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The Pros and Cons of Stair Climbers

Monday, July 4th

The Pros and Cons of Stair Climbers

Regular exercisers understand the importance of cardio in a workout routine. Sessions on a treadmill or bicycle get the heart pumping and bring long-term cardiovascular benefits. On a trip to the gym, you will see many rows of machines designed for this purpose. This area is often the most crowded part of the facility.

Tucked in with the rowing machines and stationary bikes, you may see a few stair-climbing machines waiting to challenge you. This type of exercise equipment is like walking the wrong way on a descending escalator. Whether you walk or sprint up this endless staircase, stair climbers offer several benefits that can bring you closer to your fitness goals.

Stair Climber Benefits

The benefits of stair climbers stem from their unique motion. Instead of the forward direction of a treadmill, a stair climber makes the exerciser work against gravity. The lower body is not just carrying weight, but it is lifting the body's weight upward with each step.

  • Faster Calorie Burning
    Anyone who has walked up a flight of stairs knows that it takes more effort than walking the same distance on level ground. Working out on a stair climber burns calories faster than on other equipment. The number of calories burned depends on the weight of the individual and the intensity of the workout. A 155-pound person working out for 30 minutes at low intensity on a stair climber will burn 216 calories. That same person will burn only 133 calories in the same amount of time during an average walk.
  • Increased Bone Strength
    Bone density decreases as people age. This slow breakdown can lead to brittle or weak bones in older adults. However, the skeletal system responds to weight-bearing exercises by increasing in density. Working against gravity on a stair climber provides a low-impact weight-bearing workout. Incorporating stairs into a fitness routine can help prevent broken and cracked bones later in life.
  • Lower Body Strength Training
    All cardio workouts burn calories and help with fat loss. However, not all exercise machines provide the resistance necessary for muscle growth and toning. When you have to walk up several flights of stairs when the elevator breaks down, you will quickly feel the burn in your thighs, glutes, and calves. A stair climber is an easy way to introduce weight-bearing exercise into your routine.
  • Improved Balance and Stability
    Many people focus on strength and speed when they exercise, but balance becomes increasingly important with age. Unexpected falls are one of the most common reasons older adults end up in the hospital and are a leading cause of fatalities among this population. Stair climbing enhances stability and balance. Each step brings a slight change in the center of gravity, and the body must adjust and adapt. Step-climbing workouts may help people recover from sudden changes in balance and prevent falls.
  • Less Impact on Joints
    Compared to running, working out on a stair climber is less taxing on the feet, hips, and ankles. During a run, the lower body must absorb the force each time your foot hits the ground. Over time, this can cause repetitive injuries like shin splints and ankle tendonitis. The most common remedy for the pain is rest to reduce the inflammation.
    Stair-climbing involves a different set of forces that are easier on the ankles and feet. Instead of the body directing a downward force toward the ground, the power comes from the thick muscles of the upper thigh and glutes. After some recovery time, runners may find it helpful to use a stair climber workout as part of their return from injury.
  • A HIIT Resource
    High-intensity interval training is an approach to exercise that is growing in popularity. Rather than working out for 60 minutes on a cardio machine, a HIIT workout involves short bursts of intense activity. Like a treadmill, you can adjust the speed of a stair-climbing machine. Going to a faster level for two-minute intervals will drive up the energy-burning benefits of this exercise equipment.
    A stair climber can also be part of an exercise circuit that mixes cardio and strength training. A leg day circuit might include sets of squats and lunges interspersed with five-minute stair sessions. It will not take long to start seeing more definition and tone when following this workout recipe.

Stair Climber Cons

Every piece of workout equipment can only do so much. While a stair climber can be a helpful part of a gym session, exercisers must be aware of the limits of this type of machine.

  • A Less Than Full-Body Workout
    Working out on stairs is an intense experience, but it only challenges the lower body. If you are looking to tone your upper body, you will need to engage in strength training exercises that involve your arms, shoulders, and core. For full-body workouts, you should look at the stair climber as one of several tools in your kit.
  • Stair Climbers and Existing Injuries
    The motion of the stair climber involves repeatedly lifting and bending the knees. This action can strengthen the soft tissue around the knees to prevent injuries. However, if you already have knee pain or a pre-existing knee injury, you will want to be careful about using this machine. Consult a doctor or physical therapist before experimenting with this intense workout.
  • A Difficult Place to Start
    The challenging workout these machines offer can put off some exercisers. People who jog or bike comfortably for an hour on other machines may find it difficult to last for 10 minutes on a stair climber. If you are just getting back into exercise, climbing stairs may not be the place to start.

Tips for Incorporating Stair Climbers into a Workout Routine

The workout benefits of stair climbers make them well worth the initial effort. By following some simple guidelines, you may discover that climbing stairs is one of your favorite exercises.

  • Start Slow
    It will take some time for your body to adjust to the exertion and movement involved with a stair climber. As you get started, you may want to limit your exercise time to about 10 minutes at a slower pace. It is best to increase the intensity of the workout in that shorter time frame before going for longer distances.
  • Pay Attention to Pain
    Working on a stair climber puts stress on your body in different ways than other machines. If you notice pain in your knees, try strengthening them with alternative exercises before returning to the stair machine. Some people experience back pain when using a stair climber. This feeling is often the result of poor form when performing the exercise.
  • Avoid the Handrails
    The handrails on a stair climber are there to support you if you lose your balance. However, they are not meant to be employed throughout your workout. Grabbing the rails with your upper body reduces the effort necessary to climb. You will also not see the same balance and stability benefits if you are not challenging your body. Set the machine to a level where you can walk up the stairs unaided.
  • Focus on Proper Posture
    Stair climbing is tiring, and people often forget about the importance of proper form when they are low on energy. You may have seen gym members using this machine with their heads down and backs hunched. When you can no longer maintain a solid form, it is time to get off or lower the intensity.

The Joy of a Challenging Workout

Improving your physical condition takes time and effort. The work is hard, but results like lower body fat, higher energy, and improved self-esteem are satisfying. With the right attitude and form, stair climbers can play a helpful role on your road to wellness.

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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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