of this type of intense work followed by recovery, stair workouts act as a high-intensity workout.
How to Climb Stairs
Stairs are an exercise that almost everyone can do. If you’re a beginner, start by walking up stairs right in the comfort of your own home. As you progress, you can skip stairs and climb two stairs at a time. For the intermediate to advanced athlete, try running stairs one at a time and two at a time. As you increase your speed, your distance and your repetitions, you’ll increase your heart rate and burn more fat.
To burn calories even after you’re finished with your workout, incorporate high intensity intervals into your training. These “HIIT” workouts activate an “EPOC,” or excess postexercise oxygen consumption, which means that you continually burn calories even after your workout is finished. That means if you complete a HIIT workout and then watch your favorite show afterwards, you'll continue to burn calories while watching your show. HIIT workouts add “about 6 to 15% more calories to the overall workout energy expenditure.”
"HIIT is essentially one of the best ways to burn fat, keep or gain muscle," Hihira said. When it comes to developing a flat stomach through HIIT training, "HIIT will definitely be somewhat responsible for the abs that make their way to your selfies (if your diet is up to scratch, also, of course)."
Because HIIT workouts and sprints can be more intense on the central nervous system and the body overall, it is recommended that you begin with just one HIIT workout a week. As you progress in your workouts, add a second interval workout a week. Do not complete HIIT workouts back to back as your body needs time to recover in order to grow. Working out is catabolic; i.e., it breaks your muscles down. Proper recovery time is needed for your muscles to repair and be ready for the next exercise day.