Two days ago I wrote “Stair Climbing is Good for You” which talked about the value of this often overlooked exercise. At least overlooked by me.
I was impressed with the exercise, but wasn’t sure about whether or not descending stairs was a valuable part of it or potentially harmful. Some friends who do it said that they take the elevator down after they walk up because they don’t want to damage their knees. Also, a personal trainer friend (who has a titanium knee) said not to walk down stairs, only up.
So, I asked around and the American College of Sports Medicine sent my post to one of their experts.
Here is what David R. Bassett, Jr., Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies Senior Associate Editor, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Senior Editor, Research Digest, The University of
Tennessee had to say: “This blog post is mostly accurate. One thing that is not 100% accurate is the statement that stair climbing burns more calories than running. This COULD be a true statement, but it is not generally true. It depends on the rate of stair-climbing and the speed of running on the level. The energy cost of running is: running 6 mph (9.8 Metabolic Equivalent of Task (METs), running 7 mph (11.0 METs), running 8 mph (11.8 METs), running 9 mph (12.8 METs), running 10 mph (14.5 METs). The cost of stair climbing has been measured at a slow pace (4.0 METs), at a fast pace (8.8 METs). We did a study where we measured the energy cost of stair climbing at 70 steps/min and found it to be 8.6 METs. Stair-climbing could get up to 15 METs, but that would almost require jogging up the stairs.
“Regarding the question of whether walking downstairs is beneficial, the energy cost of descending stairs is about one-third that of ascending stairs, so from a caloric standpoint descending stairs is not nearly as beneficial as ascending stairs. The impact forces of descending are probably greater, which would increase bone loading. Another difference is that the quadriceps muscles are contracting eccentrically, as opposed to concentrically, when descending stairs. What this means is that the thigh muscles are performing a lengthening contraction, as opposed to the more typical shortening contraction. This could lead to muscle soreness if done for extended periods of time, but over time your muscles would adapt and you would be able to do the activity with little or no soreness.”
I got the statement about the value of stair climbing vs. running from Run Society, but neglected to include them as the source. I have since included that citation along with a link in the original.
Thanks to Professor Bassett for his observations.
For more on this important topic, check out: Stair climbing is good for you – Part Three – ACSM.