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How to Use a Stair Climber

The most common type of stair climber is the pedal stepper, which many exercisers refer to as the StairMaster. In fact, StairMaster is a specific brand — just one of many excellent makes of stair climbers that you find in health clubs and home equipment stores.

Stair-climbing on a machine is a big improvement over jogging up and down the bleachers at your local high school football stadium. The machine eliminates most of the wear and tear on your joints. People who want to get in shape for skiing, climbing, hiking, and running also love steppers, as they’re often called.

Proper form is butchered on the stair-climber more than on any other single piece of machinery. Some exercisers think it’s really cool to be able to climb at the machine’s highest level, regardless of their form. It’s not. When you clutch the rails (or lean forward), you transfer your weight from your legs to your arms or the machine, which drastically reduces the number of calories you burn.

Fortunately, many stair-climber manufacturers have rectified this problem by designing handles that point straight up. This makes cheating more difficult. Still, you'll see people hanging on these newer handles. Here’s how to use this machine the right way:

  • Rest your hands — or better yet, your fingertips — lightly on the bar in front of you or on the side rails. Don’t grip the rails any tighter than you’d grip a paper cup. And never reverse your wrists so that your fingertips are pointing toward the floor and your elbows are turned up to the ceiling. You really should be able to use the stair-climber without holding on to the railing at all, but using the railing for balance (within reason) is okay. If you must hang on in order to keep up with the machine, you’re going too fast. And nobody will think less of you if you drop down a few notches. In fact, you’ll probably impress people with your stellar posture and noncompetitive attitude.

  • Stand upright with a slight forward lean at the hips. Don’t overcorrect your form by standing upright like a Marine at inspection. A slight — really slight — forward lean helps keep your knees from locking and protects your lower back from overarching.

    Stair-climber posture: good, bad, and just as bad. [Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, In
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    Stair-climber posture: good, bad, and just as bad.
  • Take even, moderately deep steps. Don’t take short, quick hopping steps, a technique known as shaking the machine. This technique is hard on your calf muscles and cuts down on the number of calories you burn.

  • Keep your entire foot on the pedal. This helps your rear end and thighs get a full workout and prevents you from overburdening your calf muscles.

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