Lower Body Strength Development
The first way to improve lower body strength in stair-workouts is to climb every other step (essentially performing a lunge). Because doing this puts your legs in a mechanical disadvantage your muscles have to get stronger to overcome this disadvantage. I also have certain people climb every three steps to challenge them even further. But this is usually left to very tall people or last people with very long legs. Two steps is usually enough to challenge most anyone.
For the purpose of strength improvement it's only necessary to do 1 to 5 sets of 1 to 30 repetitions on each leg. You can either alternate or use 1 leg at a time. As your strength improves you can either increase repetitions, resistance (via dumbbells, barbells, weighted vests, sandbags etc?), or speed to challenge yourself further.
Although I've done 20 flights of stair lunges totaling around 60 repetitions each leg it's important to remember the goal of the workout (are you trying to improve strength or strength endurance). Strength protocols usually only call for between 1 & 20 repetitions for a few sets. But feel free to experiment as nothing is written in stone.
One day I decided to see how hard it would be to climb every other step to the 20th floor. What a workout that was! Is it really strength training in technical terms?
No, but if you're able to do this you will have achieved a high level of strength endurance that many people will never achieve.
Another way to do stair lunges is to use diagonal, cross-over and side lunges. The great thing about using these lunges is they address exercising in different planes of motion. Most people exercise in straight line forward or what experts call the sagital plane.
Most people have plenty of strength in this plane. It's in the side to side (Frontal plane) and the rotational (Transverse plane) that people are weakest in. It's no coincidence that people get hurt in these planes. Most ankle injuries occur in the frontal plane and many knee injuries occur in the transverse plane.
Stair climbing lends itself very well to doing lunges in all planes of motion and can really help someone improve their strength in all planes of motion to balance out their strengths and weaknesses. In my own experience I've gone for weeks with just doing stair-climbing in frontal and transverse planes and my knees have never felt better.
Walking down stairs can also be used to improve eccentric and deceleration strength which is very important in everyday life as well as sports. Always remember to use caution when going down stairs (because of the risk of falling). I prefer to just use the first couple of steps and just work down from there. For obvious reasons, one should never run down the stairs (it's too dangerous). Always remember safety first.
A lower body strength workout can look something like this:
Round 1: Warm-up - Walk up 20 flights. Stretch when you reach the top. Take elevator down when you've reached the top flight.
Round 2: Do 30 stair-lunges - 15 on weaker side followed by 15 on your stronger side. (Climb 2 steps each lunge).
Stair Lunges (Front & Back View)
Round 3: Do 30 stair-lunges in alternating fashion. (Climb 2 steps each lunge).
Round 4: Do 30 crossover-lunges in alternating fashion (climb 2 steps each lunge).
Crossover Lunge (Front & Back View)
Round 5: Do 30 crossover lunges from sid - 15 on weaker side followed by 15 on your stronger side. (Climb 2 steps for each lunge).
Crossover Lunge From Side
Round 6: Do 30 side to side lunges in alternating fashion. (Climb 2 steps for each lunge).
Side to Side Lunge (Front View)
Side to Side Lunges (Back View)
Round 7: Do 30 side step ups - 15 on weaker side followed by 15 on your stronger side. (Climb 2 steps for each lunge).
Side Steps With Hands Behind Head
NOTE: Some people may not have the strength and/or flexibility to climb 2 steps in the fashion described. In this instance, just climb one step each lunge.
NOTE: In this workout I had access to 20 flights of stairs.
As your strength improves, these options may challenge you further:
- You can use dumbbells or barbell
- Use a weighted vest
- Reduce your rest intervals between sets
- Increase your sets (rounds)
In this workout you'll be doing lunges in all planes of motion. Remember that it's very important to address frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotational) planes because that's where many people are weakest and is probably why people get hurt in those planes so frequently. We usually don't address these planes in our exercise routines but constantly use these planes in our everyday lives.
Lower Body Power Development
To improve lower body power plyometrics can be used in stair workouts. To do this you can use single, double, and triple hops with either both or one leg at a time. You can use side hops, side to side hops, transverse hops and so on. You can even use eccentric hops.
The key to any plyometric program is to perform the jumps with excellent form quickness and explosiveness. Remember, you are training yourself to exert force as fast as possible and to improve your power output. Although plyometrics can and will improve your conditioning, it's primary purpose is to improve your power.
I have athletes to walk upstairs and jump rope to warm up. Then they proceed to sets of 1 to 15 jumps depending on the height of the jump and whether one or two legs are used, and also depending on the surface used. Sometimes we use surfaces in stairs that are more forgiving, but sometimes we may use stadium steps which may be concrete and also are less forgiving.
It is very important to keep that in mind as safety should always be an issue when doing any workout. I usually have athletes perform forward, lateral, side to side and rotational jumps. One important point to remember is when training single leg jumps to start off with your weaker leg first.
A Power development workout can look something like this:
- Warm-up - Walk up 20 flights, easy pace, for 3 to 5 minutes. Take elevator or walk down. Another way we warm up for plyo-workouts is jump roping or jumping jacks. Here are some plyometric exercises we use in our Real Stair Climbing workoutsTM.
- Both legs using 1 step: 5 to 20 repetitions. Rest 1-3 minutes.
- Both legs using 2 steps: 5 to 20 repetitions. Rest 1-3 minutes
- Both legs using 3 steps: 3 to 10 repetitions. Rest 1-3 minutes.
- Both legs using 4 steps: 1 to 5 repetitions. Rest 1-3 minutes.
- Both legs using 5 steps: 1 to 3 repetitions. Rest 1-3 minutes.
* This sequence can be repeated 1 to 3 times.
Plyo Hops - 1 Step
Plyo Hops - 2 Steps
Plyo Hops - 3 Steps
Using One Leg:
One Leg Hops
One Leg Hops - On Giant Steps
Side to Side hops (1 or 2 legs can be used):
Frontal Plane side hops (hops from the side using giant steps).
Transverse Hops (on Giant Steps)
Up & Downs (you can use 1 or 2 legs)
Adding A Weighted Vest
Keep in mind here that I have not seen many athletes hop 5 or 6 steps for reps. Another thing to remember is the danger involved when adding more steps. Always keep safety in mind first and then proceed to design workouts or exercises. Usually, we just go as high as four steps and save the really tough jumps just to see how many we can get in one jump (as a test).