Continuum model is a useful tool for approximate analysis of tall structures including moment-resisting frames and shear wall-frame systems. In continuum model, discrete buildings are simplified such that their overall behavior is described through the contributions of flexural and shear stiffnesses at the story levels. Therefore, accurate determination of these lateral stiffness components constitutes one of the major issues in establishing reliable continuum models even if the proposed solution is an approximation to actual structural behavior. This study first examines the previous literature on the calculation of lateral stiffness components (i.e. flexural and shear stiffnesses) through comparisons with exact results obtained from discrete models. A new methodology for adapting the heightwise variation of lateral stiffness to continuum model is presented based on these comparisons. The proposed methodology is then extended for estimating the nonlinear global capacity of moment resisting frames. The verifications that compare the nonlinear behavior of real systems with those estimated from the proposed procedure suggest its effective use for the performance assessment of large building stocks that exhibit similar structural features. This conclusion is further justified by comparing nonlinear response history analyses of single-degree-of-freedom (sdof) systems that are obtained from the global capacity curves of actual systems and their approximations computed by the proposed procedure.