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Stair Climbing 101

This is a video posting that will hopefully illustrate how most people (and some cats) climb stairs and then a more mechanically optimal way to climb stairs, or any grade really.

If you really slow down and have a look at how  you climb stairs, you might find that it goes something like this:

You step, lean onto the forward leg, and with a combination of arm pulling and quadriceps pushing (i.e., front of front leg pushing back), you pull yourself up onto that leg. Note, if you are using the bannister or railings for balance, by all means, use it! The place to work on your balance is not the staircase – the risk of injury is too great if you fall on the stairs. However, that doesn’t mean you have to pull yourself up (unless you do because your legs are weak, but again, that can be improved).

Ironically, it’s often people with knee pain that climb this way, and I say ironically because this actually increases the load to the knee, and compresses it, leading to such conditions as Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) damage, friction resulting in osteoarthritis and patellar tendon strain.

So how on earth are you supposed to climb stairs if the above video is the wrong way? Well, you can push off the back leg instead of pulling up with the front leg – watch:

It’s not as easy to see as it is to feel so practice it yourself. Try leaning forward and then staying straight and see how that feels on your own knee.

Here’s another angle:

I should have moved those black bolsters behind me, but hopefully you can see this okay. If the knee collapses in as well as moves forward, you are really asking for trouble. The strength of the lateral (outside) hip is going to be key in this action, so your Restorative Exercise™ List and Monster Walk is the prescription for that!

Good luck, and happy climbing.




2 thoughts on “Stair Climbing 101

  • Thank you so much for the videos – seeing the best way to climb stairs from different angles was really helpful. I’ve watched Katy Bowman’s alignment snack that addresses stepping up, but I found this post even more helpful. So thanks again! I’ll be concentrating on the stairs… hopefully there won’t be anyone in a hurry behind me. 😛

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