If you're new to working out, the very first StairMaster results you get might be sore legs and a sore backside. But take heart: As long as you scale your workouts to suit your fitness level, stair stepping machines can help you attain a strong, sleek-looking lower body.
Any stair stepper workout is going to give your legs, butt and calves a great workout — but it'll also help you burn calories, reduce excess body fat and maybe even build the sleek lower body you've been looking for.
Muscles Used on a Stepper
Stair stepper machines come in a few different configurations. As a general rule, you'll either be walking up a miniature escalator or have your feet planted on pedals that slide up and down along a vertical track.
In either case, the steps or pedals sink beneath you so you have to keep stepping, simulating the motion of climbing a never-ending flight of stairs. Your entire lower body works to make that motion happen, including your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. Your body adapts to the challenges you present it with, so doing regular stair stepper workouts will strengthen those muscles and also build endurance.
So if you've ever wanted stronger legs, more stamina — or both — using a stair stepper is a good way to get it. This type of workout also builds strong, sleek leg and butt muscles.
Although you can adjust the resistance on some pedal-style steppers to control how quickly the pedals sink beneath you, it's actually your body weight that makes the workout happen. You lift your body weight up each time you're climbing an imaginary stair on the stepper machine — just as you lift your body to climb real-world stairs.
Because of that, it's important to stay upright as you use the stepper. It's all right to hold onto the hand rails or handlebars for balance. But if you transfer your weight onto them instead of staying balanced on your feet, you're reducing the intensity of your workout — and that, in turn, can reduce the StairMaster results of your hard work.
Read more: Does a Stair Climber Make Your Butt Bigger?
Calories Burned on a Stepper
Another benefit of using a stair stepper machine is that it burns a notable number of calories — enough to slim your body down if you're looking to lose weight, as long as you combine your workouts with a healthy diet. According to estimates from Harvard Health Publishing, here's how many calories you stand to burn in a half-hour workout on a stair stepper, according to your body weight:
- 125 pounds: 180 calories
- 155 pounds: 223 calories
- 185 pounds: 266 calories
As you can see, the more you weigh, the more calories you'll burn while working out. How hard you work out also affects your calorie burn; when your workout intensity goes up, so does the number of calories you burn.
However, burning calories and reducing excess fat does not mean that using a stair stepper will spot-reduce fat away from your backside and legs. As the American Council on Exercise explains, that kind of spot reduction just doesn't work. You don't get to choose which body parts will slim down first — all you can do is work to reduce your overall body fat percentage and understand that where the fat comes off first is dictated by a number of factors, including hormones and genetics.
Read more: How to Lose Pounds With a Stair Stepper
Other Stair Stepper Benefits
Because your body adapts to whatever challenges you present it with, spending a lot of time on a stair stepper machine means that you're going to get a lot better at climbing stairs! But the benefits don't end there. As long as you're working out at a moderate intensity or higher, your time on the stair stepper also counts toward satisfying the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations in their Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
The HHS recommends that you do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise. That can mean doing a half-hour stair climber workout five days a week, or you can mix and match your time on the stair stepper with other types of cardiovascular activity, such as running or walking on a treadmill, swimming, cycling, dancing, playing sports or participating in organized group fitness classes.
Just a few of the benefits you'll receive from this type of regular aerobic exercise include lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes; a better cholesterol profile; improved mood and weight management; reduced symptoms from chronic conditions; and even a longer lifespan.
Fine-Tuning Your StairMaster Results
How can you get the most out of your time on a stair climbing machine? Start by warming up before you work out. That can be as simple as spending five to 10 minutes of gentle stepping, gradually increasing in intensity, before you up the resistance or speed for the "real" workout; or you can pedal a bike, go for a walk or jog, or maybe even just hop on the stair stepper after you finish an aerobics class. Anything that gets your legs moving rhythmically and consistently will qualify as a warm-up.
That might seem like a waste of five or 10 minutes. Isn't it more efficient to hit the stair stepper at maximum intensity and suffer through the first few minutes for the sake of fitness? Actually, no.
As the Mayo Clinic explains, taking the time to warm up before you work out reduces stress on your heart and other muscles, reduces muscle soreness and even reduces your risk of injury. Those benefits are well worth taking a little time to ease into your workout.
Warming up can also make your stair stepper workout feel easier, because your body has time to (literally) warm your muscles and rev up your cardiovascular system in preparation for your workout.
The Mayo Clinic also explains that cooling down after you work out allows your body to regulate blood flow and gradually ease itself back to a state of rest. Your cool-down can be as simple as taking the time for another five to 10 minutes of gentle exercise that gradually decreases in intensity.
Accurately gauging your workout intensity will also help you get the most out of your workouts. As exercise physiologists at the University of New Mexico explain, the talk test is a free and effective way of gauging that intensity. The exact measures vary, but as a general rule: If you can talk but not sing you're working at a moderate intensity; if you can get a few words out but not hold a conversation, you're exercising at a vigorous intensity.
Finally, don't worry about having to use the stair stepper for long stretches of time. Even a few minutes here and there add up and count toward your exercise goals for the day or week. Also, you can always supplement your time on gym stair steppers with walking up or down actual flights of stairs, which you'll find all over the place once you start looking.
- Mayo Clinic: "Aerobic Exercise: How to Warm Up and Cool Down"
- American Council on Exercise: "Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn"
- ExRx.net: "Stepmill"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Mayo Clinic: "Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical"
- University of New Mexico: "The Talk Test"