• By Cynthia Weiss

Mayo Clinic Q and A: 5 stair exercises to do at home

August 5, 2021
a young woman, perhaps Latina or Asian, in workout clothes exercising on her stairs at home

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Like many people, I am now working at home. Unfortunately, with my schedule, I have not been able to work out regularly, outside of running downstairs for a quick snack between meetings. What can I do at home for exercise?

ANSWER: You don't need fancy gym equipment to get a good workout. You certainly do not even need to leave your home. Squeeze some quick exercise into your day by simply stepping onto your stairs.

Research shows that stair-climbing helps strengthen and tone your leg muscles. It keeps your leg arteries flexible, allowing blood to move more easily. Better blood flow in your legs equals a healthier heart and body.

Taking a three-minute stroll up and down the stairs after a meal also may help you control your blood sugar. Skimp on sleep last night? If you're a young woman, stair-climbing may wake you up better than a small cup of coffee.

A simple stroll up and down the stairs gives you an aerobic workout. But you can get an even greater health boost by adding in a few resistance and balance-related moves.

Step up your daily exercise routine with these five simple stair exercises:

1. Stair pushup

  • Firmly place your hands on a step. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders.
  • Push your toes into the floor and extend your legs into a plank position. You should feel your core, or stomach, muscles working.
  • Inhale and bend your elbows. Lower your body until your chest is just above the stairs.
  • Exhale while straightening your arms and raising your body back to the starting position.
  • Keep your neck and back in a neutral position during this exercise. Don't let your hips drop.
  • If you can't lower your body to the stairs, use the next higher step.

2. Stair crawl

  • Begin at the bottom of the stairs, on your arms and legs.
  • Your arms should be under your shoulders, knees below your hips, and feet resting on the ground.
  • Slowly raise up to your toes, lifting both knees off the floor.
  • Keep your back in a neutral position.
  • Begin crawling up the steps by moving your opposite arm and leg forward at the same time to the next step.
  • Alternate this cross-body pattern for the desired number of stairs you wish to climb.

3. Stair lunge

  • Facing away from the stairs, stand tall with your feet shoulder-distance apart.
  • Move your left leg backward to rest on a step.
  • Inhale, bend your right knee, and lower your body.
  • Exhale and extend your legs, then return to a standing position.
  • Your front knee should be over the center of your front foot. Don't let the knee bend beyond your toes.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions before switching to put the right foot on a step.

4. Step up

  • Stand tall with feet shoulder-distance apart in front of a step.
  • Tighten your core and place your left foot flat on the step while keeping your spine straight.
  • Shift your weight onto the left foot.
  • Breathe out, press through the left heel and move your body up onto the step.
  • Place the right foot entirely on the step. Breathe in, and then slowly lower your left foot to the floor.
  • Return the right foot to the floor to return to your standing position.
  • Continue leading with the left leg until you've completed your goal number of repetitions, then repeat on the opposite side.
  • Want a bigger challenge? Hold a dumbbell or weighted object in the opposite hand of the stepping leg.

5. Side step

  • Stand with your feet parallel, or sideways, to the stairs. The right side of your body should be closest to the stairs.
  • Using your stomach muscles, bend your knees and hips slightly.
  • Step the right foot onto the first step, followed by the left.
  • Continue this stepping motion until you've reached the top of the stairs.
  • Always lead with the high foot. Don't let your feet cross while climbing up the stairs.
  • Walk back down the stairs and repeat the sequence with the left leg leading.
  • Alternatively, you can stay on one step going up with the right leg and then down to the starting position.

Stair safety

Good balance is a must for any stair activity. Before starting any type of stair exercise, make sure you are steady on your feet. If you cannot stand on one leg for 45 seconds without holding onto something, you may not be able to safely perform some of these exercises. If you aren't sure if you should give them a try, ask your health care provider if stair exercises are safe for you.

And, last, put your phone down. Scrolling through social media, or answering a text or call during a stair exercise, could lead to a dangerous misstep and fall. — Dr. Thomas Rizzo Jr., Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida

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