Stair Running: A Climb to the Peak of Fitness

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Stair running is superb training for running. In addition to strengthening the muscles around the knees, stair running builds stamina and overall lower-body strength, works the gluteal muscles and quadriceps more than road running and is a highly efficient workout in terms of the amount of time spent at very high intensity.

What's the catch? In a word, it's a killer.

"Although it's phenomenal for conditioning, stair running is tougher than most runners realize," says New York Road Runners Club wellness director Beryl Bender. "Even stair-climbing machines seem easy in comparison."

If you plan to ascend the hard way (real runners take the stairs), follow these steps for safe climbs:

Locate Safe, Well-Lit Stairs. If you run inside a building's stairwell, the stairs should access every floor and ideally continue for at least 20 flights. Climb with friends.

Focus on Running Up. Maintain proper form by leaning slightly forward and striking with the balls of your feet. Pace yourself. Use the handrail for balance if you need to.

Don't Run Down, Which Stresses the Knees and Ankles. Use elevators or descend slowly. If you're in a stadium, descend at an angle rather than walking straight down to minimize impact.

Start Gradually, With Two Round-Trip Sets. Build to five, and run them no more than twice a week. Never exceed 30 minutes at a time.

Walk If You Need To. Alternate one floor of walking with one or two floors of running. Gradually increase the running as you become more fit and comfortable with the workout.