Do This Short Stair Sprints Workout to Improve Your Running

Stair sprints build leg strength and increase VO2 max.

Want to be a faster runner? Hit the stairs. A report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine explored the impact of regular step workouts on young women. The study found that after eight weeks of short stair-sprinting workouts (performed five days a week), the women increased their VO2 max by an impressive 17 percent. VO2 max is the amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise—and an excellent indicator of aerobic endurance. Just a 10 percent increase can shave a minute off your 5K time.

Another study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that short stair sprints were also highly effective at improving VO2 max in sedentary young adults, which indicates that a stair sprinting protocol could be really beneficial for beginner runners who are trying to build fitness. In that experiment, three days a week for six weeks the study group had to complete three stair intervals separated by at least an hour of recovery. The researchers called these stair climbing “snacks.” And by the end of the six weeks, the training group had increased their VO2 max by 12 percent.

“Stair workouts are a great way to get plyometric motion exercises in without going to the gym,” says Kristin Metcalf, coach and co-founder of Rad Running.

Metcalf recommends trying the following stair workout once a week:

Warm Up – 12 to 15 minutes

“Jog to your local track stadium stairs or any set of stairs that you can find in your neighborhood,” says Metcalf. After a warm up jog, do 25 to 50 meters of high knees, butt kicks, skips, grapevines, and bounds each on a flat surface. Finish the warm up with 4 x 15 second strides with a jog back recovery after each. “Strides should be nice and quick with great running form at about 80 percent perceived effort,” she adds.

Stair Sprint Workout

  1. Walk up 20+ stairs. Walk down.
  2. Jog up 20+ stairs. Jog down.
  3. Walk lunge up stairs, skipping a step. Walk down.
  4. Jog up stairs, skipping a step. Jog down.
  5. Quick steps up stairs. Jog down.
  6. Squat jump up stairs. Walk down.
  7. Left side lateral squats up stairs. (Turn so the left side of your body is towards the stairs, bend knees, and step with the left foot skipping one step) Walk down.
  8. Right side lateral squats up stairs. Walk down.

Cool down with a 12 to 15 minute easy jog.

Take this workout slow to start out. “With everything new you try, make sure to listen to your body as you introduce new exercises,” says Metcalf. “If something feels not right for a certain muscle, then try less steps and/or skip that exercise and sub in one that feels better.”