What do you see most trainers at the park using a large step or a set of stairs for? Dips, step ups, sometimes the occasional feet elevated pushup or teaching someone to squat properly. Or maybe its the good old boxing drill: run up the stairs, 20 punches, run back down, repeat.
Don’t get me wrong, these are all great drills that will give your clients great results. I use them all of the time, especially with my small groups.
But what happens when you’ve already done them before? What about those clients that have been training with you for a year or more and are still expecting you to dish up fun and new exercises?
You go online to Bootcamp Ideas!
Ideas For Exercising Using Stairs
Here are some stair drills I’ve used to great success. I hope you find at least one new thing that you haven’t tried before.
For the purposes of the drills below take the following meanings for stairs and steps (see the bear crawl picture below for examples of both):
Stairs – Small sets of stairs anywhere from 10-20cm high.
Steps – Large steps around 50-60cm high. Two or three smaller stairs can be used if you don’t have anything like this available.
1. Stairway To Cone Heaven (Cardio)
Required: 50+ cones, 2 stairways or one large enough for two lanes of foot traffic
Place a pile of cones at the top of the stairs. Starting at the bottom, clients must run up one set of stairs, grab a cone and then run back down to the bottom. Clients keep going until all cones are retrieved. Vary the intensity by increasing/decreasing the length of stairs to run or the number of cones.
2. Every Single Stair (Cardio)
Required: A long set of stairs (50+)
- Start at the bottom.
- Run to the top stepping on every single stair (don’t skip any). Walk back down.
- Run to the top skipping every second step. Walk back down.
- Run to the top only stepping on every third step. Walk back down.
- Run to the top stepping on every single stair again. Walk back down.
3. Loops (Cardio/Filler)
Required: Hills, bends, stairs
This one is more of a tip then a drill. Before your workout, plot out a 100-300m course that uses some of the stairs and hills in your park/area. Between drills send your clients off on a couple laps of this ‘loop’. Make it challenging and memorable so that you can use it again for future workouts.
See also my article: Bootcamp Drills Using Stairs and Hills to Improve Running Endurance
4. Step Up-Squat-Step up (Strength)
Required: Several steps leading upwards
This is a great exercise for the lower body. Starting at the bottom, the client starts off by doing a step up on the first step. Then a squat. Then a step up with the other leg onto the next step. Then another squat. This continues until the top is reached. Increase the intensity by increasing the number of squats on each step. Eg. Step 1 do 1 squat, on step 2 do 2, on step 3 do 3, etc
(Bonus) 5. Crazy Core (Exercises)
Required: Stairs or steps
Use these FUNctional exercises to spice up your bootcamp workout.
Stair crawl (down): This variation of the bear crawl involves going head first down it. This is tough as nails so start beginners on sets of 5 or so stairs. Once you start crawling down, there’s no backing out!
Stair crawl (up): As above, but crawling and facing upwards. This is much easier then the down version which makes it good for beginners. Have fitter clients add in a pushup every 5 steps to make it tougher.
Clocks: In a pushup position, place feet on a stair/step that is around knee height. Trying to keep your hips from rocking, as you walk your hands in a semicircle movement. Your feet should stay in the same position giving you the appearence from above of a clock hand. Keep walking the hands until you reach the steps, then move back in the opposite direction.
Step-up to lunge: Like it sounds, step up on your right leg. Step back down on your left leg. Step back into a reverse lunge with your right leg. Return to the start and repeat. Do one leg for about 30 seconds and then swap.
Fast-feet: Start with one foot at the base of the stairs and one foot on the first stair. Switch your feet over. Try to keep the weight on the back foot so that the front foot just lightly taps the first stair. Do this for time as a heart rate raiser.
Things To Be Mindful Of When Exercising On Stairs
While it’s never happened to me (touch wood) it’s important to remember that the risk for injury is higher on stairs and steps.
You can reduce this risk by avoiding running down stairs (walk instead), avoiding slick steps when it’s been wet and by listening to your clients. If you’ve got a client that does not feel coordinated enough to navigate a stair drill, simply give them an easier alternative or a different exercise.
Check out this workout that uses stairs for running and exercise: AMRAP and Chipper Combined Workout
What drills do you like doing with your clients on steps and stairs? Share them in the comments below.
Originally published November 21, 2011. Updated and republished September 9, 2023.
Kyle Wood created Bootcamp Ideas in 2010 when he was hunting around on the internet for workout ideas. He ran a successful bootcamp in Victoria, Australia and spends his spare time managing this site, adventuring (or lazying) with his wife and find new ways to make bootcamps even better.