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Exercise 101: Stair-climbing

Stair-climbing machine, last position Name of Exercise —Stair-climbing

Type of Exercise —Aerobic

Muscles used —Quadriceps, hamstrings, hip-flexors, calves, and buttocks

Stair-climbing Benefits

Climbing stairs is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness because you can incorporate it throughout your day while at home, running errands, or at the gym on a stair-climbing machine. This will allow you to expend even more extra calories throughout the day.

Calories Expended During Stair-climbing
Activity 135 lb. Woman 185 lb. Man
Climbing for 20 min. 163 calories 224 calories
Climbing for 30 min. 245 calories 336 calories

Exercise Technique for Using a Stair-climber

Woman on a stair-climbing machine, showing motion

© Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Starting Position:

  • Stand up tall with your hands resting lightly on the handrails.
  • Keep your feet on the pedals. Do not let your heels hang off the back of the step and remember to push through the heel while doing the movement. Do not stay up on your toes.
  • If you have problems with your balance, hold on to the side rails or other area on the machine designed as a place for your hands. In doing so, it is important to maintain good posture. Do not lean over or stick out your buttocks while performing this exercise; this will place undue pressure on the low back.


  • Choose a comfortable stepping pace, usually 6- to 8-inch steps or 8- to 12- inch steps depending on your fitness level and leg strength.
  • Do not use small baby steps or deep exaggerated steps while performing the exercise. Find a step size that feels comfortable.
  • Work at an intensity that enables you to carry on a conversation.


Begin with 2 sessions per week of stair-climbing. Following a 5-8 minute gradual warm-up begin with low intensity stair-climbing for 10-15 minutes. Add 5 minutes (when able) per week. After 3 weeks, progress to 3 times per week for 20-30 minutes at a moderate intensity.

After each workout, stretch the hip flexors, thigh, hamstrings, and your calf muscles. Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds.

Consult with your physician before starting any exercise program.


American College of Sports Medicine

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology

Provincial Fitness Unit of Alberta


Physical activity calorie calculator. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: Accessed April 13, 2016.

Selecting and effectively using an elliptical or stair climber. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: Published 2010. Accessed April 13, 2016.

Stairmaster 4000 PT owner's manual. Nautilus website. Available at: Accessed April 13, 2016.

Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 5/20/2015