Stairclimbers: Stepping Up to Fitness
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Working out with stairs is nothing new. Athletes have been climbing them for years. It is a great cardiovascular workout that strengthens and tones the lower body. Finding stairs to climb is not always easy, though. Think about adding a stairclimber to your home gym so you can climb stairs no matter the weather.
Buying a Stairclimber
Stairclimbers, also called steppers, provide excellent cardiovascular benefits. You may want to think about buying one if you are new to fitness or need a change in your routine. Runners can use it as a lower impact alternative to pounding the pavement, Cyclists may also welcome a break from their bike seat. Stairclimbers also offer toning benefits, especially for lower body muscles like the hips, thighs, buttocks, and calves.
If you still aren't sure whether it is right for you, take a few minutes to learn about the different types of these machines and see what may work best for you.
Pros and Cons
Like walking, stairclimbing is easy to learn, but do not be fooled. It takes a bit of practice to learn the proper technique and form. Poor technique can reduce the number of calories you burn, increase the risk of injury, and worsen any existing problems you may have.
You'll also find that most steppers do not give you a total body workout because they only work the lower body. If you are looking for a total body workout, choose a model that has handgrips placed at or above eye level to mimic ladder climbing.
In the world of exercise, doing something is always better than doing nothing. If you are just starting out, stairclimbing may get you jump-started into a fitness program. It allows you to get exercise throughout the day and slowly increase your activity level.
Researching Your Options
Like any other piece of fitness equipment, a stairclimber should be an investment in your health and well-being. Machines can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. You will want to invest in quality, so take time to test each machine. Make sure it is smooth, comfortable, and will work for the type of workout you want.
Give each machine about 10 minutes of your time before you make a decision. Here are some other things to consider.
Stairclimbers use either dependent or independent pedal action. With dependent action, the right and left pedals act together. When you push down the right pedal, for example, the left pedal comes up. Independent action, on the other hand, requires you to activate each pedal on its own. This makes it harder to cheat your way through the workout. The choice, though, depends on what you prefer. Just make sure the pedals are quiet, secure, and smooth.
Cheaper stairclimbers use hydraulic pistons or air pressure to power the pedals. These are not as smooth as higher-priced steppers that use belt and chain drives. Chain drives tend to be harder to maintain than belt drives. They are also noisier. You might prefer the quieter belt if you want to watch television or listen to music as you workout.
More expensive models have self-leveling pedals, or pedals that remain horizontal or flat while you are moving.
Programs and Intensities
If you plan to get a lot of use from your machine, then buy one that has a variety of programs and intensity levels. More variety is better and it makes it easier to progress when you are ready to ramp up your workout.
Lower-end stairclimbers have lower weight limits. Make sure the stepper you are buying is appropriate for your weight.
Some nice to have options include:
Using Stairclimbers Properly
To make your workout as effective as possible, follow these tips:
International Association of Athletics Federations
The President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition
Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine
Selecting and effectively using a stair stepper/climber. University of Massachusetts website. Available at: https://blogs.umass.edu/bodyshop/files/2009/07/SelectingandEffectivelyUsingaStairStepper-Climber.pdf. Accessed October 11, 2021.
What's the best piece of cardio equipment to use? American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy-living-article/60/613/what-s-the-best-piece-of-cardio-equipment-to-use. Accessed October 11, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/11/2021
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