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Regardless of whether you call it a stair climber, stair stepper, or Stairmaster, there is no denying that this simple yet brutal exercise machine is a killer cardio workout. Seriously though, is there anything more uncomplicated than climbing stairs for an excessive amount of time?
But basic doesn't mean it's not effective. In fact, the stair climber machine is extremely adaptable and can be used by beginners, those in rehab looking for a low-impact form of exercise, and even the fittest people on the planet.
We're going to dive into the top benefits of the stair climber machine and why you should include it in your workout routines. We'll also provide tips and suggestions on how you can use the stair climber to meet your fitness goals.
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Never attempted the stair climber before? Well, you're in luck because this might just be the most effective workout you've never done.
If you've lived in a two-story house and had to climb the stairs every time you forgot your wallet upstairs, you know just how grueling the good old steps can be. And while it may not be fun when you're running late and have to sprint upstairs for the third time, climbing real stairs or machines is an effective method for improving your health and fitness.
We love workouts that enable us to do cardio without running, and the stair stepper does just that. Because stair climbing works so well, it's not uncommon to see workplaces encourage their employees to climb stairs rather than take the elevator¹. Someone even took taking the steps a step further (get it?!) by creating a piece of equipment around it.
Enter: the stair climber, a piece of cardio equipment made to replicate stair climbing. It's comprised of a revolving set of stairs that circles a long track that's positioned at an angle. When comparing a stair climber vs treadmill, think of a treadmill if it sat on an angle with steps along the whole track. That's a stair stepper.
Two handrails go up the side to allow a simulated upward climb. This gives trainees the option of walking, running, or walking backward up the simulated set of stairs safely.
At the top, a control system is located to allow the trainee to control time, speed, and other various controls. As you step down on the stair climber, the stairs will begin to rotate due to your weight pushing them down. At the bottom, the staircase will go under and start climbing up on the back end, which you can't see. Once it gets to the top, the stairs will rotate back out in front again so that you can step on them again.
In short, it's a hamster wheel, just replace the wheel with steps.
Depending on what model you are using, stair climbers can come with a ton of functions such as measuring your heart rate, the ability to control the stair speed, running pre-programmed workouts, and measuring time.
Stair climber, stair stepper, and stair master are all names tossed around when discussing this piece of equipment. If you're wondering if there are differences or if there's a better option between the three to include in your favorite workout split, we're defining each for you.
It's common for gym goers to refer to the equipment as "Stairmaster" as it was the first company to make a stair climber. The first stair climber sold by Stairmaster was the Stairmaster 5000. In terms of stair climber and stair stepper, the stair climber is the bigger machine and more versatile. But it's typically also more expensive.
That said, all of the benefits we'll speak about apply to all three. Combine this equipment with strength training and a great diet (the Metabolic Confusion Plan is worth checking out), and you'll be in the best shape of your life.
Another comparison that's commonly made is between the Stairmaster and Jacob's Ladder.
Jacob’s Ladder machine is a different piece of cardiovascular equipment named after a story from the Book of Genesis. In the story, Jacob, one of Israel's patriarchs, fought with his brother Esau. After this rumble, Jacob ran away and had a dream one night where he saw a ladder that reached into Heaven, hence "Jacob's ladder".
Therefore, instead of a giant hamster wheel with steps, Jacob’s Ladder machine is a hamster wheel with a ladder. This results in all of the major muscle groups in the upper body and legs working, compared to the stair stepper that only trains the lower body. This means Jacob's Ladder could potentially have a spot in both your upper body workouts and leg workouts.
Jacob's Ladder is more difficult to do and requires more mobility, so its use is not as universal as stair climber workouts, which anyone can do. While we won't mention Jacobs Ladder anymore in this post, the benefits of using it will be very similar to the ones listed below.
Before you get on a stair climber, make sure it is set up on flat ground. If it's not on stable ground, the machine can wobble when you're on it and increase the chance of injury.
While standing behind the machine, place both hands on the rails for support. Step up with one foot first by placing your entire foot on the platform. Most people like to use their non-dominant side, so if you're right-handed, start with your left foot (it doesn't matter, though).
Step up so that you're in the middle of the machine or above. Do not start too low, or you'll fall off when the machine starts. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Turn the machine on, select your workout variation, and when ready, get started. Always start with a slow speed to warm up. A slow climb can help warm up your muscles and get you in the machine's rhythm.
As you climb, don't let your feet drop too low on the stairs. When you're tired, you can easily misjudge this and fall. This is a good way to hurt yourself and look pretty ridiculous.
When finished, let the machine come to a stop before you jump off. Again, it's best to avoid getting injured.
The stair climber, stair stepper, and Stairmaster offer a ton of awesome benefits. Here are some of the top reasons you need to jump on a stair climber or stair stepper for your next workout. Once reading these, don't be surprised if you rush out to get one of these best stair steppers on the market (don't worry, we've included options for all budgets!).
Stair climbers can adapt to every type of trainee there is, whether you're an elite fitness buff, brand new gym goer, a teenager, elderly, or an athlete.
Because stair climbers and stair stepper machines are so simple, brand new trainees can jump on at a low speed and get an amazing LISS cardio workout in. On the other hand, advanced trainees can turn the speed up so that the stair climber simulates running up actual stairs. Trust us: When you do it at a fast pace, it rivals an assault bike workout.
The point is that anyone can improve their fitness with a stair climber workout.
Using the stair climber is a great way to burn calories, lose weight, and get rid of some unwanted body fat. Losing weight and hitting body recomposition goals are probably the most common reasons for people using stair steppers.
The majority of stair climbers will have various pre-programmed workouts to follow that are specifically designed to maximize fat loss. Whether through the use of high-intensity interval training or staying in the fat-burning zone during long steady-state training, stair climbers make it easy to burn more calories.
Whether you just want to cut just half a pound or 30 pounds, stair climbing paired with sound nutrition can get you there.
No matter how old you are, your joints can take a beating as you tackle that 7 day split day in and day out. Over time, the connective tissue begins to get worn down to the point that there's no way you're going to go for a jog.
Even if your joints don't hurt, sometimes it's nice to get in some intense exercise without banging up your knees. Getting on a stair climber is unique in that even though it can be very intense, your joints don't know any better. As a result, you're able to push your body harder and faster with no pain.
Regardless, the stair climber is one of the best forms of low-impact cardio exercise you can do and still get a very challenging workout.
If you've ever watched gym goers using a Stairmaster, you may notice some of them are bent over. This same phenomenon occurs during long stretches of running. This occurs for several reasons, including general fatigue. However, another large culprit is a weak core or a core with poor muscular endurance.
Just like walking, stair climbing involves a significant amount of core activation to maintain level hips. In addition, the legs are constantly stepping up, causing hip flexion. This movement requires a strong core to keep the torso from leaning forward.
While you may not get the same stimulation as you would with core stability training, you'll notice it after a long run of stair climbing.
If you have back pain, climbing stairs is a great option for exercise as there is minimal stress on the lower back. Even running can aggravate your back due to the jolting.
In addition, stair climbing can help decrease back pain. Multiple studies have discovered that performing simple exercises, such as walking, is great for relieving back pain and increasing recovery².
Most people are referring to the muscles when they speak of strengthening exercise. However, your bones can also grow and increase in strength.
When a person is involved in a weight-bearing exercise, it places stress on the bone. As a result, the bone will bend some, creating little tiny holes. For these holes to be fixed, cells known as osteoblasts rush to fill in the holes and repair the bone. Just like muscles when they've been repaired, the bone will be slightly bigger and stronger.
As the stair stepper and stair climber are low impact, this benefit will likely only be seen in the elderly or rehab population. This is due to there being a minimal threshold for bone growth, similar to the growth that occurs when building muscle. However, even for a healthy patient, intense stair climbing can help maintain bone strength.
Just as you challenge yourself with weight lifting, do the same for your cardio time. With a Stairmaster, this is easy to do. Most stair climbing machines make it possible to run a targeted workout with various goals. A few of these goals could be:
There are dozens of methods but the most important part is to always push yourself with your workouts. Following the FITT Principle can help you set goals, so you're able to push yourself during your next stair climbing routine.
If you're not already, you need to start warming up before your sessions. If you don't think you have time, consider the fact it can improve your performance in your upcoming lifting session³.
The good thing is an effective warm-up doesn't have to be crazy. If you're in a hurry and don't have time for a dynamic warm up, using the stair climber machine can make for a well-rounded lower-body workout.
Like all warm-ups, start slow. For the first 2-3 minutes, maintain low intensity while gradually increasing the speed. When you start feeling a little loose, pick up the speed to an RPE5-6. Stay here for a few minutes.
Next, maintain your speed but skip a step with your feet. Be mindful of how high you are on the steps, but the idea is to increase the range of motion in your hips. After a couple of minutes, you can call it quits, or do 1 final minute at a higher intensity of RPE7.
As a cardio machine, stair climbing can be an intense form of exercise, providing a ton of cardio benefits, such as stronger lungs, a more powerful heart for pumping blood, healthy vitals, like blood pressure, and a lower resting heart rate.
By regularly including cardiovascular exercise in your workout routine, you are going to feel healthier.
We don't know about you, but sometimes we want to go to the gym and temporarily turn our brains off. It's not that we're lazy; it's just that we want to quiet our minds a bit.
This is where stair climbing comes into play. It's probably the most simple machine in the gym, but it can easily challenge the body's systems. For these reasons, stair climbing is our favorite go-to machine for an easy, simple workout. Don't get us wrong. We love a full body workout on machine equipment, but it requires more thought than putting one foot in front of the other. For even more simplicity, you can even turn it into a staircase workout, in which absolutely no equipment is required.
And if you're a beginner, you'll also appreciate the simplicity. Nothing fancy to learn here. Just step up.
Every successful lifter or athlete values a good muscle recovery day. Yet, sometimes a lifter just doesn't know what to do with themselves on active recovery days. Or maybe you're one of those guys who tries to do some light barbell training only to end up trying a new PR. (Hint: That's not active recovery!)
For those of you who struggle with light workout days, try some stair climbing! The stair climber is a great piece of fitness equipment to use as it's less stressful on the muscles but provides a workout that feels challenging enough. Nothing's worse than feeling like you're wasting time.
When we compare the stairmaster vs elliptical, the stair stepper wins by a landslide when it comes to building muscle. The reason stair climbing "sucks" is because it's working all your lower muscle groups. You're basically doing a bunch of step-ups with your body weight, over and over and over. This movement pattern activates your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and your calf muscles.
If you already have reasonably strong legs thanks to your favorite dumbbell leg exercises, it's very easy to add a load to a stair-stepping workout. Simply throw on a weighted backpack or loaded vest to the desired intensity.
When using climbing stairs with strength building as the main focus, you can do a couple of things to improve the workout. You can focus on only using the leg that's on the upper step. Or, if you're able to, try skipping a step, which increase the range of motion and distance traveled. Looking for an extra challenge? Walk backward. Only experienced users should do this but it gives a killer quad workout as you're pushing your body away.
Metabolism refers to your body's ability to utilize different food sources for energy. Throughout life, your metabolism can slow down and speed up depending on certain variables.
The one variable with mastering your metabolism that you have full control over is your fitness activity levels. Maintaining an active lifestyle is the best way to maintain high metabolism levels making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
In fact, a new study found that regular exercise has a more profound effect on our metabolism than previously thought⁴. They found highly significant changes among a range of markers and metabolites, including lipids, ketone bodies, arginine metabolites, endocannabinoids, and production of fatty acid oxidation.
All this means is those individuals who are physically active have higher and more efficient metabolisms. The catch, though, is that this requires "consistent" involvement in an activity. Going to the gym twice a month isn't going to cut it.
Because stair climbing is so easy and effective, it's an easy method to use to ensure adequate activity levels.
Walking always works, particularly new folding treadmills as you can fit them almost anywhere, but a stair climber is another great option that brings all of its benefits to the comfort of your home.
A study was done that specifically looked at the effects of using a stair climber for home workouts⁵. Noted was the unique combination of stair climber benefits, including leg strengthening, cardio benefits, caloric burn for weight loss, and safety and low impact.
The research concluded that stair climbing is both cost effective and unique, making it a great cardio workout to do at home.
Most people think of exercise as improving body composition or increasing strength through progressive overload. This is obviously true. However, another awesome benefit of exercise is that it can improve your mental health and mood.
There is a plethora of research that proves exercise can improve your sense of well-being and self-confidence, increase your mood, and decrease your risk of depression.
And now you can now add "being happy" to your list of stair climber benefits.
You know we love variation. Keeping variation controlled (not muscle confusion) is a great way to keep your workouts interesting and support muscle hypertrophy. In addition to the other benefits we just listed, adding stair climber workouts to your fitness routine will also spice it up a bit.
Some simple ideas for stair climbing workouts:
HIIT training is easy on stair climbing machines. As the speed is adjustable, you can easily switch from low intensity to high intensity just by pushing a button.
Be aware that there may be a lag when switching speeds, but this shouldn't be an issue. Just keep this in mind if you are approaching fatigue, as the machine won't stop automatically.
Concerning what intervals to use, you have the freedom to use what works for you. However, because there is a lag in between speeds, we suggest using intervals no shorter than 20 seconds when you stair climb. Prepare to feel the burn throughout your entire body!
Stair climber machines are the perfect cardio complement to your full body workout. We've seen the stair climber offers a range of benefits, including serving as great cardio workouts, aiding in weight loss, decreasing back pain, elevating mood, improving muscle tone and body composition, keeping workouts fresh, and increasing the health of your cardiovascular system and cardiovascular endurance.
Those are just some of the amazing benefits of the stair climber. It's an extensive list that can benefit anybody. We think it's time you include climbing stairs in your workout. We know we are!
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