Step it up: 7 quick stair exercises to do at home

A creative stroll up and down the stairs tones the legs and may even control blood sugar. Try these seven easy stair exercises right now.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You don't need fancy gym equipment to get a good workout. You may 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 may also 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 seven simple stair exercises.

1. Stair pushup

Ease into stair exercises without taking a step.

  • 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 (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.

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 knees, and lower your body.
  • Exhale, extend your legs, and 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 the right leg.

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, and 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 (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.

6. Crab walks

This stair exercise starts at the top of the stairs.

  • Sit at the top of the stairs with your feet 2 steps below you and about shoulder-width apart.
  • Bring your arms behind you and place your hands on the top step.
  • Slowly raise your hips off the ground, tightening your glute muscles as you do so.
  • Press your hands into the step to keep your shoulders from rising upward.
  • Begin crawling down the steps by moving your opposite arm and leg forward at the same time to the next step.
  • Alternate this cross-body crab walk down the desired number of stairs.

For a bigger challenge, start at the bottom of the stairs and crawl up.

7. Stair hops

For this exercise, you'll perform mini-squats.

  • Stand tall with feet shoulder-distance apart on the lowest step.
  • Face toward the bottom of the stairs.
  • Lower your hips down and back by bending at the knees. Be sure to engage your stomach muscles. Jump forward off the step with both feet.
  • As you land, bend your knees to control the landing. Work on landing softly.
  • Steady your balance by swinging your arms forward.
  • Keep your knees in line with your feet. Don't let the knees collapse inward as you land.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.

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 do some of these exercises. Also, some — such as the stair hops — might be risky if you have bone loss or osteoporosis. Aren't sure if you should give them a try? Ask your doctor 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.

May 22, 2018 See more In-depth