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Dear Coach: Should I Be Running Stairs This Winter?

Stair running worked for Rocky. Could it work for you, too?

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Dear coach: I see people using Stairmasters and running stairs near where I train. Is this helpful for tri?

Stair running is the type of unorthodox training that many traditional coaches might dismiss without much thought. They’ll say, “We’ve always done it this way.” As a strength coach, I give consideration to things traditional endurance coaches might not. After all, it worked for Rocky! Stair running is great year-round, but especially in the winter months, when roads are icy and athletes may be looking for a way to get in hill repeats without having to hit the treadmill.

Stair climbing works for the beginner triathlete because it builds strength, fitness, and training consistency–key factors in early development. Anything that keeps training fresh and enjoyable for someone adopting a new routine is great. Stair climbing is particularly useful for the time-crunched or overweight beginner triathlete, as it combines strength training with conditioning in one short session. Running stairs keeps the intensity up without most of the risk associated with running’s eccentric loading. With that said, care should be taken when descending stairs. Stop the activity if knee issues develop or worsen.

Running stairs is also a way to coach running technique into even experienced triathletes. One must climb with proper knee drive, coordinated arm action, and full triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles. It will build explosive power throughout hip and knee ranges of motion—very similar to cycling. Triathletes benefit from periodically activating these powerful muscle fibers—particularly in the offseason. Especially for the injury-prone runner, stair climbing is certainly something to consider.

RELATED: Ready to Become a Next-Level Runner? Take the Stairs

For running stairs, look for a staircase that takes at least 25 to 45 seconds to run. Run up, walk down for 20-40 minutes total including warm-up and cool-down. To mix it up, try the sample workout below.

Stair running workout for triathletes


5-10 minutes light jogging (not on stairs)
5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching

Main Set:

3 rounds of:
2 x 30-second staircase (two steps at a time), walk down
5-minute run (not on stairs)


5-10 minutes light jogging to walking (not on stairs)

Jonathan Noon is a triathlon coach and Kona finisher. He earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology from Baylor University. Noon is also CSCS and USAT Level 1 certified.