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Are Stair Climbers an Effective Way to Burn Calories?

Friday, March 1st

Are Stair Climbers an Effective Way to Burn Calories?

There are many options for cardio equipment. On a trip to a typical gym, you will see people hard at work on treadmills, rowing machines and stationary bikes. Each of these devices has a similar purpose. They provide a sustained cardiovascular workout that raises the heart rate. However, each cardio machine performs this function through a different motion. For example, rowing machines challenge the upper body more than walking or running on a treadmill.

A stair climber involves the simple repetitive motion of walking up a flight of stairs. However, this basic action can bring some powerful, calorie-burning benefits. By working against gravity, stairclimbing machines offer a unique workout challenge.

How a Stair Climber Works

Doctors encourage their patients to choose the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Making this choice provides a burst of calorie-burning exercise before sitting in the office. Some athletes will run up stairways or stadium stairs as part of their training routine. Yet, the height of the staircase always limits the length of the workout.

A stair climbing machine resolves this issue by providing an endless staircase. As you walk up this descending escalator, you must constantly lift your body weight to the next step. This climbing motion offers more resistance than other cardio machines. People who can run for miles on a treadmill will feel tired much sooner on a stair machine.

These devices bring several other benefits. Stairclimbing is less stressful on hip and ankle joints than other cardio exercises. The climbing motion also challenges the exerciser's balance and stability with every step.

Calories Burned by Stairclimbing

Any exercise that works against gravity requires extra effort. It takes more energy to run uphill than on a flat track. Stair machines involve constant work against gravity, so they are an excellent exercise for burning calories. Their ability to provide an intense workout makes them an ideal choice if you have limited exercise time. A 150-lb person who walks at a moderate pace for half an hour will burn 225 calories. That person climbing stairs at a comfortable pace will burn about 545 calories in the same time.

Several factors come into play when calculating the calories burned when climbing stairs. The energy expended depends on the weight of the exerciser, the speed of the climber and the height of each step.

  • Body Weight. The work involved in a stairclimbing session relates directly to the size of the exerciser. It takes more effort to lift a heavier object. For example, a 200-lb person will burn close to 750 calories in 30 minutes compared to 545 for a 150-lb exerciser.
  • Intensity. Stair machines allow you to change the speed at which you climb. The calculation for work in physics involves the distance traveled. The more flights of stairs you walk during your workout time, the more calories you will burn.
  • Stair Height. Some stair climbers offer the ability to change the step height by a few inches. A taller step means more work and calorie-burning benefits.
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Tips for Maximized Calorie-Burning

In addition to adjusting the machine for higher intensity, the way the exerciser approaches the stair climber also matters. Good posture and technique will make your workout more productive.

  • Maintain Proper Form. Any time you are in motion, you are burning calories. However, keeping the proper form will give you the best results. You want to engage your core muscles to maintain a straight back and neck. As you begin to tire, you may find that you start to hunch over. Resist this urge or take it as a sign to end your workout. Once your form starts to collapse, you will see diminishing returns.
  • Use the Handrails for Balance Only. As the intensity of your workout increases, it is tempting to grip the handrails for extra support. However, pushing down on the rails decreases the weight that your legs must lift, reducing the work involved. If you use the handrails for balance, rest your arms on them gently and avoid the urge to use them for support.
  • Monitor Your Heart Rate. Modern technology offers tools for improving workout benefits. Some stair machines come with heart rate monitors to check your heart periodically. A smartwatch or fitness tracker can also give you real-time heart rate information. Keeping your rate in the proper zone will help you exercise longer and give you consistent benefits.

Effective Stair Climber Workouts

Cardio work can be drudgery if you only stick to the same routine. You may look at a stair machine and think that changing the speed is the only way to vary the workout. However, there are many variations to a stairclimbing routine to keep you engaged.

  • Getting Started. Exercisers are often surprised by the intensity of a stairclimbing workout. If you are just starting on the road to physical fitness, you will want to take it easy on this machine. In your first few sessions, it is best to limit your time to about 10 minutes. As you get more comfortable, you can focus on increasing your intensity during this short time before working up to a longer workout.
    Stairclimbing workouts are a cardiovascular challenge. Performing warm-up exercises before getting on the machine will increase your heart rate and prepare you for the intensity ahead.
  • HIIT Workouts. High-Intensity Interval Training is an approach to exercise that involves intense effort over short amounts of time. Instead of walking on the stair machine for an hour, a HIIT routine might be 30 minutes with a mix of intensities. After warming up for five minutes at a less challenging level, the exerciser will then shift to two-minute blasts of high effort followed by a two or three-minute recovery period at a lower level.
  • Two-at-a-Time. Skipping a stair is a simple way to increase the calorie-burning intensity of your stair workout. You will force your leg muscles to lift your body over a longer distance. Although you will travel the same height, each leg will be doing more work. These weight-bearing exercises are beneficial for building and toning your thighs and glutes. Broader steps also force the exerciser to focus on balance and stability.
  • Working with Weights. When you are comfortable on the machine, adding weight to your body is another way to burn more calories. The direct relationship between weight and work means that climbing stairs with an additional burden will increase the energy you need to expend. Some people are comfortable holding dumbbells as they work out. If you want to keep your hands free, weighted vests and belts are good options.
  • Circuit-Training Workouts. Rather than doing a single session on a stair climber, you can mix intervals on the machine with other strength-training exercises. Increasing your heart rate speeds up your metabolism. A five-minute interval on the stair machine between strength training exercises will keep you burning calories and fat while you work on your upper body.
  • Forwards, Backwards and Sideways. Advanced users can take a different approach on the stair climber. Climbing forwards challenges the muscles on the back of legs like the glutes and hamstrings. By changing the way you walk on the machine, you can target different muscle groups. If you turn around and walk backwards up the stairs, you will put a greater demand on the muscles on the front of your legs. An upward side step targets muscles like the abductors on your hips.

Climbing to Burn Calories

There is no doubt that a stair climber is an excellent tool for burning calories. Working against gravity provides an intense, challenging workout. Regular sessions on this machine will help you achieve your weight loss and fitness goals.

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Stair Climber FAQ

A stair climber is a type of exercise equipment that uses either a rotating series of steps or pedals pushed up and down - imitating the motion you'd make when going up a staircase. The "stairmill" option is most commonly found in gyms and health clubs, while the pedal variety can be seen both in fitness centers and in home use.
Stair climbers are low-impact, delivering an intense workout that is gentler on the joints than running on a treadmill. It also doesn't have to be either-or: if you like to mix up your workouts and target different muscle groups, alternating between using a treadmill and a stair climber is a great option.
That will depend on the stair climber you choose. Most models have clearly-listed dimensions for both floor space and ceiling height requirements, so be sure to look at them carefully and map out the space in your home before making your purchase.
You can get a good-quality stair climber for just under $1,000. If you want a high-end model exactly like what you've seen at your local gym, expect a price tag upwards of $10,000.
The more resistance levels your stair climber has, the greater variety you'll be able to get in your workouts. If you have people of multiple heights who will use the machine - for example, maybe you're 4'11" and your roommate is 6'5" - you might want to choose a model with adjustable stride lengths. From there, you should consider how much tech you want it to have, like Bluetooth connectivity with fitness apps or heart rate monitoring through hand grips and/or a chest strap.
Most stair climber manufacturers aren't quite there yet. However, at least one company offers a separate membership to an online platform where you can get live workouts, exercise in real time with a friend, or stream videos to make your workout routine more interesting.
That depends on the manufacturer's policy. Some offer no returns at all, while others may give you 4-6 weeks to try it out. You may also have to pay restocking fees if you return your stair climber.
Yes. Most stair climbers have warranty coverage on the frame and welds, parts, and labor. The timeframes vary: you might get a lifetime warranty on the frame with one manufacturer, while another only covers the frame for three years. Read the warranty coverage and terms carefully before you buy a stair climber.
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