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You Asked: Why Is Stair Climbing So Difficult?

You are asking and I'm answering...
Dear FitSugar,
I walk up six flight of stairs to teach a class – I'm a university TA. I climb these stairs at least three times a week and I am always out of breath by the time I reach the top. I am an active person and run regularly. What gives?

– Breathless Betty

I too am always amazed how out of breath I become when climbing the six flights of stairs to the office. Stair climbing seems to really tax my cardiovascular system and I run regularly too.

The main difference between running and climbing stairs is gravity. As you climb up those stairs you are fighting gravity, which really can be a force to reckon with. You are carrying your body weight against gravity, and that is also why climbing real stairs is harder than using a stair stepper machine at the gym, too. When using those machines you are using the power of your legs to push the stair down not to pull yourself up against gravity. Even celeb trainer Bob Greene agrees with me on this one. Plus, you are probably carrying a backpack or book bag with you up those stairs which you don't ordinarily have on your regular runs.

So think about it. Can you imagine running up a hill that is six stories high? Plus, the incline of stairs is steeper than most hills we climb (unless you live here in SF because we have some doozies). To make your regular stair climb easier, you should run hills or workout on stairs by climbing more flights than you do in your regular climb. While it seems somewhat counter intuitive to train hard aerobically to tackle your daily stair climb, cardio workouts do make the activities of our daily lives easier. Training sprints has made running after my girls so much easier.

Keep climbing!


Join The Conversation
bluestarfish bluestarfish 9 years
Wow, this is exactly the question I wanted to ask. Thanks for the knowledge! ONe thing though- I feel like climbing real stairs is easier than using the stairclimber...maybe its because u can stop at any time when you are climbing real stairs?
Amanda-La Amanda-La 9 years
I work on the eighth floor of my building so I try to run up them at least once a day and I am completely out of breath when I reach the top but I feel so proud of myself afterwards and my legs look great!
Spectra Spectra 9 years
I love doing stair workouts. I used to run stairs in my dorm in college when the treadmills were being used, lol. Every time I go to the doctor's office, the receptionist always tells me "Ok then, up to the 4th floor...there's the elevator over there". And I always say: "No thanks, I'll take the stairs". She always looks so mystified when I say that. It's kinda sad. You'd think at a clinic, people would be healthier, but that's usually not the case.
starofsorrow starofsorrow 9 years
My school campus is damn hilly. I mean, one class would be at the bottom of the hill, and another would be on the top! And every day, when I get off work, I have to walk downhill a steep hill, then walk uphill on a steeper hill. It's really a lot of HARD work for me, especially since I'm way out of shape! I've paid for it... I'm actually seeing a doctor today about a foot pain in my arch that is so bad that I can barely limp without being in pain.... eeech, not good!
Allytta Allytta 9 years
cha-cha. i've always lived on the 4-5 flours so i don't have problems like that. and i don't work out. so it's kinda sad fit people can't do what i (a fatass) can :D
Swp2885 Swp2885 9 years
this is really helpful and I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who gets winded. I live in a 5 story walk up on the 5th floor so I walk it every day and most days i have to take a sit down when I finally get to my apartment but it's always good motivation to keep in better shape
jaspittle1 jaspittle1 9 years
I too have a six-flight stair climb at the design studio I intern at. However, it makes for a great mid-day work out!
nancita nancita 9 years
Wow, I've never really thought about it like that before. Great answer, Fit.
kxm24 kxm24 9 years
Running stairs is definitely one of my favorite workouts. I haven't done it recently, this post makes me want to go run some stairs right now.,
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Stair climbing is an amazing workout!
ChuckMcKay ChuckMcKay 9 years
Is it better for my long term health to walk a dozen flights at once, or three flights at four different times a day?
jazzy-jane jazzy-jane 9 years
oops, meant legs, not lets! :)
jazzy-jane jazzy-jane 9 years
The secret is to make sure that your lets are strong! When I was going to the gym on a regular basis and doing plenty of leg presses, etc, I could make it up 5 flights of stairs without getting winded.
UrbanBohemian UrbanBohemian 9 years
I thought I was the only one who felt that way too. I never understood that! Thanks for that information!
JessNess JessNess 9 years
In my dorm my freshamn year I live on the 7th floor and could never make it up the stairs. When I finally got into shape the stairs were a whole lot easier but still tough. What gets me is walking the stairs. I always do stairs at a faster pace and keep on my toes....I dont know why but it works for me
Jinx Jinx 9 years
I have stairs up into my new place, and I am up and down them several times a day most days. But I'm hoping my ass is rock hard by Spring! lol
juju4 juju4 9 years
I also knew someone who was told by her doctor that she was slightly hyperventilating when she went up stairs.
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
Yea, I always get out of breath with my stairs at work. And I HAVE to use them because we have no elevator!!!
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