With winter almost upon us, our repertoire of exercises shrivels up to a few choices. In North India winter is often accompanied with fog. This makes cycling or even driving to the gym a dangerous expedition. However, hope is still at hand. There is one simple exercise that will help you maintain your fitness around the year, especially though the lean winter months. This exercise does not require any training equipment, systems, and fad diets which is mostly the result of marketing rather than a genuine effort to reach higher levels of fitness and well-being.

Your fitness should be dependent on nothing other than yourself

— Mark Lauren in “You Are Your Own Gym”

Living in Mumbai these monsoons, stair climbing was the only way I could keep myself trek ready. Fortunately for me, I lived in a 26 floor apartment block and climbing to the top four times in a row was enough to get my heart pounding and simulate a steep hill climb. However, you do not need a skyscraper for stair climbing. Any building with four floors or more provides an ample opportunity to work out. For an aspiring trekker stair climbing is one of the best forms of exercise because

Stair climbing strengthens

Stair climbing strengthens the same muscles as lunges and squats does. In addition to training leg muscles it provides an excellent cardiovascular workout by pushing your lungs and heart. “Stairs force you to work against gravity, and this helps build two essential needs for runners: strength and power” says Anne Moore M.S., an exercise physiologist and running coach. This mix of strength training and cardiovascular workout is essential whether you are looking to complete your first easy trek or aiming at a 5000 metre mountain pass. 

Did you know that – Stair climbing is officially classed as “Vigorous exercise” and burns more calories per minute than jogging


Another advantage that stair climbing provides is that unlike running it forces you to use and strengthen your muscle stabilisers like “gluteus medius”. Strong stabilising muscles help prevent injury over undulating or rough mountain terrain.

 Gluteus Medius muscle highlighted in red. By Anatomography (en:Anatomography (setting page of this image))  CC BY-SA 2.1 jp , via Wikimedia Commons

Gluteus Medius muscle highlighted in red. By Anatomography (en:Anatomography (setting page of this image)) CC BY-SA 2.1 jp , via Wikimedia Commons

Just 7 minutes stair climbing a day has been estimated to more than half the risk of a heart attack over 10 years.


Stairs are steeper than most hills. Normally Indoor stairs have a roughly 65 percent grade. Compare this to an average grade of 27 percent on Mount Everest.

”The normal Everest route through the Kumbu Icefall has a top-to-bottom average gradient (slope) of 27 percent.” Heidi Howkins in USA Today

Practising over this steep grade will build strength and pay dividents over those short stiff climbs in the Himalayas.

  Image Copyright 2013 by Passy’s World of Mathematics

Image Copyright 2013 by Passy’s World of Mathematics

Professional skiers often climb stairs to keep competition-fit. Many models do the same to keep their legs toned for the catwalk.


Descending properly and safely is an oft overlooked trekking skill. Stair descent involves motor-skill, perceptual understanding of height, and proper strategy involved in descending. This reduces the chance of an injury over long descents like the one near Chamba.

The greatest height reached climbing stairs in 12 hours was 33,000 feet by Chris Solarz of Philadelphia, USA. Solarz climbed 58,080 stairs.

Kicking It Up Another Notch

Fit enough, and want to kick stair climbs up another notch? Use ankle weights to simulate heavy mountaineering shoes or use extra weight in your office laptop bag to simulate a heavier backpack.

Shop for bestselling ankle weights on Amazon India

Buy Tunturi Ankle / Wrist weights on Flipkart.com

One of the simplest ways to load weight into your backpack is to squeeze in a few litre water bottles. Each bottle weighs just under one kilo.

The longest stairway listed by the Guiness Book of Records is the service stairway for the Niesenbahn funicular railway near Spiez, Switzerland. It has 11,674 steps and a round trip would burn over 3,000 calories.

Stair climbing summary

    A pair of trail running / road running shoes
    Every alternate day
    Warm up and cool down for 5 minutes and stretch before each workout. Initially, when starting with stair climbing in a building, always take the elevator down to avoid injuring knees, ankles and calf muscles.


What is your favourite winter exercise? Let us know in the comments below.