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More Training Info > Stair Stepping

Stair Stepping Effectiveness

Q: How would you rate stair stepping machines for achieving cardiovascular fitness?

A: Stair steppers generally provide a fairly good cardiovascular workout if you perform the exercise properly. Too often I see steppers draping themselves over a stair machine or propping themselves stiffly on the arm rails with hyperextended elbows. If you are going to work out on the stair stepping machine, make sure that you maintain upright posture, without a death grip on the rails, so that the targeted gluteal and hamstring muscles get a chance to work for you. Take as large a step as comfortable to work deeply into the muscles, as opposed to a short, quick baby step. Think of the boulders or stair steps you would climb in "real life" and try to get the same or slightly larger range of motion.

If you have any sort of knee problems, you may opt to either vary your foot position, lifting your feet up off the pedals with every step so that you don't get locked into repetitive motion, or perhaps you may prefer walking up and down flights of stairs, so that you get to more effectively engage your core and stabilizer muscles. An alternative to stairs would be walking up and down hills, perhaps even carrying a weighted backpack, if you are an alpine climber, backpacker, or mountaineer.

Finally, you need to keep in mind what your specific training goal is for the day--are you just trying to squeeze in 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise because you're waiting for a climbing partner and need to get warmed up? Are you training for a climb where you will have to be kicking steps for a team of climbers who are several inches taller than you? Do you like climbing stairs because they tax your legs like nothing else can? Each person will have a different answer. Ultimately you need to evaluate for yourself whether stair climbing is the most effective exercise for your intended outdoor activity and for your daily and weekly goal. Climbing on a stairstepper can be a very safe and effective cardiovascular exercise.


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