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The Total-Body Stair Workout for a HIIT Cardio Blast

Kelly Marshall

Get yourself to a set of stairs for a workout that burns calories, challenges you at any fitness level, and leaves you chiseled. Steps are one of the most effective conditioning tools out there, says Errick McAdams, a personal trainer in Washington, D.C., known for his killer staircase circuits. That flight in your home or apartment building, at an outdoor space, or in a parking garage will work.

A set of stairs typically has a 50 to 75 percent slope, says McAdams. (To put that in perspective, a hill with a seven percent slope is considered super tough for cyclists.) The steep grade will skyrocket your fat melt—running up stairs burns up to an off-the-charts 16 calories per minute—and carve your butt, legs, and more as you climb. (It can even make you a faster runner on flat ground.) "You're balancing briefly on one foot, so lesser-used stabilizer muscles—like the hips, inner and outer thighs, and core—activate and intensify the routine's sculpting effects," explains McAdams.

Going vertical will make you stronger and firmer, and also improve your cardio capacity. "The added effort required to execute each move taxes your lungs and heart more than running on a flat surface," says McAdams. As a result, your VO2 max—the most oxygen you can utilize during exercise and a marker of your fitness level—gradually increases. The scale will thank you too. Running on stairs for 10 minutes will burn more calories than jogging for 15. Go all out in each round of this routine until your legs feel like jelly, then use the push-up intervals to let them recover as you sculpt your upper body and core. You'll be sweat-drenched and breathless at the end, but you'll be firmer too. (P.S. taking the stairs can boost brain health too.)

How it works: You'll need a set of stairs with 10 to 15 steps. Start with the warm-up, then do the next five rounds in order. It should take you about 20 minutes. Do this routine twice a week on alternate days.

Warm-up: Do three sets of 30 jumping jacks and 15 squat thrusts (crouch, plant palms on the floor, then jump feet back to plank; jump feet toward hands, then stand. Repeat).

Round 1

A. Run up and down the stairs, hitting every step. That's 1 set. Do 10 sets.
B. Get into plank position with feet on floor and hands on the third step (your body will be at a 45-degree angle). Do 10 incline push-ups.

Round 2

A. Run up the stairs, skipping every other step. (Lean slightly forward and pump arms.) Walk back down. That's 1 set. Do 10 sets.
B. Get into plank position with feet on the third step and hands on the floor (your body will form a 45-degree angle). Do 10 decline push-ups.

Round 3

A. Stand facing the stairs with feet wide. Bend knees slightly to start. Jump, swinging arms forward, landing softly in start position on the first step. Continue to the top. Walk back down. That's 1 set. Do 5 sets.
B. Get into plank position with the right side of your body parallel to the first step and right hand on the first step, left hand on the floor. Do 10 uneven push-ups.

Round 4

A. Stand at bottom of stairs with your right side parallel to the first step. Leading with your right foot, run sideways up the staircase, increasing speed as you go. Walk back down. Repeat on opposite side. That's 1 set. Do 5 sets.
B. Get into plank position with the left side of your body parallel to first stair and left hand on the first step, right hand on the floor. Do 10 uneven push-ups.

Round 5

A. Stand on bottom step facing away from stairs. Jump onto the floor. Land softly and squat until butt almost touches bottom step, then step backward onto the stair. That's 1 rep. Do 10 reps.
B. Get into plank position facing stairs with hands and feet on floor. Walk right hand onto the first step, then left hand; then walk right hand to the floor, then left hand. That's 1 rep. Do 5 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

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