Catch a Flight… of Stairs


Running stairs is a great way to get yourself into shape, and there are a number of benefits that you will enjoy simply by adding some stairs to your training routine. – BY RAY ORCHISON

Running up and down stairs as a form of interval session is a great way to build leg power, which is a key ingredient in running, plus it’s a great cardio workout. In other words, it won’t take much to put your lungs into oxygen debt, and because the added bonus to that is because you go into debt quickly, you’ll be working hard to keep your rhythm, pace and form, which is great mind-training for the last few kilometres of your next race.

The most important thing to remember is that running stairs takes practice and concentration, because the slightest misstep could end up with a nasty tumble or injuring yourself. Also, when adding anything new to your training, it is crucial to add it gradually and to ease into it, so if you experience any sharp pain while running stairs, stop immediately and give your body a few days to recover before attempting another stairs workout. Another essential is to make sure you warm up properly with an easy 20 to 30min jog, then start by walking up and down the stairs a few times before you begin running them.

1. Find a suitable set of stairs: If you are a Gautenger and live close to Westcliff, then the 400m Westcliff stairs are a good choice. Other options would be a stadium or school in your area. If you travel a lot, use the hotel stairs, because most people in a hotel will take the lift, which leaves the stairs traffic-free for your workout.

2. Focus on your form: Running stairs is about building leg strength and power, so focus on leg extension and driving yourself up the stairs with a high knee-lift while pumping your arms. Don’t lean forward from your hips, rather keep an upright posture with a slight lean forward from your ankles, almost like you’re ‘falling’ into the stairs.

3. What goes up, must come down: Be very careful coming down the stairs, because it’s the descent that can cause damage and injury if too much strain is put on your knees and lower back. When running back down the stairs, try to focus on using your quads and hips to absorb the impact, and not your knees. For the first few sessions, rather walk back down – you can start jogging down once you start getting more confident on the stairs. The walk down is also a good recovery before you go bounding back to the top.

It is not necessary to include a stair session every week in your training, but these sessions are a great way to mix things up every now and then by replacing a hill session. With all these sessions, start with a 20min warm-up, then walk two to three reps up and down the stairs, and finish off with a 15-20min easy cool-down jog.

Workout 1 Workout 2 Workout 3
Run 3 x 10-20 steps, then walk back down to recover.   Run 5 x 10-20 steps, skipping every second stair, then walk back down to recover Run 3 x 5 x 20-50 steps, skipping every second stair, easy jog down to recover

About the Author
Ray Orchison is a Johannesburg-based USATF and NAASFP certified coach. Find him at or