Running Stairs For Rapid Fat Loss And Extreme Conditioning

A good set of stairs has always represented something magical to me. Due to my lifelong obsession with Rocky, running up a steep flight of stairs has always symbolized overcoming an intimidating and overwhelmingly difficult life-obstacle.

Throughout my childhood, I ran up and down a local (and oh-so memorable) set of stadium stairs quite often, and drew a lot of inspiration and self-confidence from it. Little did I know that I was engaging in one of the best fat burning exercises and also one of the best conditioning drills in existence.

Believe me, after 20 years of being in the biz, I have tirelessly experimented with every possible fat loss/conditioning protocol imaginable, yet regardless of what I try, a good stair running workout still reigns supreme.

Now, before you go out and start sprinting up the nearest staircase, read on to discover how to best perform a stair running workout. Don’t get me wrong, just simply running up and down a good flight of stairs will give you quite a workout. But I have discovered techniques for stair climbing that will maximize your training results from this type of exercise.

Here’s how to do it, step-by-step:

I think it’s safe to say that this post will not be received well by the mainstream

1) Find a local set of stadium stairs. Check nearby high schools, colleges or even high-rise buildings. Although you can make due with any height of stairs, it is optimal if you find a set that takes you between 6-10 seconds to run up.

2) Warm up properly. Although performing an extensive sprinting warm up is never a bad idea, it is not required to warm up as thoroughly for the stair workout. In fact, I have found that just a quick 5-minute warm up does the trick. Here’s the protocol:

a) 30 seconds of quick switch toe touches followed by a 10 second break

b) 30 seconds of athletic step-ups (switch lead leg after 15 sec) followed by a 10 second break

c) 30 seconds of crossover step-ups (switch lead leg after 15 sec) followed by a 10 second break

d) 30 seconds of stair hops followed by a 10 second break

e) Jog up the flight and walk down followed by a one-minute rest.

3) Begin workout. There are endless variations of sets/reps schemes and step patterns. But as promised, I’ll give you an actual workout. Be ready to be humbled!

a) 6-10 sets (depending on height of staircase) of forward alternating sprints- this pattern looks like this: step one-left, step 2-right, step 3-left, step 4-right, etc.

b) 6-10 sets (depending on height of staircase) of double forward alternating sprints- this pattern looks like this: step one-left, step 3-right, step 5-left, step 7-right, etc.

c) 6-10 sets (depending on height of staircase) of crossover running- (3-5 sets leading with the left and vice versa)

d) 3-6 sets (depending on height of staircase) stair hops- hop with both feet on each stair.

Here is a video I shot for you so you can better understand the techniques described above:

Here are the rules you must follow in order to get the most out of this routine:

1) Each sprint must be at 95% intensity or greater. Unlike sprinting on flat ground, stair running yields the best results from full speed sprints.

2) Don’t sprint down the stairs. Instead, briskly walk down them. It will appear to be more of a trot down.

3) Maintain a 1-3 work-to-rest ratio. In other words, if it takes you 10 seconds to run up, you would rest for 30 seconds before performing your next set. After the walk down, you may still have a few seconds before hitting your next sprint.

In order to progress, you should strive to run faster each workout. For advanced trainees, adding a weighted vest can also be a method of progression.

See you at the top!

John Alvino

Comments

  1. Gina says

    Love the post. I’ve been sprinting a lot since you posted the sprinting for fat loss series. Running the stairs will be another great option. thanks john!

  2. says

    Good stuff. I have some stadium stairs I run at nearby high school. Normally just run up and jog down. This workout will be a nice little change of pace and intensity booster. Also loved your Real Strength training redefined blog post and was wondering what a sample upper body day would look like to go along with the lower you provided?

  3. Dave W says

    Stopped running since back surgery. Do stairs 3-4 times a week for cardio now.
    Making my hip flexors are tight as hell, and worried about Quad/Hamstring imbalance.
    Thoughts?

    • John Alvino says

      @Dave W: Hey Dave, Mix up your cardio. If you can run stairs, you probably can jump rope and push a sled. This will help with structural balance. Additionally, you can strength train your hamstrings in the gym.

      Your hip flexor issue is easy to fix. Just isometrically stretch them after every training session. Good luck to you.

  4. Andrew Morris says

    Hill sprints and stair workouts are the ulitmate heart busting and fat melting workout- when someone really wants to get into shape thats what they do.Often overlooked but does appear on the odd tv show or movie like Rocky – you don’t need any fancy equipment either just remember fast on the way up and slow on the way down.Matt Furey and Craig Ballantyne swear by these types of workouts.
    If you don’t have a weight vest you could try doing it with a small well padded backpack with a weight inside.

  5. says

    I get pissed every time I see the picture of the gym with the electric stairs. it kind of proves the philosophy behind gyms.: They care more about your money than your results.

  6. Jeff says

    John, in your opinion, what is the most effective combination for rapid fat loss between sprints, fasted cardio, and steady rate, and the frequency of each per week?

    Thanks.

    • John Alvino says

      @Jeff: Hey Jeff, this answer would depend on what your entire training program consists of. But generally speaking, sprint twice per week and do fasted steady state 6 days per week.

  7. grace says

    I guess what I meant was 5flights with 60 stairs. I just started running stadiums about 2 weeks ago. I can barely manage 1 whole set of going up and down once starting from one side of the stadiums and finish coming back. I try an throw in some dips and push ups in between to give me a breather. Any suggestions? I don’t think I’ve been getting much of a workout….it takes me about 14min to do that then I’m just too out of breath to try another round.

    • John Alvino says

      @grace: Hi Grace, it sounds like a pretty good workout to me! You could pace it a little better and make 2 rounds or you could do 1.1 rounds then as you improve do 1.2 rounds and so on and so forth. Hope this helps you out

  8. Sid says

    I was wondering if running up multiple flights ( eg from my condo lobby to my house whicj is 34 flights) at max intensity would be as helpful? as running short flights multiple times
    thanks

  9. TG says

    Dear John –Thanks for your great articles.
    That Sprint Endurance workout with Repeat was dynamic.
    I love running stadium bleachers–I have run Rice-Eccles, and Ladell Edwards Stadium (Byu)
    Believe me the college stadium workouts are the Cadillac of all the routines.
    Just running 1 section from the bottom to the top is fantastic

  10. Mary says

    Hi John,

    I am a 41 year old female i have always worked out on and off i am 5’2 and 137 pounds i want to loose 7 pounds and really tone up my arms, legs and butt. I walk and jog on the football track at least 4 times a week. Yesterday for the first time i ran up and down the bleachers. I kept hearing how good it is to work out at the bleachers. I am feeling it today but my thing is how many times a week should i do your workout from this video in order to meet my goal? as well as how long will it take to start seeing results? Thank you!!!

  11. Niquee says

    Hey thanks for this! Very simple but informative. Ive been trying to find a simple routine for good cardio and weight loss and I realized stairs would be great but I wasn’t sure if just running up and down would be right. So stumbling onto this was a good find. Especially since I’m too tired from work to go out and or go to the gym, I can just use our stairs at home haha. Thanks again!

  12. Stephani says

    I’m an assistant softball coach always looking for workouts to do with the team. We’ve got a stadium and needed ideas for a workout for them. Guess what we’re doing today?!? Thanks!

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