If you’re looking to shake up your exercise routine, you might have looked into getting a mini stepper or an air climber for your home set up. But what are the differences between these two models and which is going to be better for your fitness goals?
Mini steppers can be ideal if you’re looking for an extremely compact machine that can be used to work and tone the lower body, then be tucked away in a cupboard or under a desk. Air climbers are potentially going to give you more flexibility when it comes to intensity, length of workout, and range of muscles targeted.
There is also some uncertainty in terminology when it comes to these machines, which can be confusing for potential buyers. Today, we’re going to try to clear some of that confusion, as well as taking a more detailed look at which might be best suited to fulfilling your fitness and workout goals.
Those looking to purchase air climbers or mini steppers may find themselves faced with a number of machines that appear different but go by the same, or similar names. This is particularly true when it comes to ‘air climbers’.
A mini stepper is often more readily recognisable. These are frequently compact, ground level models that the user takes alternate steps on in order to work the lower body muscles. Each downward step on one pedal causes the other pedal to rise.
They are often distinguished by how little space they take up. They do not have arm handles, are roughly square and very low to the ground, and can usually be tucked away under a desk or in a cupboard after each workout.
The phrase ‘air climber’ on the other hand can be used to refer to a range of different cardio machines, all of which have similar aims, though they may achieve these in different ways.
For the purpose of this article, we will primarily be analysing the form of air climber which involves the users feet being placed firmly on foot pedals that rise and fall alternatively. The user’s feet do not leave the pedals, resulting in a low impact workout that can be easier on the joints than other forms of aerobic exercise.
This up and down motion of the pedals is often driven, much like with a cross trainer, by an elliptical drive belt and moving arm handles.
There are, however, ‘air climbers’ on the market which more precisely mimic the action of climbing a staircase, by having steps continuously descend via a treadmill like mechanism. These ‘stepmills’, as they are also sometimes called, simply involve the user climbing the steps as if they are climbing an actual staircase.
The users feet will leave each step before being lifted and coming to rest on the next one. These machines provide a demanding workout, but also involve the lower joints being put under more weight bearing pressure from the impact of each step.
The phrase ‘stair climber’ is often used interchangeably to describe either of these air climbing-style machines. ‘Air stepper’ or ‘stepper’ are also terms used to describe some of these pieces of kit and can occasionally be used to describe mini steppers as well. As you can see, the market can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated!
Here is my recommendation for the best air climber:
Last update on 2024-02-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Air Climber vs Mini Stepper – What Are The Differences?
In terms of functionality, there are likely to be several main differences between a mini stepper and an air climber.
The range of motion of a mini stepper usually involves the user exerting downward force. By pressing down on one pedal, the alternate pedal is then lifted up. Repeating this action with resistance is what helps work the lower leg muscles, including the calves, ankles, hamstrings, and glutes.
With an air climber, you may need to exert energy lifting your legs and feet as well as pressing downwards. The ‘steps’ that you take on an air climber machine are also going to be higher than those comparatively small, downward presses characterising the mini stepper.
These larger ‘steps’ up involve more torsion of the knees, but also mean that you are more likely to engage a range of lower body muscles more fully. The hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads are likely to be targeted more comprehensively by an air climber than by the mini stepper machine in this regard, though both machines will work these muscles to a certain extent.
Mini steppers rarely come with handles built-in, but often have the option to add resistance bands or other forms of arm attachments. This can allow you to vary your workouts or introduce new, upper body elements to an otherwise predominantly lower body form of exercise.
Air climbers will usually have built in moveable handles that are driven by and, to a certain extent, drive the momentum of the machine. Much like with a cross trainer, this introduces an element of upper body exercising to each workout, as well as helping with balance.
Here is my personal recommendation on the best mini stepper:
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Last update on 2024-02-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Mini Stepper vs Air Climber – Which is Better?
For those looking for a compact and unobtrusive exercise machine for the home, few pieces of kit can match the mini stepper for convenience. It’s small size and low footprint mean you can store it pretty much anywhere, ideal for those with limited space.
They also tend to be cheaper than air climbing machines, whose larger physical size frequently results in higher manufacturing and consumer costs.
However, the smaller size of a mini stepper also comes with certain limitations. To begin with, mini steppers are not necessarily going to target the lower body muscles in quite the same way as an air climber, which involves the user taking bigger strides and exerting more upwards force in order to do so.
An air climber is likely to target the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and core muscles more effectively than the mini stepper, although the latter can also help to tone these muscle groups as well if used correctly.
Furthermore, those wishing to do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) may find air climber machines more suited to their needs. The use of arm handles to help drive the momentum of the workout, as well as the ability to exert more varied pressure and switch intensity levels swiftly, can be better suited to HIIT.
HIIT is often favoured by people looking to torch calories as fast as possible, improve their cardio fitness, and also boost their resting metabolism in the hours after the workout. Although HIIT is possible using a mini stepper, you are likely to find air climbers better suited to this particular approach to working out.
Similarly, some users have reported difficulties with using mini steppers for more than 20 minutes at a time. Some models reportedly do not cope particularly well with the strain of extended workouts, the hydraulic system being designed for shorter, higher resistance training.
For this reason, mini steppers may be a good option for short, high resistance sessions, but not necessarily for long, endurance style exercise.
Their small size and ease of access does, however, make them a good option for training circuits or varied gym set ups where you want to be able to transition easily from machine to machine.
Air climbers, on the other hand, are usually designed to be worked out on for as long as the user can manage. They are the sorts of machines that you are likely to find in professional gym environments as well as home set ups.
Endurance enthusiasts are more likely to find the stability of air climber machines an attractive option.
Stability in terms of the physical build of the machine can also be a determining factor for those who experience mobility or balance issues.
An air climber, with its broader footprint, arm handle attachments and large foot pedals, is likely to feel like a more stable option, one which requires less active balance on the part of the user. Mini steppers, with their predominantly ‘hands free’ approach, may prove tricky for those who trouble standing upright for long periods of time.
In terms of upper body workouts, most people would assume that the air climber has the upper hand, simply because they frequently include arm handles. In fact, this is not necessarily the case.
As with an elliptical machine, the arm handles of an air climber are not necessarily going to provide enough resistance to really work the upper body, though they can help to tone and strengthen muscle. With the mini stepper, your hands are left free to do whatever they want.
This could involve using resistance bands which are tough enough to actually work the arms significantly. It could also leave you free to lift weights, though you should make sure you can balance properly and safely when doing so.
We would not recommend trying to do heavy bicep curls whilst operating a mini stepper!
Which Burns More Calories – Air Climber or Mini Stepper?
If your primary exercise goal is to lose excess weight, you may be wondering which of these machines is more likely to burn calories.
The intensity and duration of your workouts are going to be the biggest determining factors in terms of how many calories you are likely to burn. However, minute-by-minute, air climbers are still likely to burn slightly more calories than the mini stepper, assuming resistance bands are not used with the latter.
Estimates for the amount of calories burned by an average mini stepper session are hard to come by, though would appear to fall between 300 and 500 calories an hour for a moderate intensity session. This varies hugely depending on whether you are also incorporating upper body work, such as resistance bands.
Air climbers and other forms of ‘stair climbing’ equipment frequently bill themselves as being able to burn between 450 and 600 calories an hour, going at a moderate intensity.
The main difference in these estimates is likely due to the fact that air climbers involve a larger range of motion and are likely to engage a broader range of muscles than their smaller, mini stepper cousins.
The fact that air climbers also appear to be more suitable for longer, endurance style workouts probably makes them a clear favourite when it comes to calorie burning potential.
However, the machine that’s going to make exercise more enjoyable and more accessible for you is likely to be the one that, overall, helps you burn the most calories.
If you find that the mini stepper slides more smoothly into your existing routine, then don’t underestimate its ability to help you get more active, lose weight, and boost your general fitness.