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Why Walking Up Stairs Can Be Harder than Running a Mile

Hey Angels and Alphas,

Whether you’ve done it for weight loss or not, everyone has had that moment in our lives when we walk up several flights of stairs and feel *very* winded. In fact, walking up stairs is likely to get you way more winded than running a mile, and you might have thought to yourself… why is that?

We all know and understand the fact that climbing stairs requires way more energy, therefore burning more calories per minute than traditional walking or running. And what’s more, people typically aren’t able to continuously climb stairs more and more for over 30 minutes like they can when they’re jogging.

If you’ve ever asked yourself why climbing stairs is so much more taxing on your body than walking or running, you’re the reason this post was created. We’re going to go over the various factors that each play their own role in making you all the more winded when it comes to climbing stairs, and how you can actually use that to your advantage in the future and reap benefits from both running and climbing stairs.

Here’s why distance matters less and vertical matters more.

Although the distance you cover when you’re climbing stairs is much, much shorter, you’re going to feel much more fatigued in the end.

For example, if you were to reach the top of the Empire State Building just by climbing its stairs, that’s about 86 flights of stairs. In distance terms, that’s equivalent to about 1/5 of a mile. But if you were to climb those stairs, you’d feel like you ran much more than just a fifth of a mile.

This happens mainly because you’re working against gravity. When you’re walking on a flat surface, your body movements are in accordance with gravity. But walking up (such as on an inclined surface or while climbing up stairs) you’re going to be working against gravity, thereby consuming significantly more energy.

But that’s not all – the different muscle groups in your body each play a role in this.

When you’re climbing a flight of stairs, you’re going to naturally engage muscles that you otherwise wouldn’t if you were to walk on a flat surface. As you’re engaging other muscle groups, you will start to perceive that the exertion of energy is much greater and you might feel sore afterwards.

Your strength level, your cardio, and your aptitude for endurance are all going to play a big role in this. So much so that, stair-climbing can almost resemble resistance exercise in the aspect that it leads to local muscle fatigue on the muscles of your thigh. It’s not just limited to your aerobic or endurance capacity. When you’re lifting your legs up higher as you’re climbing stairs, the extra work and added muscle engagement will always add to your perceived level of energy exertion.

This means that you’re going to need a much greater range of motion – so you can clear the steps. You will find that your gluteal muscles get activated way more when you’re climbing stairs as opposed to running or walking.

The bottom line is…

Both stair-climbing and running are forms of cardiovascular exercise that, when done consistently, will contribute positively to your overall health.

But the reality is, your cardiovascular system is independent of your muscles, and it does not know what your muscles are doing. It just understands that you’re experiencing a challenge. While research has shown that short intervals of stair-climbing can improve your cardiovascular fitness, climbing up stairs can also resemble resistance training in the sense that you’re putting your muscles against a force that puts added stress on them.

That being said, if people were to climb stairs for about 10 minutes at a slow to medium pace or just run on a flat surface for 10 minutes at a quick/intense pace, given that the heart rate for both is around the same, the benefits they would experience would be almost identical if not the same.

At the end of the day, you should opt for the form of cardio that you find most enjoyable and sustainable to do in the long term. If you love climbing stairs, great. If you love running, awesome. Just make sure you realize why climbing stairs tends to be, on your level of perception, much more difficult than walking, then use that to your advantage.

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