The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week to help stay healthy and control your weight. One way to achieve this goal is by using a piece of stair stepper exercise equipment. However, it is important to keep safety and form in mind when using a stair stepper, as injuries can occur if used incorrectly, including injuries to the back.
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The stair stepper is a common piece of equipment found in most fitness centers and in many homes across the U.S. The stair stepper mimics the action of walking up stairs by using two pedals that create resistance as you lift your foot up and press the pedal down, rotating between each leg. The resistance can be increased or decreased as well as your pace to increase or decrease the overall intensity of your workout.
Stair steppers work by exercising three main muscles groups. One group includes the quadriceps, made up of the vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and the rectus femoris, which are worked during the extension and downward pressing motion of your legs on the stepper. The stair stepper also works the calf muscles, including the gastrocnemius and the soleus, which are worked as you elevate and lift your heel to step. The stair stepper also works the gluteus muscles and lower back muscles, including the gluteus minumus, medius and maximus, as well as the latissimus dorsi.
Common back injuries that can occur while exercising improperly on a stair stepper include muscle strains and ligament sprains. Muscle sprains occur when the lower back muscles are stretched or worked beyond their abilities, resulting in the muscle knotting up and the occurrence of muscle spasms. Muscle spasms are a tool your body uses to immobilize the muscle to prevent further damage, states MayoClinic.com. Ligament sprains occur when ligaments attaching the bones of your back together are stretched too far, resulting in damage and pain.
Back injuries can occur on a stair stepper for several reasons. One of the most common reasons is improper posture by leaning to heavily on the stair stepper, which can place excess pressure on the back, injuring the back muscles, suggests the American Council on Exercise. Back injuries can also occur from not warming and stretching the back and gluteus muscles before getting on the exercise equipment.
To prevent back injuries from occurring, it's always important to warm up slowly and properly before hitting full intensity on the stair stepper. Stretching the back muscles and ligaments before getting on the equipment can also help. When using a stair stepper, use proper form by keeping your back straight and relaxed instead of leaning forward, looking forward instead of down at the steps, and only lightly resting your hands on the side rails for balance instead of using them to support your entire body.