A beginner's guide to stair climbing
PJ Glassey is the CEO of X-Gym, and an avid stair climbing. He believes stair climbing is the best workout in world, as it’s free, low impact, and high intensity. Glassey and him fellow X-Gym members are continuously in the Top 20 of the Big Climb and other stair climbing events around the Pacific Northwest. (Image: Joshua Lewis / Seattle Refined)

A beginner's guide to stair climbing

In honor of today's Big Climb at the Columbia Center for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, we take a look at arguably the cheapest and easiest workout on your body: stair climbing. 

In a hilly city like Seattle, stairs can be found everywhere. While that might prove a pain when walking home from the grocery store, it's a blessing when trying to work out. PJ Glassey is the CEO of Seattle's X-Gym, and an avid stair climber who calls it the 'best workout on the planet'. He and fellow X-Gym members have routinely placed in the top 20 of the 3,000 participants in the Big Climb for the last couple years. 

"Stair climbing is the ideal exercise because it's low impact," said Glassey. "Which pretty much guarantees no injuries."

Not to mention, it's free. In this day and age when personal trainers, barre classes and yoga can run upwards of $100 a class, saving this kind of money AND seeing fitness results is priceless. 

"If you work in a building with more than 10 flight of stairs, there is no reason why you shouldn't be using them as your personal gym," said Glassey.

And if you don't, no worries. Here's a map of outdoor local stairs in the greater Seattle area where you can take your workout. 

Another pro? Glassey says that a solid 10 minute intense stair climbing workout can burn the same amount of calories as an hour long jog. So we're not only talking saving money, but time as well.

We asked PJ to put together a short beginner's workout for people (like me) who have never done stair climbing as a workout, and who aren't aiming to be Top 5 at the Big Climb. Or even planning on ever climbing 69 flights. Ever. Who knew there was a right and wrong way to ascend, descend, and even hold onto the rail? You do now. 

Before you start, note a couple of PJ's tips:

  • Descending. If you can, always take the elevator down stairs. Going down can be incredibly hard on your body, and if you're doing multiple reps, can give you a level of soreness the next day that no one wants. If you're outside and have to walk back down, use the descending techniques in the photo gallery to make it easier on your body.
  • Rail. Use the rail going up and down. This gives you an upper body workout as well and keeps your gait in check (falling down stairs sucks)!
  • Breathing. Breathe through the nose and out the mouth as long as you can. This will improve your endurance and allow you to push harder.
  • Double step. Take stairs two at a time if you can. This might seem like it's harder, but single stepping actually exerts more energy.


PJ's Rookie Stair Climb Workout 

1. Start slow with a warm up pace for 3-4 minutes, going up and down the stairs of your choice. This gets your heart and lungs warmed up and ready for the upcoming workout. 

2. Go at a medium pace for 1-2 minutes. This breaks your system in, both physically and mentally so you're prepared to work hard.

3. Spend the next four minutes doing Tabata training. Tabata is an interval program that mixes 20 seconds of activity with 10 seconds of rest. Here's a breakdown:

  • Sprint 100% intensity for 20 seconds.
  • Slow down (to a near stop) for 10 seconds and concentrate on breathing, relaxing and recovering.
  • Another 100% sprint for 20 seconds. This sprint will probably be about as fast as your last sprint.
  • Another 10 seconds slow recovery interval.
  • Another 100% sprint for 20 seconds. This sprint won’t be as fast as the last one, but that’s okay – just make sure it’s still 100% effort.
  • Another 10 seconds slow recovery interval.
  • Another 100% sprint for 20 seconds. Now you are slowing down considerably on your sprints, but no worries – only the 100% effort matters!
  • Another 10 seconds slow recovery interval.
  • Another 100% sprint for 20 seconds. That this point, 100% effort feels more like cold molasses, but that’s okay, speed has become irrelevant and your continued full effort is all that remains.
  • Another 10 seconds slow recovery interval.
  • Another 100% sprint for 20 seconds. If you are really putting in 100% effort into all of your sprint segments, you will be laughing at yourself by this point at how slow your 100% is.
  • Another 10 seconds slow recovery interval.
  • Another 100% sprint for 20 seconds. You’re 100% now is a total joke, but remember that speed doesn’t matter, only 100% effort matters!
  • Another 10 seconds slow recovery interval.
  • Another 100% sprint for 20 seconds. Last one! Go for it! If you can go faster on this one then the last one, then you were sandbagging on some of the other sprints, so just learn from it and push harder next time.
  • Another 10 seconds slow recovery interval.

4. Finish with one more easy climb, and force a smile on your face during it. Why? The brain remembers the last part of your workout, and so ending with a pleasant experience will help your brain remember things more favorably. 

5. Cool down and stretch. 


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