Stair climbing has been a workout option for a long time. For years, soccer players and other athletes jogged up and down the steps in their stadiums.
And one of the most inspiring moments in the classic movie “Rocky” was a shot of the boxing hero running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with plenty of energy to spare at the top.
But rather than rely only on the steps in your home or out in the elements for a good stair-climbing workout, you can get those same benefits from a StairMaster.
This fitness center staple has been around since the 1980s, but the technology has improved steadily. Features such as a heart rate monitor and calorie-burning calculator have been added through the years.
In simple terms, a StairMaster is a stationary fitness machine that rotates steps, similar to a treadmill, allowing the user to climb upward at the speed and duration he or she sets. It can provide an above-average cardio workout, while also toning lower-body muscles, especially the:
Let’s look at a dozen health benefits of using a StairMaster and why it might be worth climbing aboard during your next workout.
Using a StairMaster provides benefits from head to toe. If you’re normally a runner or walker, stair climbing can be a good change of pace in your exercise regimen.
1. Aerobic conditioning
Stair climbing strengthens the heart and lungs — the keys to aerobic fitness. Stronger lungs allow you to breathe in more oxygen, and a healthier heart can pump oxygen-rich blood more efficiently to all your muscles and organs.
2. Calorie burning
The StairMaster is an efficient and effective tool in losing weight or managing your current weight. A half-hour workout on the StairMaster can burn anywhere from 180 to 260 calories — or more — depending on your body weight and intensity of the workout.
A faster “climb” will burn more calories than a slower session. A 180-pound person tends to burn more calories than a 125-pound person doing the same workout.
Most StairMaster machines come with calorie-burning calculators, which estimate the number of calories burned with each workout based on your current weight.
In addition to cardio benefits, StairMasters can strengthen and tone your body, which is also good for your bones.
3. Core muscle strength
Because using a StairMaster requires you to keep your balance the entire time you’re climbing and pumping your legs, it also gives your core muscles a workout. Stronger core muscles help improve posture, prevent lower back pain, and reduce the risk of injury.
4. Healthier bones
Weight-bearing exercises, such as climbing stairs, can help reduce your risk for osteoporosis, and treat it if you already have it. Bones are living tissue, and climbing stairs helps increase bone mass. This is especially important as you get older, because natural bone loss tends to increase as you age.
5. Stronger quadriceps
The quadriceps femoris is a group of four muscles in the front of the thigh. These muscles are essential for walking, running, and just standing up from a sitting position. The quads extend or straighten the knee, so each time you push off from one step to the next you’re strengthening these large, important muscles.
6. Stronger hamstrings
The hamstrings are the three muscles in the back of the thigh that work in conjunction with the quads. They help bend the knee, so they’re also critical to walking, running, and sitting down. Each time you bend your knee to take another step up, the hamstrings are doing much of the work.
7. Stronger calves
Like the other muscles in your legs, your calves allow you to run, walk, and jump, while also being essential to maintaining your balance while standing. Your calves contract every time you lift your heel to take a step.
When climbing, whether it’s on a StairMaster, your front steps, or up a hill, your calves have to work hard to keep lifting your heels step after step.
8. Stronger glutes
The gluteus maximus muscles are located in the buttocks, and are some of the strongest muscles in the body. Their main function is to move the hips and thighs, so climbing stairs is a task that relies heavily on strong glutes.
Aside from the cardio and strength benefits, using the StairMaster is good for a few other things, including mental health.
9. Knee pain relief
Strengthening the knee reduces stress on the joint, which can help reduce pain if you have osteoarthritis. Using a StairMaster is considered low-impact exercise compared with the pounding, high-impact consequences of running on a hard surface.
10. Positive vibes
As you climb stairs your body releases endorphins, which are “feel-good” brain chemicals that boost your mood and reduce your stress levels. You may feel a little exhausted at the end of a StairMaster workout, but you should feel good about the work you put in.
Like treadmills, a StairMaster has a variety of settings to mix up your workouts. You can program the number of minutes you want to exercise. So if you’re just starting out, you can set the machine to go for 5 or 10 minutes and work up from there.
Some StairMaster products even come with built-in computer screens that display famous landmarks to make it seem like you’re climbing up structures like the Eiffel Tower.
12. It’s only up from here
Unlike climbing an actual staircase, which requires a return walk down the stairs, a StairMaster keeps you moving up all the time. This is helpful because walking down stairs is much tougher on your knees. The tissue and fluid you use as “brakes” take a greater toll on the joints with every downward step.
Because using a StairMaster provides a great cardio workout while also strengthening the main muscle groups in the lower body, you’re really getting two workouts in the time it takes to do one. As a result, it will take you less time to see and feel the results of your new exercise routine.
For better heart health, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. That means five 30-minute sessions on the StairMaster at a reasonable speed each week. Within a week or two you should also start to feel your legs getting stronger and more toned.
If you haven’t exercised regularly, try it out for 5 or 10 minutes the first few days and see how you feel. Then add to your time and increase the speed as your workouts get easier.
If you’re overweight, losing a few pounds can help reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels, as well as take some of the burden off your joints. But an exercise routine that includes aerobic exercise and strength training is best for weight loss and overall fitness.
A StairMaster accomplishes both of those goals. However, including stretching exercises, upper-body weight training, and a mix of sports and exercises will keep things interesting for you mentally and physically.
Watching your calorie intake and eating a well-balanced diet packed with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, while limiting your consumption of added sugars and saturated fats, are also keys to losing weight and keeping it off.
If you’ve never used a StairMaster, take the time to work with a trainer at your local fitness center, or someone who can help you use the equipment safely. You can find a personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise in your community.
Using a StairMaster is a relatively simple exercise, so you won’t need a lot of training or supervision. And if you find you can use one safely and on a consistent basis, you may be quite pleased with the energy boost you feel from improved fitness.