Is a stair climber a good choice for getting in shape?
Climbing stairs gives you an effective lower-body workout as you lift your weight with every step. For this reason, one of the most common weight-loss tips is to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Working out on a stair machine is even better. Unlike the occasional burst of work required to climb actual flights of stairs, a stair machine provides sustained exercise that works your heart as well as your leg muscles. The result is increased stamina and endurance, a toned lower body, and lots of burned calories.
But there are some possible drawbacks. First, you need to combine time on the stair machine with some weight training or other exercise to strengthen and tone you core and upper body. Second, the climbing motion can be hard on knee and ankle joints. Finally, although you may be a champion when it comes to climbing real stairs, climbing stairs on a machine may feel awkward and unnatural at first.
How do I use a stair climber?
There are a couple of stair climber designs. On step machines, each foot is placed on a its own pedal-like platform. There are also machines that look like small escalators with steps more like those on a regular staircase.
Make sure you use the handrails as you step onto the machine. Once you are securely in position, turn on the machine, then adjust the speed and resistance to a comfortable training level. Good posture matters, so stand up straight as you keep moving. Once you have a comfortable pace and you feel balanced, let go of the handrails. Your wrists shouldn't be bearing the weight on this machine. If you brace your arms against the rails, you not only reduce the calorie-burning power of your workout, you can end up with painful wrists from carpel tunnel syndrome. Try to find and keep a smooth movement. Use your entire foot to push down. If you put all your weight on the ball of your foot (as you may do while climbing a flight of stairs) the longer duration of the exercise can cause numbness.
Climbing an endless stair can be a little monotonous, but a stair climber is very compatible with reading or watching television.
What are my options if I decide to buy a stair climber for home use?
One type of home-use machine is called a ministepper. There are no rails, but some are quite stable. Most ministeppers don't include an integrated heart-rate monitor, but they do keep track of time spent and the number of steps taken during a workout. If you do opt for a ministepper, it is essential to try before you buy. Designs vary greatly; some machines are noisy or overheat during use.
Gym-type models are more expensive and require more space, but they can certainly be worth the expense if you like the stair climber experience and want to exercise at home.
American College of Sports Medicine. Selecting and effectively using a stair stepper/climber. 2005.
Consumer Reports Stair Steppers: Full Report (April 2009)
Loy et al. Effects of stair-climbing vs run training on treadmill and track performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1993. 25(11): 1275-1278.
University of Iowa. Stair climbing machines. 2005.