Why is it easier to run upstairs than down?

Mine’s pretty conscious.

Another factor: I have bad knees, and it’s always easier for me to walk up stairs than down because my knees have a tendency to buckle with the effort of lowering my weight. Recently, I’ve even been having to be careful when walking on a downward slope (even my driveway).

I’ll take running up the fire tower any day. But then I’m in real good shape from cycling, so I wouldn’t be hurting.

Your quads are probably going to be hurting after a lot of flights of downward stairs. They absorb a lot of the stress and weight of descending.

That’s probably why this doesn’t seem to apply much on an inclined ramp – there, going down is just as easy (maybe more) than going up. No worry about placing your feet, just gravity helping or inhibiting your movement.

Thanks to everyone who has responded so far! It looks like a large number of explanations have been offered, with a couple proponents seemingly claiming that their explanation is the only correct one. To recap, these explanations are as follows:

  • Walking downstairs is harder because you need to physically counteract gravitational acceleration.
  • Walking downstairs is harder because you need to mentally plan for the physical counteraction of gravitational acceleration.
  • Stepping down requires you to move your leg a greater distance than stepping up.
  • Stepping down requires you to flex your trailing leg, which is not required when stepping up.
  • It’s harder to look where you’re going when stepping down.
  • Stepping down induces a conscious or subconscious fear of falling or tripping, and this fear slows you down.
  • Stepping down uses different muscle groups than stepping up.
  • Stepping down uses different muscle actions than stepping up.

I don’t think any of those are wrong

This may be true, but it is easier and faster to fall down the stairs… don’t believe me?? Both up or down require the same exertion of force just in different directions. If you equally climb and descend staircases in presumably routine steps it’s safe to say that your perception of the direction you are going is the deciding factor of easiest “method” this assuming you’re in your prime or fit youth with no major bone or muscle deficiencies. Resistance is the same push or pull. It’s your ability to push and resist the instant stop in motion that seems to differ. You’re actually working the same muscles exactly the same way.

Anecdotal but I have a literal fire tower where I work. Its for training firefighters and is 6 floors high. I’ll run a 1/2 mile lap around the property then up the stairs to the roof for some push-ups. After 4 or five laps the stairs are torture going up by the time I get to the top and a respite coming down. Granted, I’m not in the best of shape.

Angled vector points change the state of the question. And again the forces are the same. Apply the forward backward theory tumbling gymnast. Both back and front tumblers exist and usually strict to the way in which they lean. It’s not where it’s what direction you perceive to be easier. Agility is your origin of truth here… lol wait. Who are you guys , what in the … discussions of stairs. I’m scared now. Lol

Wow, great point, I hadn’t thought of that before. I think it can illustrate some of the other points some have been making here, especially on a steep incline, such as a ramp or hill. It’s true that you no longer have to worry about exactly where to put your foot, but you do still have the fear-of-falling factor that others have mentioned.

I should also mention that in at least one way, inclines (ramps and hills) are harder than steps (stairs and ladders), both both going up and going down. On an incline, you always have to consider friction and sure footing, else you’ll start sliding. But on a step, those factors don’t count, as long as the area is big enough for your feet.


Backstage in my big building we have several sets of stairs leading to various facility equipment that are about as steep as the “ladders” aboard naval vessels. So far steeper than an ordinary staircase. Not quite as steep as this example, but close:

It’s almost as easy to climb as an ordinary staircase. But far harder to descend than an ordinary staircase. Clearly the optimal slope of staircases differs for up vs down.

Are you supposed to descend those facing the same way as you climb them (i.e. like a ladder?)

[quote=“LSLGuy, post:31, topic:925949, full:true”]Clearly the optimal slope of staircases differs for up vs down.

Clearly. And hence, the difference in difficulty between upward and downward.

There may be a recommended way, but I recommend for each person to descend them in the manner that is most safe for you.

Most workmen I’ve observed, and I myself, descend them facing away from the treads, as if it was a conventional staircase. But it’s definitely a both-hands-on-both-rails-while-paying-attention maneuver.

In our facilities, the rails go all the way to the bottom, unlike the example image I posted where the bottom of the rails pretty well implies the designer intended the users to go down facing the treads. And as I noted above, our ladders aren’t quite that steep. Close though.

When carrying much of a load like tools or parts, pretty much everybody goes down ladder-style, facing the treads.

Back when I could run on stairs, I found it easier to go down. I’d make a downward leap, and the next foot would just touch every 3rd or 4th step to lightly control the fall, with one hand sliding down the hand rail. I have long legs, so I’d go up two stairs at a time, lifting my weight with each step.

Now I’m 71, with Parkinson’s, and I take one stair at a time. If there’s no rail, keeping my balance is dicey.

There is a series on netflix “we are the champions”. The first episode was about this event, I thought it was rather excellent.

trailer (youtube)

There is something fascinating about people tumbling down a hill in high-def slow-motion with an Attenborough-like commentator:)

The closest I came to doing something like this was a sand dune in Egmond (NL) – “klimduin” and running down Mt. Etna. Both sand and the light pumice gravel on Etna are much more forgiving when crashing. Running down Etna was the closest thing to walking on the moon-- huge steps and almost no impact on landing my feet. The gravel was quite sharp though.

This thread has been an interesting read, but now I’m confused about something I thought I understood!

Is it really a different set of muscles in use, coming down though?

(That eye level remark makes a ton of sense. Never considered it.)

Having hiked hours of up, up, up, only to face lots of down, down, down. Rinse, repeat. Over several days, no stairs or railing, every step different, rock mostly, some packed earth, some lose gravel. I def found the up strenuous over hours, and was SO looking forward to the next down! Only to discover it was torturous in it’s own way. My legs always felt like rubber, and I assumed it was because it was the same muscles, now worn out, having to work going down.

The down honestly seemed more dangerous, the up was all jagged and steep, but when going down it really felt like a LOT less control. Dangerously so, at times. I was very aware a twisted ankle could cause a life changing tumble.

This thread has given me new eyes, about things I thought I understood, in that experience.

That’s where it came to my attention. FWIW, the Attenborough-like commentator is Raine Wilson.