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Walking up stairs offers an efficient core and lower-body workout.
Kane Skennar/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Even if you have access to a gym full of elaborate exercise equipment, one of the best exercise tools may lie between your home's basement and the main floor: a stairway. Walking up stairs, against the force of gravity, works numerous leg and core muscles and provides challenging aerobic exercise. Clearly, walking up a few flights of stairs is a step in the right direction for your health.
Stair Walking Movements
Your hips, knees and ankles must all engage when you walk up stairs. As a result, your leg and hip muscles help move your joints through a variety of motions, including hip flexion, knee extension and flexion, ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion. A 1967 British study noted that stair walking can be divided into 21 stages. Each foot remains in contact with the steps during 15 stages and swings through the air toward the next step for six stages.
When you walk upstairs you engage numerous muscles, including the hip flexors -- iliopsoas, sartorius, rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae and pectineus -- in your hips and thighs; the gluteus medius on your outer thighs; the gluteus maximus in your butt; the quadriceps group in the front of each thigh; hamstring muscles in the backs of your thighs; erector spinae along the spine of your lower back; plus the gastrocnemius, soleus and tibialis anterior in your calf and shin area.
Muscle Movements Explained
The hip flexors, as you'd expect, are responsible for hip flexion as you lift your foot to the next step. The quads extend your knees when your legs straighten. The hamstrings, sartorius and gastrocnemius flex your knees. The gastrocnemius and soleus assist during plantar flexion, when you push up from a step, while the tibialis anterior is primarily responsible for dorsiflexion when your foot lands on a step.
Stair Walking Benefits
Walking up stairs is about twice as intense as walking briskly on level ground and roughly 50 percent more challenging than climbing a steep slope, such as a hill. Even if you climb stairs slowly you'll burn two to three times as many calories as you would walking on a flat surface. You'll also burn about three times as many calories when you walk up the stairs than when you descend.