This post may contain affiliate links. It costs you nothing and helps keep the lights on and weights racked here at Students Fitness. Read our affiliate disclosure if you're having trouble sleeping.
“Don’t skip leg day!” is an oft-repeated mantra you should follow.
Table of Contents
But what’s the best type of leg day?
Is it nothing but heavy squats?
Those can both be good, but few things exercise your legs like stairs.
When it comes to stairs, the master is the StairMaster.
Add in some HIIT and you get a very beneficial workout in about as much time as you had to get from one class to another in high school.
What Is a StairMaster?
Everyone knows that climbing stairs is a bit of a workout.
But actually combining a stairwell with your exercise regime can be difficult.
How many places do you know that are set up to let you ascend stairs for a good twenty minutes at a time?
Chances are that your college is not 30 stories tall, unlike Wayside School.
Also, you can’t adjust normal stairs for resistance.
So when you worked out enough that climbing stairs has become easy, how do you make it harder?
Use a StairMaster!
A StairMaster is similar to a treadmill except with stairs, if you couldn’t tell from the name.
When you climb stairs, you use more muscles with each step.
Think of it as a sort of half-squat every time you go up a little bit further.
How Does it Work?
Since a StairMaster is much like a treadmill, you basically use it like one.
Except, instead of running on a flat surface, your feet meet individual steps with every step you take.
This lets you choose how fast the steps come at you.
The speed typically ranges from under 30 steps per second to over 160 steps per second!
At that rate, I’d be taking them two steps at a time.
However, a StairMaster has even more customizability than a treadmill. There’s more than just speed.
On some StairMasters, you can control the resistance required for each step.
This little change lets you blow your workouts out of the water, in ways you can’t achieve with a normal set of stairs.
These benefits make StairMasters great for HIIT workouts.
A Quick Primer on HIIT
If you’ve read my other articles, you know that I am a big fan of HIIT workouts.
They wear you out in a good way, without hours of grueling busywork.
You can punch out an HIIT workout in under 20 minutes!
The idea is simple. You alternate workout intervals, going between high and low intensity.
A good starter is to warm up then perform an intense workout for 20 seconds then a slow, moderately intense workout for 40 seconds.
That slow workout functions as an active recovery while the fast exercise hits you hard, but safely.
Aim for about 50% of your maximum level of intensity for the “rest” portion of the workout.
For the high-intensity portions, try to go close to your maximum level of intensity.
You can find more information here.
A Good, Simple StairMaster HIIT Workout
If you’re new to either StairMasters or HIIT workouts, I recommend trying this routine first.
It’s simple and easy to learn. The best part is, it’s still very effective!
First, you want to warm up.
This is important for any physical activity.
I like to do some light stretches and some bodyweight squats, lunges, and some jogging.
I also like to do some standing knee raises to get into the groove of stepping up.
Sure, you’ll look like you’re marching in place, but the following exercise will more than make up for it by helping you get impressive legs.
Once you start the HIIT portion of the workout, get that StairMaster going.
Figure out what speeds you need to go slow and fast.
Start with the slower speed.
Climb those steps for 40 seconds.
Now, hit that StairMaster into fast mode!
Climb at a near-sprint for 20 seconds!
Once that’s done, slow back down.
Repeat the slow/fast rounds until you’ve gone for at least fifteen minutes.
Modifying the Routine
If you can’t survive 15 minutes with the recommended routine then you can extend the duration of the active rests.
If you make it to 15 minutes and have the oomph to spare, add more rounds.
Once you’ve made it to 20 minutes, there are several ways to make the workout more difficult.
The first is to extend the amount of time you spend moving at maximum intensity, in 5-second increments.
I wouldn’t go for more than 30 seconds in a sprint.
Make sure to add 10 seconds to the slow portion for every 5 seconds added to the fast portion!
The second way to make the exercise harder is to increase the resistance necessary for the steps to move.
However, not every StairMaster model has this capability.
Finally, you can increase the complexity of the workout, which I cover below.
Don’t forget to cool down a bit before throwing in the towel!
Jog around the gym a bit and stretch a little, then shower and relax.
A Great, More Complex StairMaster HIIT Workout
You don’t have to just move up the stairs one step at a time or in one direction.
Before, we had slow climbs and sprints.
We’re going to add several different exercises to the routine.
Often, when I take the stairs, I do so two steps at a time.
This longer stride gets you to the top more quickly.
It also increases the range of motion and therefore has a greater effect on your muscles!
You don’t have to face forward when climbing the stairs.
If you face to one side and move sideways, you use different parts of your muscles than you would use normally.
This can benefit your outer hips, which are often overlooked.
Note that this is inherently less safe than walking directly up the stairs!
Hold onto the handrail and set the speed to slower than you think you need it to be, at least until you are experienced in looking like a crab at the gym.
Lastly, make sure that you alternate which side you facing.
This is perhaps the most difficult addition.
But it works out your glutes and hamstrings better than you can imagine, along with other benefits.
Much like the side steps, go slow and don’t be afraid to hold onto the rail.
Putting It All Together
When you transition to the complex HIIT StairMaster routine, I recommend adding only one of the new exercises at a time.
So, the first time, it would look like this (after the warm-up, of course):
1. Slow Climb – 40 seconds
2. Sprint – 20 seconds
3. Slow Climb – 40 seconds
4. Double Steps – 20 seconds
Repeat until you’re done.
When you add the side steps, make sure to exercise both sides. I prefer to hit each side as its own discrete part of the workout.
5. Slow Climb – 40 seconds
6. Left-Facing Side Steps – 20 seconds
7. Slow Climb – 40 seconds
8. Right-Facing Side Steps – 20 seconds
When that movement is comfortable, probably several workout days down the road, add in the backward climbs.
9. Slow Climb – 40 seconds
10. Backward Climbs – 20 seconds
You may have noticed that this adds up to 5 minutes.
So, if you do 1 through 10 three times, that’s a full workout in 15 minutes!
Feel free to modify things as you see fit.
For example, I like to toss a sprint round in between the side steps and backward climbs.
HIIT with a StairMaster is easy and effective.
Climb the stairs fast then climb them slowly for a basic workout.
Then you can toss in some oddball climbing methods to work out the muscles in different ways.
Why not try something entirely different as well, such as climbing up the StairMaster on all four limbs, like as in a bear crawl?
You’ll look silly but it’ll be a fun, short, effective workout!