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Brief Intense Stair Climbing Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001188
Applied Sciences

Purpose: Sprint interval training (SIT) is a time-efficient strategy to improve cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF); however, most protocols have been studied in laboratory settings and require specialized equipment. We investigated the efficacy of brief intense stair climbing as a practical model of SIT to improve CRF.

Methods: Two separate studies, each consisting of an acute and chronic phase, were conducted in a total of 31 sedentary women (age = 24 ± 10 yr, body mass index = 23 ± 4 kg·m−2).

Results: The acute phase of study 1 established that the mean HR, blood [lactate], and RPE were similar when participants (n = 8) performed an SIT protocol that involved 3 × 20-s “all-out” efforts of either continuously ascending stairs or cycling. The chronic phase demonstrated that CRF, as determined by peak oxygen uptake (V˙O2peak), increased by 12% or ~1 MET (8.27 ± 1.05 to 9.25 ± 1.01 METs, P = 0.002) when participants (n = 12) performed the 3 × 20-s stair climbing protocol 3 d·wk−1 for 6 wk. The acute phase of study 2 established that HR and RPE were similar when participants (n = 11) performed three different stair climbing protocols: the 3 × 20-s continuous ascent model used in study 1 and two 3 × 60-s models of ascending and descending either one or two flights of stairs (P > 0.05). The chronic phase demonstrated that V˙O2peak increased by 7% (8.91 ± 1.30 to 9.51 ± 1.52 METs, P = 0.01) when the same group of participants performed the one-flight 3 × 60-s protocol 3 d·wk−1 for 6 wk. The Cederholm index determined from an oral glucose tolerance test was 57 ± 17 and 64 ± 21 mg·L−2·mmol−1·mU−1·min−1 before and after training, respectively (P = 0.056).

Conclusion: Brief, intense stair climbing is a practical, time-efficient strategy to improve CRF in previously untrained women.

Author Information

1Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, CANADA; and 2School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, CANADA

Address for correspondence: Martin J. Gibala, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Kinesiology, Ivor Wynne Centre, McMaster University, Rm. 210, 1280 Main St. West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada; E-mail:

Submitted for publication August 2016.

Accepted for publication September 2016.

© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine