Stair Running

As a trail runner, you will often need to tackle stairs in a race and being physically and mentally prepared for this makes all the difference! Our Her Trails programs will get you strong for the stairs. Learning to climb and descend efficiently in training will contribute to you achieving your goal on race day and remaining injury free. 

So, what are the important things to consider when running up stairs?

  1. Maintain a tall posture – staying nice and upright whilst running up stairs will help to ensure you are recruiting your glutes, which will power you up and help prevent over-fatiguing your smaller muscle groups.
  2. Strong arms –  a strong arm action will generate and maintain power and cadence (turnover).
  3. Place your whole foot on the step, where possible  to ensure you are recruiting your glutes and hamstrings, your larger and more powerful posterior-chain muscles. Sometimes the stair may be too narrow, so you need to use just your forefoot. This will engage your calves more, which is fine, but it’s great to share the load to allow you to be more efficient and powerful for longer.
  4. Eyes ahead – keep your gaze a few steps ahead, so you can see what’s coming and adjust your stride and step where possible.
  5. Maintain an even working effort – try to maintain an even effort, tune into your breath. Stairs are hard work, so this will feel like a 7/10. If you notice you are really getting gassed, then back off to a power hike until you can get your breath back to that even 7/10 pace. 

And don’t forget, what goes up, must come down! So here are some tips to consider when descending stairs.

  1. Wherever possible, keep most or all of your foot on the step  you can angle your foot on your landing and run on a slight side angle in a grapevine-like motion. It is important to practice this in training in both directions so you improve your ankle proprioception and agility. Keeping most of your foot on the step can help prevent slipping, especially when the edge of the step is wet wood. 
  2. Keep glancing 3-4 meters ahead. You will be moving swiftly down the stairs, so it’s important to read the trail ahead of you and have time to adjust your body position and feet as needed. This will help you minimise mistakes and reduce braking – harness the benefit of momentum as you use that energy to drive you forward with less output.
  3. Arms out for balance. Widening our arms in a relaxed fashion when descending can help us balance, especially on tricky terrain. You can also use your arms to stabilise on railings or trees when cornering to assist you with shifting the direction of your energy without losing too much pace.


2 steps at a time?

On more structured smaller stairs, if you are conditioned to do so, you may like to go a little faster by taking 2 stairs at a time. If you choose to try this, you apply the same techniques as mentioned, but simply take a longer stride to skip over a step. You also need to have a strong core and glutes for stability. 

It’s important to note that doing this will add more force and eccentric load through your muscles and joints so you need to be practicing it in training! If you are properly trained for this, it can be great for shorter events, but in longer races we recommend sticking with 1 step at a time to get the most out of your legs right to the finish line!