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Climb your way to peak anaerobic condition

Virgilio Aponte explains how to use stair climbing exercises to improve your anaerobic condition.

My discovery of stair exercise workouts came when I had to walk up 19 flights of stairs to visit a friend of mine. His elevator was out of service. Anyone who has done this knows how tough this can be. After that day, I decided to give stair climbing workouts a try and have been using them ever since. I initially used stair climbing workouts to improve my aerobic conditioning, but as time went on, I learned to use it for anaerobic conditioning, lower body strength, power development, and flexibility.

Real Stair Climbing™ jargon and definitions

  • Real Stair Climbing - Real stair climbing is the actual use of stairs and staircases. I do this to differentiate it from modifications like the Stairmaster™ and Step Mill™. Although equipment like the Stairmaster™ and Step Mill™ can have a great value, they cannot compare to what Real Stair Climbing™ has to offer.
  • Climbs or Climbing - The actual act of walking or running upstairs.
  • Round or sets - From the first floor to the top floor and back down is considered a round of stair climbing. This is not written in stone. Call it what you like. I also sometimes call it a set. Also, in my workouts, I rarely walk downstairs. I usually take the elevator down for safety reasons, but also keep in mind in the high school where I work in we have to use the stairs to get back down, but we make it a point not to run downstairs and walk down and take our time. It is not going to improve our conditioning, but in this case, safety takes precedence over improvement.

Real Stair Climbing™ for anaerobic conditioning

My favourite use of stair climbing is for anaerobic conditioning. As with any workout start with a warm-up and stretching. I suggest you use one round of walking up the stairs and then proceed to the anaerobic work. In my workouts, I prefer to run up the stairs for anaerobic work, but you could also walk very fast. I also like to climb every two steps, but you could use every step. Experimentation will help you decide what works best for you. In my anaerobic workouts, I usually climb 6 to 12 flights at full speed and then rest for 2 to 3 minutes. During my rest period, I continue to walk up a few flights. I find this allows me to recover faster. I perform anywhere from 4 to 10 sets.

As your conditioning improves, you have many options to challenge you further.

  • You can climb more flights
  • Reduce your rest intervals
  • Increase your sets (rounds)
  • Use a weighted vest

Example session:

  1. Warm-up: Walk up 20 flights at a slow pace, duration approx. 4 to 5 minutes, walk back down
  2. Run up 10 flights (every other step and go half speed), duration approx. 1 minute, Rest 2 minutes
  3. Run up 10 flights (full speed and every other step), duration approx. 30 to 45 seconds, Rest 2 to 3 minutes
  4. Run up 10 flights (full speed and every other step), duration approx. 30 to 45 seconds, Rest 2 to 3 minutes
  5. Run up 10 flights (full speed and every other step), duration approx. 30 to 45 seconds, Rest 2 to 3 minutes

To start this may be enough for most people. As one's conditioning improves, you can add rounds, add flights or reduce rest intervals to continue improving or use a weighted vest.

Other ideas

Another great anaerobic conditioning tool is an all-out sprint to the 20th floor (that is if you have 20 flights of course). By the 18th floor, your legs can barely move. You will be forced to walk, but your body will still be in an anaerobic zone. When I am pressed for time, I use this as a workout. Do 1 or 2 warm-up rounds of 20 flights and then use the third round as the sprint to the 20th floor.

Another fun way to do anaerobic training with groups, especially athletes, is to race up flights of stairs. One person uses one stairwell and the other the opposite. An all-out race to the top will challenge even the best-conditioned athletes. With the high school student/athletes, I have worked with, we had access to 12 flights, and racing up those stairs proved to be one of the best ways to condition them. They did not see it as a workout but just a race. So just calling it a race motivated them. Remember to try and pair people of equal ability.

There are many ways to do anaerobic conditioning in staircases. Remember to be safe and what you are trying to address. Anaerobic work should have you breathless. To get an idea of how you should feel, run 400 metres at full speed and you will see what I mean.

I think the main reason I like anaerobic conditioning so much is that it gives you more bang for your buck. I find that conditioning is a limiting factor in many athletes. Many complain that they do not have the strength late in games. I think they have the strength it is only their lack of conditioning that does not allow them to use it. I find myself outlasting many high school athletes in basketball games, and I think one big reason is my conditioning. The only thing I usually have over the athletes is strength. They are usually quicker, more powerful, and more skilled. But my teams usually prevail in games because I do not tire quickly. It also helps that I have been playing for over 20 years, but I certainly notice the difference between how I feel (great) and how they look late in games (gasping for air and bent over).

In future issues of Successful Coaching, Virgilio Aponte will continue his review of how stair climbing can be used to improve lower body strength, power development, and flexibility.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • APONTE, A. (2005) Climb your way to peak anaerobic condition. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 23 / June), p. 7

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • APONTE, A. (2005) Climb your way to peak anaerobic condition [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Virgilio Aponte received his master's degree in physical education and has been an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer since 1994. He has helped people from all walks of life reach their strength and health goals.