Fitness Tips & Tricks

Mastering Your Stair Workout

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By Lauren Rao, M.Ed., AT, ATC, CSCS

You don’t need fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership to work your muscles to their maximum potential. Instead, if you have a set of stairs at your disposal (and a little creativity) you can use them to build strength, endurance and overall fitness.

The change in elevation you get from climbing stairs presents a greater cardio challenge than running or rowing. Stairs also offer you an opportunity to break up the monotony of, say, a treadmill run, with a circuit routine that works arms, legs and core muscles simultaneously.

Stair Workouts Redefined

Don’t have stairs at home? Any local stadium or park that has a set of stairs or bleachers can double as a gym. You can run the bleachers, use them to step up and down or rely on them for support during balance and strength exercises.

You can also create a circuit routine where you run across the bleachers in a zigzag pattern then stop and do a quick set of lunges, dips or pushups.

Not sure where to start? Here are five exercises you can do almost anywhere with bleachers or stairs.

  1. Deficit pistol squat: The pistol squat (also called a one-legged squat) requires balance, flexibility and leg strength. It’s simple for some people and nearly impossible for others, but the deficit variation allows you to stand on one leg and slowly bend your knee, so your other leg drops below the stair, almost like a one-legged squat. Do as many as you can before fatigue sets in.
  1. 180-degree chair squats: These are a fun and challenging way to work your way up the bleachers. Just clasp your hands in front of your body, place one foot on the floor and the other foot on the first stair and lower yourself into a squat position, almost as though you’re sitting into a chair. Pivot and do another chair squat facing the opposite direction. Then repeat the process all the way up the bleachers.
  1. Elevated glute bridge: This exercise may require you to get your hair dirty! Lie with your back and head on the ground or floor. Plant both heels on top of the stair or bleacher in front of you and lift your glutes to form a straight line from the knee to the shoulder. Then, squeeze. Do as many reps as you can comfortably.
  1. Elevated Spider-Man pushups: Place your hands on a stair or bleacher and prop yourself up in a pushup position. Do a push up in that elevated position then swing one leg to the side and bring your knee up toward your elbow, like you’re climbing up a wall (like Spider-Man). Repeat with your other leg. Do another push up and repeat the spider man climb with both legs.
  1. Tricep dips: Position yourself in front of a stair, facing away from it. Place your hands on the stair shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your elbows and lower your body down to work your triceps.

Start with a Professional

Hitting the bleachers to get some exercise can net you an intense full-body workout. It taxes a variety of muscles and it’s a great way to do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and circuit training. The rub: It has to be done properly.

If you’re new to exercise, meet with a personal trainer or fitness professional first to ensure you have the proper form. Another word of caution: avoid exercising on wet or icy bleachers. Experienced or not, slippery stairs are a recipe for disaster.

For a comprehensive analysis of your fitness and athletic performance, call the Henry Ford Human Performance Clinic at (313) 972-4030. You can also read more nutrition and fitness advice in our EatWell and MoveWell sections, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.


Lauren Rao, M.Ed., AT, ATC, CSCS

Lauren holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Athletic Training from Albion College and received her Master of Education in Athletic Training degree from University of Virginia. As a Henry Ford athletic trainer, Lauren is assigned to Lawrence Technological University as the injury prevention specialist. Prior to employment with Henry Ford, Lauren served as an athletic trainer for Indiana University Purdue University – Fort Wayne working with athletes in women’s soccer, baseball, softball and women’s basketball. She did her graduate assistantship at Virginia Military Institute working with the cadet-athletes on the football and track and field teams there. Lauren’s thesis was looking at differences in functional movement patterns between gender and sport and was presented at the 2015 NATA Symposium in St. Louis, MO. Lauren holds additional certifications as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and as a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach.