Walking stairs – is it the best walking exercise?

Walking stairs (both up and down stairs) burns more than twice the calories of level walking, plus helps tone your legs and boost your cardio fitness. This makes stairs a great walking workout to lose weight and work off stubborn fat. Stair walking is a change of past from ordinary brisk walking that you can do indoors or at the office. Did you know that 10 minutes of walking stairs can even give you the same energy boost as a single espresso?

Walking stairs is more intense than other forms of walking, and puts more impact on your joints. Read on for the strength building and calorie-burning benefits of walking stairs, ideas on where to walk, plus how to start stair walking safely.

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Why Walk Stairs for Fitness?

Walking stairs helps rev up your calorie burn, build and develop your leg muscles, and give you a directional change (vertical, rather than horizontal walks). All of these benefits will help you to get stronger and push you to increase that daily step count.

Burn More Calories

Active joggers running stairs
Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Walking, in general, is great for your health. You’re burning calories, getting moving, and keeping your joints well lubricated and active. Walking stairs presents a new walking challenge and gives you an intense workout in a short period of time. You’ll burn nearly double the amount of calories walking stairs than you will by doing a normal 3 to 3.5 mph walk.

  • At 100 pounds (45kg) – 3 mph burns 150 calories, 3.5 mph burns 188 calories, walking stairs burns 362 calories (4.8/5.6kph)
  • At 150 pounds (68kg) – 3 mph burns 232 calories, 3.5 mph burns 267 calories, walking stairs burns 544 calories (4.8/5.6 kph)
  • At 200 pounds (91kg) – 3 mph burns 300 calories, 3.5 mph burns 350 calories, walking stairs burns 726 calories (4.8/5.6 kph)

Of course, the faster you walk (or jog) steps, the more calories you’ll burn. Even slowly walking up steps generally burns more calories than regular walking, however. Keep in mind that while many people enjoy walking for a half-hour or more, walking up and down stairs for that amount of time could be very tiring!

Stair Walking Can Give You Energy

Did you know just 10 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity stair walking can give you the same energy boost as an espresso? A 2017 study found that sleep-deprived women got more energy from a quick stair workout than the amount of caffeine in about a single espresso or half a cup of brewed coffee.

While any kind of exercise can make you feel energized, the University of Georgia at Athens researchers picked stair walking because stair climbing is a great indoor walking workout that can be done regardless of the weather. They figured office workers could head over to a stairwell and take a quick walking break before getting back to work. Next time you’re feeling tired at work, walk some stairs instead of reaching for the coffee!

Other Benefits

It’s not just calories that you’re burning, however. Walking stairs has other health benefits as well

  • Get stronger legs
  • Work different muscle groups (you’ll get a stronger workout on your quads and calves)
  • More intense workout in a short period of time

Stair Walking Safety

Businessman in dress clothes running up stairs
ETAJOE / Shutterstock

Walking stairs is more intense than walking on a flat surface, so it’s not for everyone. While most people can physically walk up and down stairs when they need to, people with knee pain, arthritis or are new to walking may want to focus on walking on a flat surface. If you’re just starting to walk for weight loss, try limiting stair walking to small doses.

Stairs have more of an impact on the joints than regular walking. So, it’s important to understand your abilities, limitations, and any injuries you suffer from. If you find walking stairs causes pain or difficulty, choose a lower-impact workout instead.

Remember that walking down stairs can also be high-impact on your joints as well – particularly your knees. Even if you don’t fall, taking an awkward step walking down stairs can cause sudden impact on your joints. Make sure to stay focused both walking up and down stairs, and take extra care to avoid impact when walking down stairs.

Injury Prevention for Stair Walkers

Man falling down stairs cartoon - step safety concept
didiaCC / Shutterstock

There are some things you can do to prevent injuries in the event you do begin a stair walking routine. Always make sure to warm up first. It helps to walk a bit on a flat surface before starting to go up or downstairs. Dynamic stretching can help as well. Make sure the surface you’re walking on isn’t slippery or unsafe. Your regular office stairs are probably rough enough that you’ll have good footing, but if you’re walking up the decorative stairs of a historic building, the steps might be slippery or worn.

As walking stairs is an intense workout, start slow and work your way up to more steps over time. You may feel fine walking steps in the moment, but realize that you’re sorer than usually later on. To prevent this, stick with a set stair-climbing routine and don’t push yourself even if you feel fine. You also don’t want your stair walking to interfere with your important daily recommended walking.

Maintain proper posture at all times. As you start to feel tired, your posture may suffer which can increase the chances of a bad step or injury. If you feel tired, take a break and go back to regular walking. If you have a history of joint problems, higher impact forms of walking (like walking stairs) can contribute to overuse injuries in your legs like IT band pain or tendonitis. It doesn’t mean you can’t walk stairs, but make sure you’re aware and cut back on your stair walking if you’re developing pain over time. As mentioned earlier, walking downstairs can be stressful on your joints as well.

Wear the right shoes

Make sure you’re wearing a good pair of shoes with good grip on the soles (depending on how steep the stairs are and where you’re climbing). Shoes with the right grip will keep you balanced and help ensure proper step/foot placement when you’re walking stairs. This is true whether you’re walking inside or outside. Knee braces for individuals who suffer from knee pain or are recovering from an injury can also help.

Making the Next Climb a Unique One

Beautiful museum staircase for indoor walking
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

You’re all set for your new routine, right? It’s important to find places that challenge you, keep you focused, and keep pushing you to tackle new stair walking challenges. Of course, you can start by climbing the stairs at work rather than taking the elevator. You can add some fun and adventure to your stair climbing workout by looking for a creative location.

A great place to start is a mall or shopping center with multiple floors. This allows you to walk on a flat surface for as long as you like and periodically walk up or down a floor to add some intensity.

Try walking up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator at work (or if you live in an apartment). You don’t have to walk all the way – you can always take the elevator part way and walk one flight up or down. You can increase this gradually over time.

Other ideas include:

  • Historic buildings like art museums or libraries with decorative staircases
  • Parks or hiking trails with scenic views
  • Stadiums or bleachers (at a sporting event or local school or university)
  • Mountains, hills, valleys (some beaches, parks, or walking destinations will have stairs set up along the side of mountains people scale for climbing and descent).

Finding a walking location that inspires and interests you will help to motivate you to keep walking. Not only will it keep you on track, but it is also going to help push you to tackle new challenges ahead.

Businesspeople walking up a spiral staircase
leungchopan / Shutterstock

Ready for a challenge? Tackle the next flight of stairs you see when you’re out and about. You’ll burn more calories, get your heart pumping and feel great. Being able to look down at the stairs you climbed gives you a sense of achievement, and is a great visual indicator of how far you’ve come. Take it one flight at a time, and you’ll make it to your goal!

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47 thoughts on “Walking stairs – is it the best walking exercise?

  1. I am so glad to see this article! Now I know my stair walking burns calories! I climb 47 flights each morning at work. I absolutely love it!

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