In our individual quests to get fit and lose weight, many of us have been told that we must commit to regular strength and cardio training to achieve the best results.
However, while it’s true that cardio alone isn’t the most effective way to get in shape, you don’t necessarily need to put in hours on the weight machines to build strength and muscle tone.
Leg day, in particular, is dreaded by many gym-goers. High-intensity leg workouts can leave you feeling sore for days, and when combined with cardio, this can feel like an impossible routine to maintain.
But what if we told you that you could get your cardio and leg day done in the space of an hour without having to drag yourself to the gym for a double session?
All you need is something known in the fitness industry as the stair stepper or stepper machine.
What is a Step Machine?
So, what is this magical stepper machine we’re talking about? Well, it’s actually deceptively simple considering the incredible benefits that this form of exercise can have for your body.
Larger-scale stepper machines can be thought of as mini-escalators. The machine is designed to simulate the experience of climbing stairs.
If you think about the way a treadmill works using a rotating belt to set the pace, a stepper machine is a similar concept, except that it has steps that rotate instead of a flat belt.
You can also find mini-steppers on the fitness market, which are smaller and more portable machines that consist of 2 pedal-like steps. The concept of the workout is the same, albeit slightly lower in intensity.
Stepper Machine Benefits: An Overview
To avoid throwing you in at the deep end, so to speak, we thought it would be useful to outline all of the benefits that can be derived from stepper machines in this short section. For more detailed information on all of these points, be sure to keep reading!
Stepper machines are excellent at toning and strengthening the lower body while getting your heart rate up. Therefore, using a step machine is likely to improve your lower body strength and resistance while benefiting your cardiovascular health!
Moreover, because stepper machine exercise is low-intensity compared to many other workouts, there’s less risk of injury, particularly when it comes to your joints. This makes the stepper machine a suitable form of exercise for people of all fitness levels.
As an added bonus, stepper machines (especially mini steppers) are more portable than other exercise machines, so you can easily move your stepper around in your home or even take it to the gym with you if it’s small enough!
Fitness Benefits of Stepper Machine Exercise
Now that we’ve outlined the main benefits of stepper machine exercise let’s delve deeper into the fitness advantages that you can enjoy with the help of a stair stepper!
The first and probably most important benefit of stepper machine exercise is its impact on your heart health, referred to in medical terms as cardiovascular health.
Scientific research has proven that regular, moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise (exercise that gets your heart pumping faster) is one of the best ways to ensure that your heart remains strong and healthy.
Of course, this type of exercise should always be paired with a healthy and balanced diet for the best results, but if you’re looking to improve your general well-being and overall fitness level, strengthening your heart is a great place to start!
The type of heart and lung-strengthening exercise that you can get from a stair climber is known as aerobic conditioning. By working and expanding your lungs while conditioning the muscle that is your heart, you increase your body’s ability to send oxygen around the body, including to your vital organs.
Oxygenation is key to the process of cellular respiration, without which our bodies would not be able to produce energy. So, not only is aerobic conditioning beneficial for your heart, but it also has wide-reaching benefits for your energy levels!
Since cardiovascular exercise is often linked to weight loss, many of you might be asking: will a stepper machine help me to lose weight? In that case, you’ll be pleased to hear that the answer is yes!
Regular exercise on a stepper machine should definitely help you to shed some pounds if that’s your goal.
It’s estimated that just half an hour of step machine exercise can burn 180 calories at low intensity and up to 260 calories if you really push yourself. That means that if you were to use your stepper machine for an hour straight, you could burn up to 500 calories in a session.
Therefore, assuming that you’re currently consuming the recommended amount of calories for a person of your age, weight, and height, a session on your stepper machine could be enough to get you into the caloric deficit range, which is where weight loss occurs.
Again, however, you should be careful not to take this too far. Pushing yourself and testing your endurance is great, especially if your ultimate goal is to get fitter, but you should always make sure that you’re not putting yourself into a severe calorie deficit.
If you’re losing more than 2 lbs per week, it’s likely that you’re not losing weight in a healthy way. It’s also important not to strain your body to the point of injury, which brings us onto our next stair stepper fitness benefit.
Joint and Bone Health
Exercises like running and jumping can be highly effective when it comes to aerobic conditioning, but they also put a lot of stress on your body.
Any exercise that involves propelling yourself off the ground is likely to put stress on the joints in your ankles, knees, and hips, which can lead to chronic pain or injuries. This type of exercise is referred to under the umbrella term of ‘high-impact exercise.’
Stair climbing, and other exercises that don’t require both feet to leave the ground at any one time, are known as ‘low-impact exercises.’ Low-impact exercise is much healthier for your joints but can be just as effective when done correctly.
Therefore, if you’re somebody over the age of 40 (when joint and bone problems tend to develop) or you have pre-existing joint or bone conditions (arthritis or osteoporosis, for example), a stepper machine could be the perfect exercise aid for you!
However, we would always urge you to discuss the suitability of any exercise machine with your primary care physician if you deal with any long-term conditions or pain.
Here’s where the strength-training aspect of stepper machines comes into play. We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of stair climbing for cardiovascular health, but using a stepper machine can also be an excellent way to strengthen and tone your muscles.
While stepper machines aren’t designed for working the upper body, they can certainly deliver an intense and satisfying lower-body workout.
Each time you push down on one of the steps or ‘pedals’ of your stepper machines, your muscles are encountering resistance from the pistons inside the machine’s mechanism. This resistance is what forces your muscles to work harder, thus building strength and mass over time.
Most high-quality stepper machines have an option to increase or decrease resistance. This is a key part of strength training because once your muscles become accustomed to one level of resistance, they will stop needing to work as hard to keep up, and your strength building will plateau.
Increasing the resistance gradually as your strength improves, however, will lead to a continuous, linear progression in strength building.
Specifically, a stepper machine will work your glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads, so it’s essentially a full strength-training workout for your lower body!
We’ve talked about the fact that using a stepper machine is classed as a low-intensity form of exercise, which is great news for your joints. However, what many people don’t know is that a stepper machine can also be incorporated into HIIT training.
For anyone who might not be familiar with the term, HIIT stands for High-intensity Interval Training. This type of exercise basically involves alternating high-intensity aerobic exercise with low-intensity ‘rest’ periods.
The idea of this exercise pattern is to encourage your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates, which is exactly what you want when you’re trying to lose weight.
The great thing about HIIT training is that because the intensity is increased, the workouts can be completed in less time. In fact, you’d be surprised at how effective a simple 5-minute HIIT routine on your stepper machine can be for building strength, endurance, and aerobic function.
For beginners, we’d recommend 30-second bursts of high-intensity, interspersed with minute-long rests in between at a lower intensity.
You can do this for as long as you feel able to, but to start out, 10-to-15-minute sessions should be enough to make you feel fully worked out.
Additional Stepper Machine Exercise Benefits
This point can apply to most forms of exercise that get your blood pumping and your muscles working, but it’s always worth mentioning.
In our opinion, the mental health impact of exercise is one of the best and most priceless benefits you can derive from moving your body.
Like any form of exercise, using a stepper machine releases endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are commonly known as ‘feel-good chemicals,’ which can help to combat mental health conditions like depression and anxiety to a certain degree.
Moreover, the release of endorphins in your brain produces an analgesic response, which essentially means that it limits the amount of pain that you feel.
This is an especially useful side effect for people who deal with chronic pain and can even help you to work out more effectively because you aren’t so focused on the soreness of your muscles.
High endorphin levels have also been linked to reduced stress, which could even be considered another cardiovascular benefit of stepper machine exercise since stress is a known contributor to various heart conditions.
While mental health benefits can be linked to various forms of exercise, stepper machines have the relatively unique benefit of being portable, especially in their mini form.
Despite the increase in portable gym equipment on the market, even the lightest exercise bike or elliptical machine with the best wheels can prove difficult to move around.
Stepper machines, on the other hand, are portable enough to move from room to room pretty effortlessly. They’re even compact and lightweight enough to take with you to the gym if your gym doesn’t have its own stepper machine or stair climber.
One of the main things that puts potential fitness lovers off going to the gym is time. Walking or commuting to and from the gym adds a significant amount of time to your workout routine.
Traveling home from your workout when you’re tired and sore can feel like the biggest drag in the world.
With a stepper machine, however, you can complete your daily workout from the comfort of your living room while watching Netflix.
Some stepper machines can even be used sitting down, so you can slide your mini stepper under your desk during work hours and step away while you get your paperwork done!
There’s no need to set aside 2 hours of your day or invest in a bus membership – just hop on, and you’ll be done in no time!
Moreover, because stepper machines can be used for HIIT workouts, you have the option of cutting your workouts down to 15-minute sessions while reaping the benefits of a half-hour session.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best stepper machine?
There are plenty of excellent stepper machines currently available on the fitness market!
The best stepper machine for each individual may be different depending on spatial requirements, fitness levels, height, weight, age, and many other factors.
However, some of our top recommendations for the best stepper machine are the Sunny Health & Fitness Mini Stepper with Resistance Bands and the Sportsroyals Stair Stepper.
Alternatively, if you’d like to take your stepper exercise to the next level, we’d recommend the Body Power 2-in-1 Elliptical Stepper Trainer. This machine combines the benefits of a stair stepper with elliptical training at HIIT-level intensity.
Sunny Health & Fitness Mini Stepper with Resistance Bands
Sportsroyals Stair Stepper for Exercises-Twist Stepper with Resistance Bands
Body Power 2-in-1 Elliptical Stepper Trainer
Are stepper machines safe to use?
Generally speaking, yes, a stepper machine is a completely safe exercise aid to use on a regular basis. However, in order to avoid injury or discomfort, you should always make sure that you’re using the machine at the appropriate intensity level for your personal fitness journey.
Overdoing even low-intensity exercises can have consequences for your joints, muscles, and even your heart, especially if you deal with pre-existing conditions in these areas.
Therefore, it’s vital that you stay tuned in to what your body is communicating and stop straight away if you feel any pain (especially in your chest) or begin to experience lightheadedness, dizziness, numbness, or difficulty breathing.
Furthermore, if you suffer from bone, joint, or heart problems, you should always consult your physician before using a new machine.
Another thing to mention is that using a stepper machine for the first time can make you feel off-balance, so we’d advise you to take it slow to begin with until you perfect your center of gravity.
Will a stepper machine tone my abs?
Using a stepper machine isn’t a direct ab workout, so you can’t expect to develop a six-pack within a few months of stair climbing.
However, using a stair climber can benefit your core muscles because it requires the user to maintain their balance and posture throughout the workout. These demands have a subtle yet very real impact on your core muscles.
Because stepper machines are also effective at burning calories, if you use the machine regularly, you’re likely to find that your stomach appears flatter and more toned over time.
Are stepper machines more effective than treadmills?
We wouldn’t necessarily say that a stepper machine is more effective than a treadmill overall. Both stepper machines and treadmills provide their own set of benefits, and what might work better for one person might be less effective or appropriate for another.
The main difference between a stepper machine and a treadmill is that stepper machines are low-intensity exercise aids while treadmills are high-intensity.
If you have a diagnosis of arthritis or similar joint issues, we would definitely say that the stepper machine is the better choice for you. It’ll give you a great workout without putting unnecessary stress on your joints.
Regular treadmill use, on the other hand, has been linked to an increase in bone density. Therefore, although running can strain your joints, using a treadmill may actually help to build up your bone mass and make your bones stronger, keeping conditions like osteoporosis at bay.
Using both a stepper machine and a treadmill, if you’re physically able to do so, is probably the ideal scenario. You can use the treadmill for your high-intensity exercise and then take it down a notch on the stepper machine to relieve your joints.
What kind of diet works best with stepper machine exercise?
Given the fact that everyone’s body is unique and that different people have different dietary requirements, there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for use with a stepper machine.
However, we can provide some general advice on what kind of diet is likely to yield the best results with low-intensity, lower body, and cardio exercise.
Because a stepper machine will work your lower body really hard, it’s vital to get enough protein in your diet.
We recommend consuming plenty of lean protein, which can come from different sources depending on your individual dietary restrictions or requirements. Examples include chicken breast, fish, seafood, tofu, and dairy products.
Many fitness trainers recommend a low-carb diet to cut down on calories overall, which is certainly an option, but this doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. For example, if you follow a vegan diet, cutting back carbs can be tricky and restrictive.
In this case, we’d just recommend reducing the amount of simple or refined carbs that you eat. This will involve limiting foods like white bread, pasta, refined sugar, and soft drinks.
However, you can still load up on fruits (in moderation), vegetables, beans, and whole grains, all of which are sources of essential nutrients and energy.
That’s all from us for today! Hopefully, we’ve sold you on the physical and mental health benefits of using a stepper machine, and you’re now ready to begin a new phase in your fitness journey!
Remember to up the intensity on your stepper machine over time and keep your workouts regular for the best results. On the other side of this coin, always listen to your body when it comes to your limits and nutritional needs. Staying healthy, strong, and pain-free should always come before a calorie limit or weight loss goal.
Work hard, rest well, and most of all, have fun with it!