Why you need stairs in your running training sessions

Including a few stairs in your training regime is brilliant for building power, strength, endurance and aerobic capacity.

Why run stairs?

The plyometric motion of climbing stairs strengthens the same muscles as lunges and squats while also forcing you to use muscle stabilisers such as the gluteus medius that get neglected on regular runs. This is because you’re balancing on and activating one leg as the other moves to the next step.

Stairs force you to work against gravity, and that builds strength and power – particularly useful when you’re sprinting for the finish line.

Stairs are steep. A lot steeper in fact than most hills, which means your heart works harder, and you breathe faster to suck in enough oxygen. This can improve your Vo2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found sedentary people who simply climbed a 199-step staircase (that takes approximately five minutes to complete) for eight weeks at least twice a day, five days a week improved their V02 max by 17 per cent.

Running up a very long and steep set of stairs will mean you reach your anaerobic threshold fast. Training beyond the threshold will enable you to run at a faster pace in races before you feel the burn.

Running is good for bone building, if you always run the same route the same way, your body adapts and the bone building effect is reduced. Running stairs can help shock bones back into action.

It’s a top fat burner. You’ll burn the same number of kilojoules in 30 minutes of stair running that you would in an hour of running.

Stair workouts to try

Warm up properly with a jog and dynamic stretching before stair workouts.

Don’t run back down the stairs, walk with control, aiming to keep each down step as soft as possible to build calf muscles, and improve balance and coordination.

  • Look for a set of stairs with at least 20 steps.
  • Run hard up the stairs for 20–30 seconds, then walk back down with control. Aim for ten to 15 sets.
  • Finish a long run near a steep set of stairs and do ten minutes of stair runs to help your body build endurance and learn to push through fatigue.
  • Bound up two steps at a time to develop extra power.
  • If the weather forces you inside or you can’t find stairs, try the StairMaster at your local gym.
  • Interval workout: run stairs 20–30 seconds hard followed by 30–60 seconds of recovery. Repeat for 20–30 minutes.
  • Tempo workout: run stairs for 30 minutes at a comfortably hard effort.

Sydney stair running spots

You’ll find that many sports stadiums have a decent set of steps to incorporate into your training, but for Sydney-based runners wanting something different, try these suggestions.

Sydney North, Manly to Freshwater

Start at the foot of the stairs at Queenscliff Beach and keep sprinting up until you’re rewarded with views of Freshwater. You can then walk down to Freshie Beach and sprint back up for views of Manly.

Seaforth Gallipoli Stairs next to 4 Battle Boulevard

With 133 steep steps this is only for the experienced!

Sydney CBD, McElhone Stairs, Woolloomooloo

More than 100 stairs run from Cowper Wharf in Woolloomooloo up to Victoria Street in Potts Point. They’re a bit uneven though, so you’ll need to stay focussed.

Fleet Steps, Royal Botanic Gardens

A popular spot for lunchtime athletes and tourists with selfie sticks. They feature a wide and even design and can be found at the Mrs Macquarie’s Chair end of the gardens.

Barangaroo Reserve

Great views, great tracks, and great stairs. Start on the Hickson Pier side of the park and you’ll find the Baludarri steps, Burrawang staircase and Girra Girra steps.

Sydney East, South Coogee

Leading up from the Coastal walk up Cairo Street and onto Denning Street, these stairs have one of the steepest gradients in Sydney – and there’s a massive 210 of them!

Cooper Park in Bellevue Hill

Set in a gully, this park is littered with stairs winding through lush tropical gardens.

Sydney South, The Honeymoon Steps Audley

Spanning 2km, these stairs track through the glorious Royal National Park bush.

Salmon Haul Stair Runs, Cronulla

Located at the southern tip of Cronulla, these stairs are short but sweet. For a real strength and endurance session, add a few sandhills too.