While treadmills, stationary bikes, and ellipticals have long been regarded as popular cardiovascular machines, the stair stepper has certainly found its place in this fitness industry too.
As is the case with other pieces of equipment, getting the most out of it requires using it adequately.
Whether the form is completely off, or your workouts are just not going on as long as they should, inadequate use leads to negative implications.
Therefore, this guide has been put together to ensure that you can use a stair stepper the way it is meant to be used.
In this article we explain how to use a stair stepper including tips on form, alignment, and even a couple of other useful nuggets of information that should all come together to ensure that you never use a stair stepper incorrectly.
How Long Should I Spend on a Stair Stepper?
This one is a debate of sorts, with different people having different views of how long you should be on a stair stepper if you intend to get the results you desire.
The real answer to this question is that you should be on the unit for as long as it takes to achieve your desired objective.
If you are warming up, for example, then you don’t need to be on it for more than 10 minutes at an even pace, as the idea of a warm-up is to get your heart rate elevated.
However, if you are working on your cardiovascular health and want to lose belly fat, then you may want to consider 20 to 30 minutes of interval training.
On the upper side of all of this lies endurance workouts, which may see you still using intervals or going at a steady pace for even as long as 60 minutes.
How Do You Use a Stair Stepper at Home?
Perhaps you wish to have a stair stepper in the comfort of your home instead of needing to go to the gym to use one. While the investment can be good, it can be a complete waste if you are not using it adequately.
You don’t want to be slouching forward and resting your body weight on the bar. The recommended posture is more of an upright one while maintaining a slight lean at your hips.
This is the kind of position you want to feel out until you can make it natural. In hearing that you should be straight, you may make the mistake others do of overcompensating and being too straight. Just remember the slight hip hinge, and you should be perfectly fine.
Sometimes, people get tempted to grip the handlebars as tightly as they would grip a pull-up bar, for example. However, this is not the way to position your hands on a stair stepper.
Instead, you want to rest your fingertips only slightly either on the side rails or on the bar in front of you. Avoid using a tight grip.
Additionally, do not make the mistake of flaring your elbows upward with your wrists in reverse.
Start things off with a slow pace as you get comfortable with the machine. You should technically be able to use it without holding the rails at all. However, if you need to use them for support, it shouldn’t be excessive.
Take it slow and get used to the movement to ensure that you don’t feel as if your only reprieve is to grab the bars tightly.
A mid-foot placement is best. Ensure that your entire foot is on the pedal. Why is that necessary?
Here’s a quick exercise to help you understand why. Stand on the floor in a flat position then go on your toes. Alternate between the flat and tiptoe position for about 25 reps. Which part of your legs did you feel working?
If your answer is your calves, you’re exactly right! By using the stair stepper and favoring the front of your foot, you’re going to end up overburdening your calves while you really want to distribute the force to adequately work other leg muscles such as your glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Many people opt for “shaking the machine.” This means taking quick and short hopping steps. However, this is not the way to use the stair stepper.
Especially in the world of cardio, people often assume that quicker is better, but speed often cuts the quality of reps.
What you want to do instead is take moderately even and deep steps as you use the stair stepper.
Stair Stepper Tips
Now that you know how to use the stair stepper properly, here are a few tips just to ensure that your quality-of-life experience with the machine is as positive as possible.
Pace yourself based on your goals and capabilities. As indicated before, a warm-up would have more of a slower even pace, while the interval training would alternate between a quick pace and a slower one.
You may also use the machine for steady-state cardio, which is typically indicative of a single pace, whether it is intense or not.
A shoelace fall can have dire consequences including impact-based knee pain or pulling your quad. To avoid this, always check that your laces are tied before starting your workouts.
While it’s nice to push yourself when you work out, becoming familiar with an exercise is essential when you’re first doing it. Resist the temptation to “go hard” at the onset and take the time to understand and feel out the stair stepper movement while incrementally increasing the intensity.
Keeping a Record
If you are interested in progression, it helps to keep a written record of the time and intensity that you’re able to endure. That way, measuring improvement becomes more practical.
The Bottom Line
The stair stepper, like many of its machine counterparts, can be a great addition to your workout regime. However, this only becomes possible for those who use it correctly.
Even if you have been using one for some time, you may have been doing so incorrectly. Review the usage instructions and tips above to ensure that you are getting the best possible workouts.
An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!