Top 7 Stair Climbing Exercises

I’m not the best stair climber in the world, but I am in the top 50, and this allows me access to insider info from tower running’s most elite climbers! In fact they are all super nice guys, and thanks to Mark Trahanovski (who is the “glue” that holds all the elites together), they have a pretty tight network.

Learn from the best

These guys have taught me a ton, and while most of the training techniques I have learned make sense to me because of my background in exercise science, there still were a few that surprised me. Since we all want the sport to grow, the elites don’t mind giving up some of their “secrets” and training strategies to beginners and enthusiasts, so I am sharing some of the best.

Try these out and see for yourself. They have already been proven by the best climbers in the world. These guys are winning for a reason! If you think you have a better idea however, let me know! Maybe you do. There are great new techniques being invented by climbers every day.

I’ve also had the privilege of coaching some climbers to success. In fact, five of the climbers I have coached are listed with me in the top 70 world rank at This gives me certain bragging rights. And the fact that most of them are now faster than me now (LOL), gives some credibility to the idea that you can rely on this info to make you faster too.

Try ’em. We dare ya.

If you are a team captain for a stair climb race, you may want to use the info on this blog and my X Gym stair page to help your team get faster too. The X Gym has won fastest team in our last five races, so we are definitely on a streak. Make this your tips and tricks page and visit back often, because I will be updating it frequently with other top seven lists to make you faster and stronger. Why? Because the X Gym team needs the competition!

OK, enough bragging and chest thumping for now. Let’s get to the content, shall we? Here are the (current) seven best exercises I know of for stair climb training. This sport requires strength, cardio and endurance; using lower and upper body muscles (remember the rails) as well as core, so it really does showcase well-rounded, functional fitness.

1. Stair Running

Duh, right? Well yeah, but it’s probably not like you think. Regular tower running up a skyscraper may not be the best idea. In fact, that might make you slower. It is best to use a building for training, because you get to take the elevator back down and descending stairs doesn’t help you (and may even hurt you). But it’s how you use that building that is the key. Mixing it up with different training techniques would be that “how.” The top tower runners typically train up 30 stories (or less) at a time. Sometimes they do it more than once, but rest for a few minutes in between runs. Other times they use a weight vest, sometimes they sprint, or mix up their rail techniques and some even mix it up with backwards climbing. The point is, variety is the key to preventing brain burnout and over-training.

2.  Spin Bike

One of the top world climbers is a spinning instructor. Nuf said, right? Almost. It pays off to mix up that type of training too. Check out for a killer upright bike routine that doesn’t take much time at all. The spinning bike works so well because it is very close to the range of motion of climbing itself. Real bikes don’t work as well because it is harder to do sprints due to terrain and interruptions like traffic and intersections. You can do intervals on a bike path, but be sure to use the brakes during the sprint phases or you’ll be going a gazillion miles per hour at the end of each sprint segment, and will also need to be a really good shifter.

3.  Mountain Running

Some of the most naturally gifted tower runners are also mountain runners. Since the vertical component is what makes this sport so different (and grueling), it only makes sense that people who are good at running up stuff are also good at tower running. Mountain running however does require running back down, and this can be hard on your joints and muscles. Down is also not sport-specific, so it doesn’t help you out in tower running. What is the solution then? Put your treadmill on the highest incline, which brings me to #4…

4. Incline Treadmill Running

I had to list mountain running before this one, because mountain runners are so darn good at stair racing. It is also easier to keep going as a mountain runner because you are outside, being inspired by God’s creation. A treadmill is harder to sustain, but it does have the benefit of not having to go back down the hill (or mountain) you just ran up. I use the incline trainer quite a bit, but I do intervals on that too, because I get bored fast and this limits my training time. At the X Gym, we have incline trainers that go to a 50% grade, so it’s easy to create a super steep hill.

Your treadmill will probably max out at 12-15% grade, but that’s ok. Just go faster. You can do intervals by jumping off and placing your feet to the sides of the belt in between sprints. Mix up your routines, because as always, variety will is your best friend.  Don’t forget to get to do some sustained running from time to time though, because remember, those darn mountain runners are good for a reason! You can’t argue with success.

5. Rope Machine

If you are an X Gym member, you know what this is. If not, neener neener! You will have to miss out or get one yourself ( This machine makes a huge difference in your arm endurance for railing. The same advice goes for this exercise: mix it up.

6. Lunges

This will give you the strength you need in the muscles most used in climbing. Check out the different varieties and levels at the bottom of this page:

7. Core Work

The core is vital for the transfer of power between your upper and lower body. A weak core will cause this power to dissipate instead of transfer, and any power lost is time lost up the tower! Variety is the key here too, but the link above will give you a great routine to start with (or progress to).

The eighth component

I didn’t mention mental training here because that’s a whole post by itself, but the mental aspect to this sport is huge. In fact, it is probably 80% of it or more (once you are in shape for this sport and racing) so stay tuned for more on that subject soon.

Use healthy caution

Remember that any and all advice you hear from me or any other “expert” in health or fitness should be run by your doctor first to make sure it is right for you. The training I recommend is always high intensity, because tower running is the most intense sport I have experienced. High intensity training is not for everyone, and people even can die if they aren’t ready for it. Folks die at stair climbs too, so make sure you are ready for this type of training and for this sport before you start!