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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!

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