woman in sportswear climbing steps
Stairs amp up the difficulty and better mimic the undulating terrain you encounter outdoors. (Photo: Ezequiel Giménez/Stocksy)

This Stair Exercise Routine Was Made for Strength and Injury Prevention

Stairs aren’t just for stepping—this creative workout will have your whole body feeling the burn

woman in sportswear climbing steps

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Searching for the next great fitness tool? Look no further than your feet. Adding a staircase to your exercise routine can build muscle and decrease your risk of injury, says Chris Lee, a strength coach and the owner of Kinesis Integrated in Boulder, Colorado. Compared with on-the-ground body-weight workouts, stairs amp up the difficulty (thanks, gravity) and better mimic the undulating terrain you encounter outdoors. In turn, you become a more dynamic, resilient athlete.

Lee developed the following workout expressly for Outside. ­Perform each exercise as instructed, then rest 30 to 45 seconds before moving on to the next. After you’ve completed all five, rest for two minutes, then repeat the circuit. Do this two or three times a week for noticeable results.

1. Copenhagen Plank

(Illustration: Benjamin Boothman)

How: Get into a side plank, with one foot atop the first or second step, forearm on the ground beneath you, and your shoulders aligned vertically. (Bend your other leg along the width of the stair.) Tighten your core and squeeze your legs together so your body forms a straight line from torso to feet. Hold that position for a count, then lower your hips to the ground. That’s one rep. Do 10 to 15 reps, switch sides, and repeat.

Why: Strengthens the adductors, undertrained muscles that control knee alignment and aid in hip extension.

2. Squat Jump

(Illustration: Benjamin Boothman)

How: Stand tall on the first or second step, facing away from the stairs, with your feet hip width apart. Bend your knees 45 degrees and push your hips back into a quarter squat, then jump up and out, landing lightly on the ground in a quarter squat. Without pausing, jump straight up as high as you can and land lightly again, knees slightly bent. That’s one rep. Do five reps.

Why: Improves muscle and tendon elasticity.

3. Lateral Hop

(Illustration: Benjamin Boothman)

How: Facing the stairs, stand on the ground toward the right side of the first step, feet hip width apart. Lift your left foot and slightly bend your right knee. Jump up to the left side of the first step, landing on your left foot, knee slightly bent. Keep your right foot raised and pause for two counts, then jump up to the right side of the second step, landing on just your right foot, with that knee slightly bent. Pause for two counts. That’s one rep. Do ten reps.

Why: Trains power, con­trol, and precision in side-to-side movements.

4. Deficit Reverse Lunge

(Illustration: Benjamin Boothman)

How: Stand on the first step, facing the stairs. Lift your left leg until your quad is parallel to the ground, your knee bent. This is the starting position. Step back and down with your left leg, placing your toes on the ground. Bend both knees to sink into a lunge, keeping 70 percent of your weight on your right leg. Pause for one second, then press through your right foot to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do 10 to 15 reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Why: Strengthens the soleus, a calf muscle that helps power a variety of movements.

5. Mountain Climber Push-Up

(Illustration: Benjamin Boothman)

How: Start in a high plank, with your hands on the first step, slightly wider than shoulder distance apart and fingers angled out, and your feet on the ground, hip width apart. Activate your core, glutes, and quads, bend your elbows to lower into a push-up, then press through your palms to return to the start position. At the top, drive your right knee up toward your chest. Repeat with your left knee. That’s one rep. Do 10 to 15 reps.

Why: Strengthens the upper body and trains core stability.

From December 2021 Lead Photo: Ezequiel Giménez/Stocksy