Stairclimbers: Stepping Up to Fitness

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

Buying a Stairclimber

Stairclimbers, also called steppers, provide excellent cardiovascular benefits. You may want to think about buying one if you are new to fitness or need a change in your routine. Runners can use it as a lower impact alternative to pounding the pavement, Cyclists may also welcome a break from their bike seat. Stairclimbers also offer toning benefits, especially for lower body muscles like the hips, thighs, buttocks, and calves.

If you still aren't sure whether it is right for you, take a few minutes to learn about the different types of these machines and see what may work best for you.

Pros and Cons

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

You'll also find that most steppers do not give you a total body workout because they only work the lower body. If you are looking for a total body workout, choose a model that has handgrips placed at or above eye level to mimic 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.

Researching 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.

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 on its own. This makes it harder to cheat your way through the workout. The choice, though, depends on what you prefer. 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 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. You might prefer the quieter belt if you want to watch television or listen to music as you workout.

Pedal Leveling

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

Programs and Intensities

If you plan to get a lot of use from your machine, 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

Some nice to have options include:

  • 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 tips:

  • Think posture perfect. Lean forward slightly while keeping your core muscles contracted. 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 and may also get injured.
  • 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. Do not stop at the top or bottom of the pedal stroke.
  • Think light. If you are new to this workout, start with a small amount of resistance. You could get injured if you use too much.


International Association of Athletics Federations
The President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition


Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine


Selecting and effectively using a stair stepper/climber. University of Massachusetts website. Available at: Accessed October 11, 2021.
What's the best piece of cardio equipment to use? American Council on Exercise website. Available at: Accessed October 11, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/11/2021

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