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Is Running Stairs Good Exercise?

by Stephanie Ann Scott

About Stephanie Ann Scott

Stephanie Scott is a nutritionist and certified personal trainer who has been writing since 2004. Her work appears in the "Santa Monica Daily Press," "Santa Monica Mirror" and "Health Magazine." Scott received her Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Western Michigan University and certifications from the American Council on Exercise, Aerobic and Fitness Association of America and National Academy of Sports Medicine.


Running stairs is a common training method utilized by many high school and college athletes, and it is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to increase your cardiovascular health and leg strength while burning calories. Running stairs utilizes a principle called interval training, which requires you to perform short bursts of high intensity exercise, followed by a rest period. Running stairs doesn't require you to be an elite athlete, but it does require hard work.

Improves VO2 Max

VO2 max is one of the best measures of cardio-respiratory endurance. VO2 max is the maximum capacity of your body to transport and use oxygen during high-intensity exercise. This is also the point where a runner moves from aerobic to anaerobic exercise. Stair running challenges the body's cardiovascular system, causing the heart muscle to become more efficient at absorbing oxygen from the blood. It also increases lung capacity, allowing a runner to take in more oxygen with each breath.

Decreased Resting Heart Rate

Along with improved cardiovascular health, you may find that your resting heart rate is slightly lower. As you become more fit, it is not uncommon to see a resting heart rate in the 50 to 60 beats-per-minute range. A normal resting heart rate falls between 60 to 90 beats-per-minute, according to the National Emergency Medical Association. Stair running conditions your heart, making it more efficient and able to pump a greater volume of blood with each beat.

Quick Recovery

High intensity interval training performed with proper rest periods in between each interval can cause a marked improvement in recovery heart rate. Recovery heart rate is a measurement of how much the heart rate falls in the first minute after ceasing exercise. The more fit you become, the more quickly your heart rate will return to its resting heart rate after exercising. A quick recovery means your heart is able to pump blood throughout your body easily and efficiently. Determine your recovery heart rate by noting your pulse 10 seconds after you finish exercising. Take your pulse again one minute later. Subtract the second pulse rate from the first to get your resting heart rate. The higher the number, the better.

Burns More Calories

Due to its higher intensity, running stairs burns more overall calories than other lower intensity types of exercises. Studies have also shown that high intensity interval training can keep the heart rate slightly elevated after you stop exercising. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences showed that performing interval training at an intensity of 70 percent of your maximum heart rate can produce greater amounts of exercise post-oxygen consumption, or EPOC, and burn an extra 80 calories per exercise session. Even after your stair running workout is over, your body continues to burn calories.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.