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March 08, 2023 13 min read

The stair climber machine, aka the stair stepper, is designed to make you climb stairs. When you turn it on, the stairs will start to move, and you will need to climb to keep up. Take it slow at first, and be sure to maintain proper form by keeping your shoulders back, your chest up, and your back straight to maximize the benefits of the workout.

Stair climbers are a great way to get a killer workout that targets multiple muscles at once.

Whether you're a beginner or a more advanced gym rat building body strength, there are benefits to be gained from stair climber workouts.

In this article, we'll explore some ways you can get a killer stair climber workout and have fun doing it. We'll look at ways to increase the intensity and add variety to your workouts. By the end of this article, you'll have the knowledge needed to make your stair climber workouts more effective and enjoyable.

The secret to an effective stair climber session is more than just going through the motions.

It's a fine art to craft a workout that is both interesting and beneficial. If you're mindlessly marching up the stairs, the monotony will likely put you off. However, if you think strategically about your workout, you can increase the intensity and hone in on the various targeted muscle groups.

Muscles Targeted by Stair Climbers

Stair climbing focus on the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, core, and calves. It can also be beneficial for strengthening your arms and back.

Climbing can help build muscle because it requires the muscles to contract and bear the weight of the body as you ascend above the starting point. This causes the muscles to work harder than they normally do and grow stronger, a process known as the principle of overload.

Leg Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

As you repeatedly lift and push your legs forward, these large muscle groups are activated, and your heart rate is likely to increase rapidly, causing a lot of calories to be burned. Burning calories can help reduce fat and make the muscles you are developing more visible.

What are the Benefits of Stair Climber Workouts?

Climbing stairs is hard.

The American Council on Exercise calls walking uphill, "the best combination of aerobic activity to burn fat and anaerobic activity to shape muscles.”

1. Easy to Learn

Anyone who has ever gone up a set of stairs will be familiar with the stair climber machine like the Stairmaster, making it a great option for gym-goers of all skill levels. However, if you have difficulty moving or keeping your balance, it's best to avoid using the stair climber and stay on level surfaces.

You can tailor your exercises to fit your individual needs since they are so adaptive. For instance, using a slow-paced stair climber can be less stressful but equally beneficial for your legs and back compared to jogging.

2. Low Impact

If your joints are feeling sore, it might be a good idea to avoid treadmill workouts and try a different machine that is easier on your knees, hips, and ankles. A stair climber is a great, low-impact cardio option – just make sure to keep a moderate pace without running or jogging up the steps. Additionally, you can use the handlebars to take some pressure off your lower body.

3. Improved Cardio Health

After a short time on the stair climber, you'll soon understand why it's such a great way to get your heart rate up. You'll become aware of your elevated pulse and increased breathing. Stair climbing helps build your heart and lungs, making them more effective with each session. Not only will your aerobic fitness levels improve, but your cardiovascular health could too.

Cardio Health – Image from Shutterstock

Other Health Benefits

Stair climber workouts focus on multiple muscles located in the lower body, and can also enhance core strength and balance. A 2021 research project determined that steadily climbing stairs on a daily basis can help reduce metabolic syndrome risks, a cluster of illnesses that can lead to stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Another 2021 investigation found that step exercises, mainly stepping downward, can be beneficial for insulin sensitivity.

A Harvard Health Alumni Study involving over 8,000 older men found a correlation between frequent stair-climbing and a lower rate of mortality from any cause. This is not unexpected, as stair-climbing machines provide both a cardio and a resistance workout, which have been demonstrated to be beneficial for overall health. If you want to enjoy a longer, healthier life, you might want to consider investing in a stair climber.

4. Strengthens Muscles

The telltale sign that your stair climber session was a success is if your legs feel like jelly. This type of exercise targets the biggest and strongest muscles in your body, such as your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and calves.

Using the stair climber can help your core and lower body become more muscularly enduring, but only if you maintain the correct posture while doing it. Keeping the right form will help tone up your thighs, glutes, and core.

5. Burns Calories

Using a stair climber can result in a significant calorie burn during a half-hour workout. Harvard Health Publishing has found that this type of exercise can help you burn between 180 and 250 calories in that amount of time. The number of calories you burn is determined by your speed, weight, age, and metabolism.

Burning Calories – Image from Shutterstock

6. Less Time for More Fitness

Doing stair climber exercises is difficult, yet the more demanding the task, the higher the calorie burn. Therefore, the stair climber is a great choice for those who don't have much time to exercise or desire to gain the most out of their workout in the least amount of time. For instance, 10 steps on the stair climber are equivalent to 38 steps on a flat surface. This means that utilizing the stair climber instead of a flat treadmill will give you a four-fold workout in the same amount of time.

7. Improved Coordination and Balance

By regularly climbing stairs, you can improve your coordination and balance, allowing you to stay active for longer. Each time you take a step on the climber you are temporarily standing on one leg, and this requires the use of stabilizer muscles in your foot and ankle to keep your balance.

8. Flexibility and Versatility

Climbing machines provide a variety of settings and metrics that allow you to track your progress, making them ideal for optimizing your exercise routine. The movement options are even suitable for HIIT workouts. Stair climbers are versatile enough to benefit all, whether you do strength training or fitness workouts. It is a cardio machine that gets your heart rate up even at low-speed settings.

9. Functional Movement

Climbing stairs is an exercise that replicates the movements we make in our daily lives. Incorporating these types of exercises into your fitness plans can help prolong your quality of life as you get older. Doing this can support your ability to stay in a house with stairs even when you're retired. Regularly engaging in stair climbing exercises can help ensure you stay able to do this.

Old Man on Strairs - Image from Shutterstock

What are the Risks of Using a Stair Climber?

Using a stair climber machine is usually considered a safe activity for most people. However, if you suffer from joint pain or difficulty with stair climbing, you may want to avoid this exercise. Additionally, if you have difficulty maintaining balance, you should consult a medical professional before using a step machine.

It is important to ensure proper form when exercising. Make sure your knees are over your feet to ease the stress on your joints. When landing, be sure to use the entire foot, not just the toes, to avoid straining your hamstrings and calves. Additionally, avoid gripping the handrails too tightly to avoid lower back strains.

Proper Form for Stair Climbing

When doing a stair climber or Stairmaster workout, it is essential to maintain proper form and good posture. This means keeping a straight spine, engaging the back muscles, pushing the shoulders down and back, and keeping the chest up.

Hinging slightly forward at the hips is okay, but don't go too far, or you can lose your balance. You should also keep your head up, and look forward while climbing the stairs to avoid neck strain. At first, it may be necessary to look down to find your balance and rhythm, but you should be able to do this comfortably after a few minutes.

Step With Your Whole Foot

To use a stair climber correctly, you should drive your weight through your heel, placing your entire foot on the step. Avoid placing all your weight on the ball of your foot, as this will not activate the targeted muscles.

As a result, you won’t be able to move as quickly or smoothly, and you’ll be more likely to injure yourself. To avoid this, make sure to step with your whole foot, placing your heel down first and driving your weight through your heel and up to your legs.

Stepping heel-first and pushing down when climbing steps can help to engage your quads and glutes while providing a wider range of motion to activate more muscles. This technique will provide a more effective workout, allowing you to exercise for longer without exhausting your leg muscles.

Don’t Hold on to the Rails

This exercise focuses on working the lower body muscles, but holding on to the railings removes the extra effort from the legs and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.

A stair climber is a machine designed to help you exercise your legs. It works similarly to a regular flight of stairs, but you should not rely on the handrails too much for stability as they are not intended for that purpose. Instead, use them for balance and support, especially if you are a beginner and need to get used to the machine.

Gripping the rails too tightly while climbing can reduce the effectiveness of your workout as it takes the load off your legs and puts it on your arms. To prevent this, it is important to keep your hands off the rails as much as possible to develop a proper climbing form. However, the rails are there for your safety should you need to regain your balance.

Check Your Shoe Laces

It is important to wear the right clothing for climbing, such as breathable clothes and comfortable shoes. It is best to avoid loose clothing or shoelaces that can get in the way and be a safety hazard.

It is important to make sure your shoelaces are tied securely before you start using a stair climber as the up-and-down movement of your feet can cause them to come undone, leading to a risk of tripping and injury. Tie a strong knot to ensure your safety.

Pre-workout Warm-up is Crucial

Warm-up exercises are an important part of any workout, as they help to prepare your muscles for the upcoming activity and reduce the risk of injury. Skipping these vital steps can lead to an ineffective workout and even injury. Therefore, it is important to always warm up before engaging in any type of physical activity.

Dynamic stretching is a great way to prepare your body for a climb. Begin by performing dynamic stretches that mimic the climbing movement to get your legs, hips, and back stretched out. Once you have done this, slowly begin climbing the stairs to get familiar with the motion without overworking your muscles.

Warming up for 10 minutes before a workout is essential to not only prevent muscle soreness and injuries but also to improve performance and increase endurance on the stair climber. A proper warm-up can help you maximize your workout and get the most out of your exercise. Don't forget to warm up before each session to get the best results!

Stair Climber Exercise Options

You'll work all the lower body muscle groups in somewhat different ways when you combine these boredom-busting routines. This will cause more muscle fibers to contract, giving your butt and lower body a tight, toned appearance. Prepare yourself for a severe muscle burn, and notice how quickly the time passes.

It is essential to prioritize safety. Prior to exercising, warm up and practice the movements at a slower speed until they become comfortable. The stair climber taps your energy, and it might be a good idea to reenergize with a drink of water or, better yet, a drink containing electrolytes  to replace the minerals lost with sweat during your workout.

Take time to cool down and stretch afterward. Additionally, be sure to use the correct form while working out. If you are unsure, seek the guidance of a personal trainer.

Here are several exercises to include in your routine to make your stair climber workout a full-body workout:

1. Skip a Step

For glutes and quads.

  1. Start with your right foot on the first step and step with your left foot over the second step, placing it on the third step.

  2. Press through your heels to bring your right foot up to join the left foot.

  3. Keeping your left foot as the leading one, step over the fourth step to place your left foot on the fifth step.

  4. Bring your right foot to join it and continue for several steps before changing to make your right foot the leading one.

  5. Continue skipping one step, squeezing the glutes when you bring the back leg up.

  6. Alternate lead legs and keep pressing through your heels to further engage your glutes.

2. Cross Over with a Lateral Leg Lift

For the medial glute on the outside of your hip.

  1. Turn so you are standing sideways, so your right side is closest to the stairs.

  2. Take a few sideways step-ups to become accustomed to it.

  3. Secure your balance by grasping the middle bar with your right hand.

  4. Once you feel comfortable, move your left foot and step over the right foot up to the next level.

  5. Follow with your right foot, but do a quick lateral leg lift before putting it on the step with your left foot.

  6. Repeat the movements up several stairs before turning to face the opposite way.

  7. Continue stepping up with your right leg now leading, doing the lateral leg lifts with your left leg.

  8. Step, step, lift. Step, step, lift. Ensure you work both legs equally to avoid muscle imbalance.

3. Wide and Narrow Jump Squats

For a good cardio workout.

  1. Ensure you use a low speed when doing these exercises.

  2. Start by standing with your feet apart on one step.

  3. Squat down as low as you can before jumping up to the next one, landing with your feet together.

  4. As you land, do another squat to absorb the impact.

  5. Immediately hop up to the next step, and land with your feet wide apart.

  6. Then alternate between a wide and narrow stance as you go up the stairs.

  7. For safety, it's a good idea to hold on to the railings while you're doing this.

  8. Being cautious is always the best option.

  9. Once you’ve mastered this exercise, you can intensify the effect by adding a resistance band placed around your legs.

4. Side Step

For hip flexors and quads.

  1. Turn so you are standing sideways, so your right side is closest to the stairs.

  2. Hold the middle bar with your right hand for balance.

  3. When you're ready, lift your right foot to take a single step.

  4. Quickly move your left foot to meet it on the same step.

  5. Then lift your right foot up again to the next step and continue in this way.

  6. Switch to face the opposite way and lead with your left foot.

  7. Ensure you tax both sides equally.

5. Reverse Climb

For the hamstrings, quads, and calves.

  1. Stand facing down the stairs.

  2. Grab the railings securely for balance but don't lean on them.

  3. Lower the speed to move rather slowly, until you feel comfortable enough to speed it up a bit.

  4. With your back to the stairs, climb in reverse.

  5. Don't let go of the handrails throughout to avoid slipping or missing a step. It may take a while to feel comfortable doing it, so be patient.

6. Low Cross Over

A butt-building favorite that will hit every one of your glute fibers.

  1. Turn so you are standing sideways, so your right side is closest to the stairs.

  2. Hold the middle bar with your right hand for balance.

  3. When you're ready, lift your left foot and cross it over your right foot to the next step.

  4. Continue climbing the stairs, stepping your right foot up to the next stair and crossing it with your left foot to the next step.

  5. Once you feel comfortable, flex your knees, so you're in a squat, and continue cross-over climbing.

  6. Try to stay low in a squat as long as you can.

  7. Turn to face the opposite side, and proceed to squat-climb with your other foot leading.

7. Sprints

For cardio and quads.

  1. Face forward and start climbing with your hands on the railings, but only for balance.

  2. Without leaning on the rails, increase the speed until you're sprinting.

  3. This will likely be the best cardio workout you've ever had.

Stair climber exercises can be included in a HIIT routine. The stair climber can be used to perform exercises such as sprints, interval training, and other dynamic moves. It is a great way to get an intense, full-body workout while working on your cardiovascular fitness.

How Often Should You Use a Stair Climber?

If weight loss or increasing aerobic strength isn't your goal, you can limit your stair climbing sessions to two to three times a week.

For those looking for a way to get a good workout on leg day without spending too much time on a treadmill or elliptical, climbing stairs is a great choice to add to your fitness routine.

At first, you may only be able to manage 5 to 15 minutes on the machine. To build up your tolerance, use the stair climber regularly and do lower-body exercises such as lunges to warm up for stair climbing.

This is a great way for those with bad knees to get some low-impact exercise without having to use the climber too much.

Ensure you take a rest day between stair climber workouts, as overworking the same muscles can cause overtraining, which can lead to a lengthy rehabilitation period and the wiping out of all the progress you achieved. Be aware of the warning signs of overtraining to ensure you don't push yourself too far.

Take Away

One of the best low-impact workouts is climbing stairs, especially when done on a stair climber or other cardio equipment designed to simulate the activity. As long as you don't use the handrails excessively, it's a terrific technique to strengthen your core muscles and enhance your glutes.

A stair climber offers more of a challenge than a treadmill, making weight loss and fat burning easier. It also provides more options in terms of exercises, thus livening up the workout routine. Not to mention, it is less taxing on the joints than a treadmill, although, in terms of fitness benefits, it is comparable to a treadmill.

Consider using the stair climber exercises in this article the next time you're looking to add additional cardiovascular exercises to your workout to reach your fitness goals. They'll help you develop plenty of functional strength in your lower body, and turn your existing muscles into head turners.