Climbing Stairs: Burn Calories, Not Electricity

Climbing stairs is great for burning calories and improving your cardiovascular health. Plus it’s free — you don’t need a gym membership or any expensive equipment.

You can start easy by simply taking the stairs and skipping the elevator at work or at the mall. Or you can plan a full stair workout running stadiums. Or you can do anything in between. However you do it, here are some tips and info to get you started.

Calories Burned Running Stadiums

Running up stairs is one of the most intense exercises you can do. It burns as many calories as running 5.5 minute miles or elite cycling and cross-country ski racing.

Stair Climbing Calories Burned

So, how many calories will you burn climbing stairs? That depends on your intensity. Climbing at a fast pace burns about the same calories as moderate jogging or cycling. Running up stairs — often called a stadium workout — burns as many calories as elite bicycle racing, cross-country ski racing or running 5.5 minute miles.

But even walking up stairs for just two minutes per day will burn about one pound per year — that’s the same amount that most adults gain each year!

Use the chart below to see your specific calorie burn based on your gender, weight, and the type of stair climbing.

Calories Burned Climbing Stairs(based on body weight for a 60 minute workout)
Stair Climbing Activity Calories Burned
115 lbs
(52 kg)
125 lbs
(57 kg)
140 lbs
(64 kg)
160 lbs
(73 kg)
180 lbs
(82 kg)
200 lbs
(91 kg)
Calories based on an age of 35 and a height of 5 feet 9 inches (162 cm)
Based on MET values from the “2011 Compendium of Physical Activities”, adjusted using the Harris Benedict equation for estimated RMR.
References and Sources
stair climbing (slow pace) 213 243 291 357 427 500
stair climbing (fast pace) 468 535 639 786 940 1,100
descending stairs 186 213 254 313 374 438
stair-climbing machine (Stairmaster) 478 547 654 804 962 1,125
stadiums (running up stairs) 797 911 1,090 1,340 1,603 1,875
stair climbing (slow pace) 192 217 256 310 366 423
stair climbing (fast pace) 422 478 564 683 806 931
descending stairs 168 190 224 272 320 370
stair-climbing machine (eg: Stairmaster) 432 489 577 699 824 952
stadiums (running up stairs) 720 815 961 1,164 1,373 1,587
Take the stairs and burn calories instead of electricity!

Skip the elevator. Taking the stairs is good for your health and good for the environment. And climbing stairs just two minutes per day will burn one pound of calories per year — the same amount of weight that most adults gain each year!

Burning Calories Instead of Electricity

New York City had a great public health awareness campaign to prompt people to use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. As they pointed out, taking the stairs is not only good for your health, it’s also good for the environment. You’ll burn calories for yourself at the same time that you help the environment by saving electricity. (See the full NY City Health Campaign Press Release.)

Climbing Stairs to Lose Weight

Climbing stairs will definitely help you lose weight, and it will also improve your fitness level and tone up the muscles in your lower body. How much weight will you lose? That depends on how many stairs you climb!

As we said above, climb the stairs for just two minutes per day and you’ll lose one pound over the course of a year. But you can get shed many more pounds by increasing your climbing.

To calculate your specific weight loss, look at the chart above and find your calorie burn based on your gender and weight. The chart shows calories burned for 60 minutes of climbing stairs, at various difficulties.

You will lose one pound for every 3,500 calories that you burn. (So start climbing!)

Are Stairs Bad for Your Knees?

Climbing stairs does put added pressure on your knees. This amounts to about double your body weight. That sounds like a lot, but running increases the pressure on your knees by about three to four times your body weight. So it you have knee problems or if you are very overweight, you should check with your doctor before climbing stairs. But otherwise, climbing stairs is a great, relatively low-impact exercise.

But careful! We said climbing stairs. Going down stairs is actually very hard on your knees, adding pressure of about six or seven times your body weight. So if you have bad knees you should take the elevator down!

Try the Stairmaster at the Gym

If you do belong to a gym, you should try the Stairmaster or similar stair-climbing machine. Since it simulates climbing the stairs (and not going down), you get a great workout with minimal impact on your knees. It’s a great alternative to a traditional treadmill workout.

Stair Climbing Tips

While climbing stairs is a great workout, you should be cautious and you should start slowly.

  • If you aren’t already fit, you should start with only about 25 – 30 steps. As that starts to feel easier, you can increase the number of steps.
  • Unless you have short legs or knee problems, you can boost your stair workout by taking the steps two a time. That will intensify the workout on your quads and glutes (your legs and butt).
  • In general, you should keep your back either straight or leaning slightly forward. But don’t arch your back, lean from your hips. On your way down the stairs, be sure you don’t lock your knees or over-extend them.
  • Be aware of the handrail. If you are just starting out or feeling unsteady, you may want to use the handrail — or at least be ready to grab it if needed.
  • If you are climbing in an isolated set of stairs, you should do your workout with a partner. That will give you some motivation and keep you safe in case you fall or otherwise injure yourself.

Start Climbing

Stairs are a great tool to add to your fitness arsenal. If you are out of shape or have bad knees, you should check with your doctor first. But otherwise, you should start taking the stairs whenever possible. And you can also start some stair workouts — either using the stair-climbing machine at the gym or finding a staircase or stadium that you can climb.

Do you take the stairs instead of the elevator? Do you do stair climbing workouts? Do you have any tips or advice? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

References & Sources: (show)(hide)

    • Weil, Andrew, M.D..
    • “Build Stamina with Stair Climbing”
    • Tempe, AZ: Weil Lifestyle, LLC.
    • Web. 8 August 2012.

Leave a Comment

All comments are moderated.

* Denotes required field.