We’ve all heard the advice to take the stairs rather than the elevator. Climbing stairs makes sense for your general health, but it also happens to be one of the best things you can do to get in great shape, lose weight, and attain to peak cardiovascular efficiency. Still, most people don’t make maximum use of the stair climber. Here are a dozen stair climber benefits you absolutely need to know.
Benefit #1: Muscle Tone
The stair climber provides a targeted workout to the glutes, thighs, hips, and abdominals. You are working your lower body with variable resistance rapid repetition style of training that moves your legs through a complete range of motion. Stair climbing focuses on the areas of the body where women, especially, tend to accumulate body fat. In fact, when you use the stair climber, you will work each of the key muscles of the legs 120 times per minute. You are in effect doing mega high rep sets. This is a very effective way to create lean, fat-free muscle. That makes stair climbing a great option for sculpting a butt to impress.
Benefit #2: Core Strengthening
When you’re on a stair climber, the steps keep coming at you, one after the other. After a while, you’re probably going to feel like slouching over to give your body a break. By staying upright, however, with your core engaged, you are strengthening your abdominals and your lower back muscles. The hip action involved in your step tread is also engaging your external obliques and intercostals. That all adds up to a pretty effective core workout while you’re working the rest of your body.
Benefit #3: Bone Strength
Stair climbing is a weight bearing exercise. That’s because it pits the user against the force of gravity. In so doing, it enhances your bone density. That makes stair climbing a great insurance measure against such age-related bone conditions as osteoporosis.
Benefit #4: Weight Loss
The stair climber is a more efficient calorie burner, meaning that it will help you to burn body fat more quickly. In fact, taking 10 steps on the stair climber is as effective as taking 38 steps on level ground, such as when walking on the treadmill. That means that the stair climber is nearly 4 times more time efficient.
So, how many calories can you burn on the stair climber? Well, that depends on your weight. The more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn. That’s because your body is having to move against a greater resistance in every step. As an example, a 68 kg person will churn through around 91 calories in ten minutes, while a person who weighs 81 kg will go through about 109 calories in the same amount of time.
In an hour of working out on the stair climber, a 68 kg person will burn around 546 calories. To lose a pound of fat requires a deficit of 7,000 calories. That means that, all else being equal, a daily workout for an hour on the stair climber will see that person losing half a pound of body fat per week.
A combined study out of England and Northern Ireland analyzed the effectiveness of stair climbing as a means of cardiovascular exercise. 12 female study participants were asked to climb a 200-step staircase. The women did not have a history of exercising. The women progressed from climbing the stairs once per day, to doing so six times in the day (they took the elevator back to the start point). This meant that the women were exercising for a maximum of 12 minutes per day.
After eight weeks, the women’s fitness levels were significantly boosted. Their cholesterol levels improved and their risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by an average of 33%.
Study author, Colin Boreham, Ph.D., at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland concluded, “This is among the best evidence that short bouts of exercise can have tremendous health benefits.”
Stair climbing makes use of the major muscles of your body: the thighs, glutes, and back. Just as squats burns more calories than leg extensions, so doing movements that consistently work these major muscle groups will burn more calories than cardio options that limit muscle engagement.
There’s one more reason why using the stair climber is such an effective fat burner. Whereas most types of cardio exercise take some time to ramp you up to the fat burning zone, when you exercise on the stair climber you move into that zone very quickly. In fact, a 20-minute session will have you in the fat burning zone for 19 minutes.
Benefit #5: Improved VO2 Max
VO2 Max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can make use of during aerobic exercise. Oxygen intake is the limiting factor in exercise. The more you can take in, the longer you will be able to exercise. When you stair climb, your heart and lungs are having to work hard to supply the oxygen that your body needs to maintain the workout. The more you push into this training zone, the greater the improvement in your VO2 max will be – and the better your cardiovascular endurance will be.
A study which was published in British Journal of Sports Medicine, had young women climbing stairs for short duration exercise sessions five days per week. At the conclusion of the eight-week study, VO2 max had improved by an average of 17%.
Benefit #6: Low Impact
Not only does the stair climber provide you with a great cardiovascular workout; it does so without any pounding on your joints. You are actually suspended in space so your feet don’t come into contact with the ground. That’s good news for your ankles and knees.
Benefit #7: Endorphin Rush
Stair Climbing is hard work. However, the strenuous effort that you put in is rewarded with the release of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that produce a euphoric feeling once you’ve completed your workout. That means that you’ll feel exhausted at the end of your session, but you’ll feel really good about it.
Benefit #8: It’s Better than Climbing Actual Stairs
The stair climber simulates going up real stairs. When you do the real thing, you then have to come down again. Coming down stairs, however, can be a problem for your knees. As you descend, your connective tissue is constantly having to act as a brake to combat the pull of gravity. Gravity also causes you to impact each step with more force than is desirable.
When you use the stair climber, however, you are not confronted with these problems. You are constantly on the upward climb, meaning that your connective tissue and joints are not having to suffer wear and tear.
Another reason that the stair climber is better than using real stairs is that the real thing is unable to provide you with a variety of resistance levels. However, with the stair climber, this is as simple as turning a knob. Doing so will allow you to target your training to fat loss, strength or muscle gain.
Benefit #9: You’ll Live Longer
Stair Climbing will allow your heart and lungs to work far more efficiently. Your resting heart rate will come down, your blood pressure will normalize, and you will reduce your LDL cholesterol levels.
The cardiovascular benefits of stair climber and the resultant effect on mortality were studied by the same researchers mentioned under weight loss above. This time, Dr. Boreham and his team analyzed heart health results from almost 13,500 men who climbed an average of 700 steps each week. The researchers found that the men reduced their risk of death by 20%. To achieve a similar effect by walking you would have to cover about two miles, which would take between 30 and 40 minutes. Yet, the men were able to traverse the stairs in a matter of minutes.
Benefit #10: It’s Extremely User-Friendly
There is no learning curve with the stair climber. After all, we’ve all climbed stairs before. That means that anyone can use the machine. The stair climber is especially beneficial for people rehabilitating from injury. As well as being a natural motion, it is completely impact-free.
Benefit #11: It’s Great for Runners
If you’re a runner, adding stair climber training to your program is a smart move. Runners need lower body strength and power to be successful. Because stair climbing pits you against gravity, it provides both of those qualities.
Climbing stairs helps runners to develop their balance and coordination. It allows you to target muscle stabilizer muscles, such as the gluteus medius, that don’t get much stimulation during an actual run. And the very fact that you are momentarily balancing on one leg improves your balance, minimizing the risks of running injury.
Another major benefit of stair climbing for runners is that the gradient on a stair climber is bound to be much greater than anything you’ll encounter on the road. This speeds up your heart rate and makes you breathe faster to get more oxygen. According to Anne Moore, M.S, exercise physiologist and Charleston, South Carolina running coach, “this teaches your body to use that oxygen and convert it to energy quicker”.
Benefit #12: Workout Variation
The stair climber offers a number of variations to enable you to keep your workouts fresh and invigorating. Once you've gotten yourself used to treading in every step on a stepmill, challenge yourself to walk on every second step. At first, you will probably want to hold onto the handrail as you make this change. You can also work different muscles groups (hamstrings and calves) by walking backward on the stair climber.
The stair climber is a great machine to incorporate into a circuit workout. When used in conjunction with other cardio and resistance equipment, it will provide you with a killer workout to work your entire body. Here’s a sample routine you can use next time you’re in the gym:
- 5-minute treadmill warm-up
- 1-minute on Stair Climber
- 1-minute Bodyweight squats
- 1-minute Stationary Cycle
- 1-Minute Bench Press
- 1-Minute Jump Rope
- 1-Minute Rowing Machine
- 1-Minute Stair Climber
Each exercise should be done with no rest between it and the next one. At the end of the circuit, rest for a minute. When you can get through this routine 10 times, you will know that you are truly fit.
Here are some other stair climber variations to keep your mind fresh and your body guessing:
Alternate Leg Raises – while stepping at a medium pace, bend forward at the waist while kicking your right leg directly out behind you. Be sure to contract your glutes as you kick back. As you return to the next step, balance yourself and then repeat with the left leg on the following step.
Squat Step – assume a parallel squat stance on the stair climber and continue to step from this position. Before long your quads will be on fire.
Sumo Step – As you go between steps, take an exaggerated step to the left in imitation of the way a Sumo wrestler walks. Be sure to maintain a neutral spine and your shoulders back.
Side Step – Turn your body so that you are facing to the left side. Step up with your right foot, then cross over and up with the left foot. Do a pre-set number of steps on that side and then switch over to the right side. Just make sure to take this one slowly, as it requires quite a bit of coordination.
There are very few cardiovascular exercise machines that can match the myriad stair climber benefits. From losing weight to strengthening and toning muscle, to boosting your VO2 max and greatly enhancing your cardiovascular health, the stair climber does it all. If you haven’t added stair climbing into your routine yet, isn’t it about time you stepped up to the stair climber challenge?