Spice Up an Exercise Staple: Look at Stairs in a Whole New Way

Running stairs, whether in the gym on a Stairmaster or outside, is a GREAT way to burn calories and build lower body definition.  As such, the stair machine is a staple for a lot of gym-goers.  At least at my gym, it’s almost always filled.  Predominately used by women, sometimes the occasional guy will venture away from the pack, exit the free weight section, and give it a whirl.  I’m not going to lie, doing stairs are a real pain.  I distinctly recall waking up at 6AM on Sunday mornings, and being forced to run up and down four flights of stairs in the back hallways of my high school for hours on end by a sadistic high school wrestling coach.  Stairs will always hold a place in my heart, although I can’t say I think about them fondly.

A strenuous stair workout is going to leave you absolutely sapped of energy.  To top it off, your entire lower body is going to be on fire and walking may be quite difficult the next day.  Quickly notice I said “strenuous”.  I’m not talking about the lazy pace some of the people (who shall remain nameless) at my gym take when they get on their stair machine.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; if you’re able to casually flip through your US Weekly magazine and actually do more than just look at pictures and headlines, you’re not working out hard enough.

Like most things in life (and exercise) variety is the spice.  Don’t let your body get too used to doing the same exercise or routine over and over.  Maintain variety, keep your body guessing, and you’ll be amazed at how much progress you continually make.  Contrary to popular belief, keeping things fresh doesn’t involve much effort, especially in this case.  Below we’re going to look at four tips to spice up this common exercise machine, and help you keep making that progress.


Leg Kick Outs

While using the stair machine, make a point to kick each leg out and up as you’re walking.  Straighten the leg, point the toe, and raise your league vertically as high as you can.  By doing so, you’ll be giving your upper hamstring and glutes a serious blast.  Do this regularly and expect soreness and a nice butt to follow suit.


Skip a Step

Pretty simple and straight forward.  Instead of stepping on every stair, skip a stair so you are doing every other.  This may not seem like much, but it’s enough to mix a workout up and confuse your body.  The human body is great at adapting to a given stimulus, so any variations requires more time to adapt.  As an added bonus, the larger step will require more muscle fibers in the quadriceps to fire, improving the muscle building effects of the stair machine.



Like other forms of cardio, the stair machine completely conforms to interval training and/or HIIT.  While a little extra care should be taken not to overdo it on the stair machine since the potential to fall is greater, it is still something that can be done carefully.  Try alternating between 30 seconds of fast steps/30 seconds of your regular pace.  If you feel comfortable, try increasing the intervals times and/or speeds.  This is a great way to give your metabolism a boost and increase your cardiovascular endurance.


Side or Back Steps

Instead of only walking the up the stair machine forwards, try changing your direction.  When you take side steps, or even back steps, you hit different parts of your legs and glutes, giving you a more efficient workout.  Try something like 15 minutes forward, 15 minutes to both sides, and finally 15 minutes backwards for a full hour of work and some very sore glutes, hamstrings, quads the next day.

Here’s a quick stair workout to get you going.  Next time you’re at the gym and ready to push yourself just a little harder, pull up this article and follow along for a guaranteed massive calorie burn AND muscle-building goodness.
* This workout can be accomplished on a regular flight of stairs outside the gym too.  Instead of going for time, go for flights.  1 minute = 2 flights.
0-2 minutes: warm up, regular pace
2-6 minutes: Leg kick out
6-10 minutes: Skip a step
10-14 minutes: Leg kick out
14-18 minutes: Skip a step
18-26 minutes: Intervals (use a 30 second fast/30 second slow format)
26-30: Leg kick out
30-40: Backsteps
40-50 minutes: Intervals (use a 30 second fast/30 second slow format)
50-54 minutes: Skip a step
54-60 minutes: Backsteps

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