This conflict of interests begs an important question: does the stair stepper make your thighs bigger? The stair stepper does not make your thighs bigger because this type of machine is considered a cardiovascular machine as opposed to muscle building.
Temporarily after using the machine your thighs may appear bigger due to the “pump” which is simply oxygenated blood being transported to the thighs. But the stair stepper should technically reduce the thighs as it tones the muscles and reduces fat through calorie burning.
Whenever you hop on a stair stepper and start pumping away, though, it’s your lower body that bears the brunt of the labor. More specifically, the reason you’re able to continue conquering that neverending cascade of staggered platforms is that your bottom half is carrying out two crucial movement patterns.
First, your hips and knees go through what’s known as flexion. This happens when you lift your leg to initiate your next step. Then, the same joints enter extension when you straighten your leg and complete the step.
Repeated alternation of hip and knee flexion and extension takes place not just when you’re sweating it out on the stair stepper, but also when you’re pushing through a difficult set of squats, deadlifts, or lunges.
Naturally, all that lifting gives the hip flexors, quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and calves a killer workout. And that’s precisely what worries users who are looking to tone up, not hulk out.
Do Stair Steppers Slim Your Legs?
You may have heard that high-rep exercises are a good way to build muscle, however they also have more of a slimming effect than building muscle. It’s true—sets of 15, 20, or even 30 or more can pack on slabs of lean meat in no time flat.
But did you know that running, rowing, cycling, elliptical and swimming can also be considered high-rep exercises?
Were you so inclined, you could count each step, stroke, or revolution you perform during these types of activities as a “rep.” And whether you’re powering through a five-minute sprint or testing yourself with an hours-long feat of endurance, you rack up hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of reps doing these sorts of cardiovascular exercises.
But doing so will do the opposite and help slim your legs, therefore a stair stepper does slim your legs through consistent use.
Why, then, doesn’t cardio or stair climbing build muscle?
The simple answer is that repetitive bodyweight exercises like the ones listed above don’t provide the muscles with enough of a stimulus to create an adaptive response in the form of hypertrophy. In other words, you’re not lifting heavy enough to see an increase in size.
That’s not the only reason. Intense cardio is catabolic, meaning it breaks down bodily tissues and therefore serves as a built-in safeguard against accidentally getting too big.
Here’s how catabolism works in a nutshell: prolonged steady-state exercise drives up the body’s fuel demands significantly. Once it runs out of stored glucose (sugar) to draw on for immediate energy, it begins burning fat, muscle, and other types of tissue to keep you moving.
That’s bad news if you want to put on as much muscle as possible, but it’s a good thing if you want to maintain your current weight or go down a couple of sizes.
Lastly, hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is just as dependent on your diet as what you do at the gym. Unless you drastically increase your calorie intake, you’re not going to gain an appreciable amount of size.
Why Your Legs Feel Bigger After a Stair Stepper Workout
If your thighs feel as though they’ve been blown up like balloons at the end of a particularly grueling stair stepper workout, you’re not imagining things. They probably are bigger than they were when you started. Rest assured, however, that they won’t stay that way.
This phenomenon is known in bodybuilding circles as “the pump.”
When you maintain a high level of exertion over a long period, your body responds by sending an influx of nutrient-rich blood to your tired muscles, replenishing their energy reserves and kick-starting the healing process.
The result is the pump, that skin-splitting, swollen sensation you experience after climbing down from your beloved stepping station.
Fortunately, getting a good pump doesn’t always mean increasing your measurements.
Under normal circumstances, even the wickedest pumps disappear after around 10-20 minutes of rest or lower-intensity exercise. The muscle sculpting and fat burning effects they accompany, however, last much longer.
Will Climbing Stairs Make Your Thighs Smaller?
It may be somewhat counterintuitive, but the answer is yes.
As a matter of fact, climbing the stairway to nowhere is arguably one of the best forms of cardio you can do because of the greater-than-average emphasis it places on resistance.
Lifting your body weight over and over again is tough enough to tax your muscles, incinerate calories, and rev up your metabolism, but not so tough that it does extensive damage and prompts the production of new muscle tissue.
This resistance “sweet spot” is exceptional for encouraging fat loss, which, combined with general muscular development, is what makes for leaner, more athletic-looking legs.
Contrary to certain all-too-common misconceptions, using the stair stepper makes it possible to get stronger, fitter, and healthier without getting bigger.
What more could you want out of a workout?
The idea that your legs might explode to gargantuan proportions if you spend too long on the stair stepper is nothing more than a silly myth—one that prevents people from taking full advantage of one of the best pieces of cardio equipment ever devised.
In reality, few machine-based exercises sculpt and tone as effectively as the stair stepper while also improving strength, cardiovascular function, and overall balance and stability.
If you enjoy using the stair stepper to put your heart, lungs, and legs through their paces, you can keep on steppin’ without being fearful of adding unwanted bulk.