Stairclimbers: Stepping Up to Fitness

Working out with stairs is nothing new. Athletes have been climbing them for years. And why not? It is a great cardiovascular workout that strengthens and tones the lower body. Finding stairs to climb is not always easy. Consider adding a stairclimber to your home gym, and you can climb anytime, no matter the weather.

Why Buy a Stairclimber?

Stairclimbers, also called steppers, provide excellent cardiovascular conditioning. If you are new to fitness or need a change to your routine, you may want to think about a stairclimber. Runners, for example, will find stairclimbing a lower impact alternative to running. Cyclists may even appreciate getting out of the saddle occasionally. Stairclimbers also offer toning benefits, especially for lower body muscles like the hips, thighs, buttocks, and calves.

Still not sure? Take a few minutes to learn about the different types of stairclimbers and see what may work best for you.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Like walking, stairclimbing is easy to learn, but do not be fooled. Stairclimbing takes a bit of practice to achieve proper technique and form. Poor technique can reduce the number of calories you burn, increase the risk of injury, and aggravate existing problems you may have.

You'll also find that most steppers do not provide a total body workout. Most steppers only work the lower body. If you are looking for a total body workout, choose a model that incorporates handgrips placed at or above eye level to simulate ladder climbing.

In the world of exercise, doing something is always better than doing nothing. If you are just starting out, stairclimbing may get you jump-started into a fitness program. It allows you to get exercise throughout the day and slowly increase your activity level.

Investigating Your Options

Like any other piece of fitness equipment, a stairclimber should be an investment in your health and well-being. Machines can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. You will want to invest in quality, so take time to test each machine. Make sure it is smooth, comfortable, and will work for the type of workout you want.

Give each machine about 10 minutes of your time before you make a decision. Here are some other things to consider as you investigate stairclimbers.

Pedal Action

Stairclimbers use either dependent or independent pedal action. With dependent action, the right and left pedals act together. When you push down the right pedal, for example, the left pedal comes up. Independent action, on the other hand, requires you to activate each pedal separately. In other words, it is not as easy to cheat your way through the workout. The choice, though, largely depends on your preference. Just make sure the pedals are quiet, secure, and smooth.

Pedal Power

Cheaper stairclimbers use hydraulic pistons or air pressure to power the pedals. These generally are not as smooth as higher-priced steppers that use belt and chain drives. Chain drives tend to be harder to maintain than belt drives. They are also noisier, so if you want to watch television or listen to music, you might prefer the quieter belt.

Pedal Leveling

More expensive models feature self-leveling pedals, or pedals that remain horizontal or flat while you are moving.

Programs and Intensities

If you are really serious about getting in shape with a stairclimber, then buy one that has a variety of programs and intensity levels. More variety is better and it makes it easier to progress when you are ready to ramp up your workout.

Weight Limits

Lower-end stairclimbers have lower weight limits. Make sure the stepper you are buying is appropriate for your weight.

Optional items:

  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Towel and water bottle holders
  • Magazine/book rack
  • Television

Using Stairclimbers Properly

To make your workout as effective as possible, follow these guidelines:

  • Think posture perfect. Lean forward slightly while keeping your abdominal muscles contracted. But do not use your arms to support your body and do not hang over the handrails. You will decrease the amount of calories you burn as well as set yourself up for injury.
  • Position your feet. Many people tend to step on their tip-toes. Instead, keep your heels flat and let them ride naturally. Just keep your knees relaxed at all times.
  • Float through the pedals. Use a smooth pedal motion as you step, no halting the top or bottom of the pedal stroke.
  • Think light. If you are new to stairclimbing, start with a small amount of resistance. If you use too much, you risk injuring or discouraging yourself.

International Association of Athletics Federations

The President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition


Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Health Canada


Boreham CA, Wallace WF, Neville A. Training effects of accumulated daily stair climbing exercise in previously sedentary young women. Prev Med. 2000;30(4):277-281.

Selecting and effectively using an elliptical trainer or stair climber. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: Accessed October 26, 2016.

What's the best piece of cardio equipment to use? American Council on Exercise website. Available at: Accessed October 26, 2016.

Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 10/26/2016