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Stair Climb Workouts for Sculpted Calves and Legs

Coaching, Training

I remember one of the early Muscle Mag articles about my athletes said that one of the key differences on stage between my clients and others came when my clients turned around, and you saw their backs, their hamstrings, and their calves. They were more ripped and more sculpted.

This wasn’t just the kind of puff-up piece that was so common in the magazines in those days. In the early years of training physique competitors, my clients had a very distinct look and a very distinct advantage that was well ahead of the pack. Leg development and hard tight glutes were both a signature marker of my competitors. This was long before getting those kinds of results could be had with pharmaceuticals. (For a period of time, though, gym folklore had it that I made special drugs in my bathtub that I only gave to my competitors and no one else. I kid you not, that was the gossip.)

The reason my athletes stood out is that I had a very specific contest-prep training technique that I managed to keep secret for a number of years: real, actual stair climbing.

Last year, a good friend of mine back east downsized out of her house and purchased a very nice condo in a high rise building. She usually loves going for walks but it was incredibly bitter cold and there was a ton of snow. So… I just gave her one of my top training competitor peaking-strategies from back in the day – climbing real stairs!!!!! She loved it.

Below I’ll outline how to progress with these workouts, and then I’ll show you an example application for a client who was going to be away for 4-6 months and had “no” gym.


Let me be real clear about this before I outline how to progress stair climbing workouts for lower body and glutes sculpting: no other piece of cardio equipment can match this.

A “Stairmaster” isn’t the same. An elliptical machine isn’t the same.

Real, actual stair climbing is he KING of lower-body sculpting without weights. The foot hitting the concrete/cement stair cannot be duplicated by machines.

This was my top secret contest-prep training tactic that set my competitors apart, back in the day. (Of course my clients also trained their legs with weights. Let’s be clear on that. The point is that this gave them that bit of extra oomph to really peak on stage, especially in the hams and calves.)

I’ve since employed these stair-climbing workouts with clients all over the world, without weights, and they see amazing results and have fantastic workouts.

If you want to shape and sculpt your legs from front to back and from heels to waist—with round tight glutes—and you need to do it without weights, well here is how you can do it. This isn’t great for putting of lots of size, but it’s perfect for sculpting.

The Star Climbing Workouts



Rule #3: Next, you need at least 8 flights of stairs. However, no more than 10 flights is necessary. Fewer than 8 flights upsets the balance between contractile forces of going up and going down. One or two flights is pretty much useless; so 8 flights is your minimum and 10 is your sweet spot. You can progress to 12 flights if you like at some point, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Like most training strategies the features that matter most are frequency, duration and intensity. I’ll show you how to progress all of three of these in an efficient manner.

Beginning (week 1 to weeks 2-3)

Never hold on to the railings, ever!

To begin your staircase workouts, walk slowly up 8 flights of stairs and walk slowly down. Our intensity is low right now. Repeat this twice, perhaps three times if twice was no problem. The duration of this beginner approach should take at least 5-10 mins, and the frequency should be 2-3 times per week.

After 2-3 weeks, this should feel fairly comfortable. At this point, increase the sessions to 3 times per week, for a minimum of 20 minutes each session—still walking up and walking down.

Intermediate to Advanced (weeks 5-6)

By weeks 5 or 6, you can begin to progress the intensity.

You have already progressed in terms of frequency and duration, but now it’s time to progress the actual climbing intensity.

Here’s how you do it properly:

  • First, do a military march up the stairs and jog down the stairs. A military march just means swinging your arms deliberately and forcefully and lifting your knees a bit higher. Swing the arms both while going up the staircase and while coming down. Your pace should also be faster at this point, without really concentrating on making it so.
  • Second, every third trip up, take it two steps at a time instead of one on your way up, and jog down normally, instead of walking down.
  • Third, you should progress up to 10 trips up and down each session, or about 35-40 minutes max, whichever comes later.
  • Lastly, in terms of frequency, at the advanced level you can go 3 to 4 times per week, for 35-45 minutes each session. I have had clients who have pushed this to 5 times per week but I really don’t recommend that. It can take too much of a toll on the knees.

No matter how advanced you get, you never, ever run up the stairs and down. Listen, running stairs is fine for athletic conditioning, but for physique sculpting, it’s not optimal. What I’ve outlined above is optimal. Don’t start tweaking it.

Be very aware to not progress this sequence too quickly from beginner to intermediate to advanced. If you do, the first place you will feel this is in your calves and the pain can be debilitating at best, crippling at worst! So, proceed as instructed above. And as always, stay safe.

Example Application:

Stair Climbing + Dumbbell Matrix

A couple of years ago I had a client who wrote me who was just getting started on her fitness and transformation journey. She was crushed because her job was sending her away to a big city for training, and she could end up being gone for 4-6 months. She thought, “There goes all my progress.”

After exchanging emails I found out she was being put up in a very modern high-rise hotel complete with a kitchen. That meant that there was no real reason she couldn’t stay at least somewhat regimented on her diet.

Her training would be another story. The hotel’s gym was crap—mostly some cardio equipment and a tight floor space and light DB’s that only went up to about 25 lbs. Also, given she would be working long and unpredictable hours, she didn’t think she could get to a real commercial gym regularly.

“No problem!” was my answer.

You see this client was very highly motivated in real terms. She had already proven that to me. (This is important for making training in non-traditional ways work.)

I assigned her the stair climbing 3 days per week right there in her own hotel, and on two other optional days per week, she did my Dumbbell Matrix for three to four rounds at an intermediate level.

At about 8-10 weeks she wrote me absolutely thrilled by how much her body was changing, particularly her legs and glutes. She was beyond thrilled!

But then, a few weeks later she wrote me, concerned about a new dilemma.

Her job training was finally over. And they were sending her home. And of course she was glad to be going home. Her new dilemma was that she was so beyond thrilled with her transformation results from the staircase climbing workouts, she didn’t want to give them up! And the closest high rise building she could get access to back home was a good 15 minutes’ drive for her.

So she went from being concerned about losing all her progress before her trip, to being concerned about losing all her progress after her trip, because she loved the staircase climbing workouts so much!

Fitness Lesson: We always have options!


If you are ever traveling and you can stay in a high rise hotel, consider the staircase your gym!

It boggles my mind every time I travel and stay in a nice high rise hotel, how many people I see in the hotel gym on the treadmill or bike or whatever piece of cardio is there. Aside from using weights or resistance bands, they could be stairclimbing right in the same building.

If you can’t or you don’t want to train with weights, but you want to transformat your lower body and glutes, no other piece of equipment replaces climbing real stairs for fitness and for lower body sculpting. It’s not even close!

Just remember the three rules above. Start slow, progress slow, and you need at least 8 flights of stairs minimum to do this right.

Happy climbing! You’ll be glad you did, and at 12 weeks you won’t believe the difference.

Can you really achieve sculpted, athletic legs and glutes without weights? Try the above and get back to me.