Is the Stair Climber a Good Workout Machine?

Try the stair climber in your next exercise session.
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The stair climber is really nothing more than a small revolving staircase with handrails. Once you turn on the machine, the steps start moving and you continuously walk in place on them for the duration of your workout. If you are looking to get into shape, the stair climber might be just what you're looking for, provided you use it correctly.

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Identification

Steps on the stair climber constitute cardiovascular exercise. Burning calories on the stair climber is good for weight loss, but you have to spend some time to achieve results. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity five days a week for weight loss. The closer you get to this guideline, the more results you will see. From a caloric standpoint, a 180-lb. person can burn up to 735 calories in 60 minutes on the stair climber.

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Aerobic Capacity

Regular use of the stair climber improves your aerobic capacity. This gives you the ability to exercise for longer periods, and with more intensity, without becoming winded. The American Council on Exercise says high-intensity interval training will boost your aerobic capacity even more. This is performed by alternating the intensity of your activity during workouts. An elevated aerobic capacity comes in handy with daily situations, such as walking to the top floor of a building to attend a meeting.

Impact

Working out on a stair climber is low-impact but also weight-bearing. Weight-bearing activities strengthen your bones and can help prevent osteoporosis, especially in women, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

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Muscle Recruitment

The main muscles of the lower body are the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. All these muscles work constantly when you step on the stair climber. This not only improves your tone but also helps boost your resting metabolism. If you add 1 lb. of muscle to your frame, you will burn an additional 30 to 50 calories a day, according to the University of Michigan Health System. To increase the emphasis on your muscles, take your steps two at a time.

Disease Risk Reduction

The benefits of physical activity, including stair climbing, include reduced risk of diabetes, increased good cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. To keep your health, the ACSM recommends doing 30 minutes of "moderately intense cardio" five days a week.

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Considerations

Any time you use a workout machine, exercise with proper form to get the best results from your workouts. When using the stair climber, do not take the weight off your legs by leaning on the handrails. Apply only light pressure to balance yourself. Keep your shoulders back and look straight ahead.

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Stair climbers are not particularly glamorous. However, stair climbers, also known as stair steppers, are an effective way to get a cardio workout and build your lower body without the pounding your legs are subjected to while jogging or running. The best stair climbers are commercial grade machines that you see in health clubs and gyms, and generally cost thousands of dollars. The stair climber that works best for you might be a fold-up model that fits in a tight space and costs as little as $100 as of February 2011.

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Commercial Grade

Stair climbers that work the best are motorized instead of manual, and feature independent stepping, which requires your lower foot to work harder, instead of dependent stepping, They also have independent instead of hydraulic shock systems. Independent review sources recommend a number of commercial grade machines. BestCovery recommends the StairMaster SC916 Stepper, and Galt Buying Guides recommends the StairMaster 700PT Stepmill -- a step mill more closely mimics the actual act of climbing stairs. Another machine lauded by Galt Buying Guides is the ProSTEP 6000 Climber, which will run you about $3800 as of February 2011.

Commercial Quality

There are also stair climbers on the market that offer commercial grade quality machines at consumer prices, according to Galt Buying Guides. For about $2,500 as of February 2011, you can equip your home with the StairMaster FreeClimber 4200 PT. This machine has 20 resistance levels, speeds that vary from 26 to 174 steps per minute and a nice LED console. It has four workout programs -- manual, steady, fat burner and aerobic -- and a reading rack. The Star Trac SC4100 Stairclimber is considered to be nearly the equal of commercial machines, in part because of its high-quality and heavy duty construction.

Hybrid

The best stair climber for you might be an innovative machine from NordicTrack, the FreeMotion s5.6. Recommended by Consumer Search, the FreeMotion s5.6 combines the stepping action of a stair climber with the stride of an elliptical trainer. It may give you a more varied workout than a regular stair climber. It sells for about $2,400 as of February 2011.

Budget

A budget stair climber can give you a great workout. They are also easy on your wallet. Galt Buying Guides recommends the Schwinn 305p, about $300 as of February 2011, with independent stepping, 12 resistance levels and a fine warranty for a budget machine. The NordicTrack MTN 740 Stepper, a choice of Consumer Search, is well-equipped with a built-in fan, adjustable resistance and heart-rate monitor. It sells for about $650. The best super low-budget stair climbers, as recommended by Galt Buying Guides and Consumer Search, include the portable Brookstone Fold-A-Way Cardio Stepper, which can be stored in a closet or under a bed and costs around $200. An even less expensive portable machine is the Stamina SpaceMate Folding Stepper 40-0069 at around $100. These low, low budget machines feel flimsy to some people, but they afford you a decent workout.

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