Although most people make a beeline for the treadmill or elliptical when they arrive at the gym, using a stair climber machine is a great way to switch up a workout. Stair climbers are easy to use for beginners and seasoned exercisers alike. They also offer effective workouts that burn calories and tone your lower half—just to name a few benefits. Our Aaptiv trainers bust six popular stair climber myths, so you can give it a try.
Myth #1: You don’t need to do anything else for your legs.
“False,” says Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham. “You absolutely work your lower body and can tone your lower body with the stair climber. But to get a solid lower-body workout, you must include some sort of resistance training to cause your muscles to break down and build strength and actual lean muscle.”
Myth #2: It doesn’t count as cardio.
You may think you can’t build a cardio foundation on the stair climber, Cunningham says, but you definitely can. She recommends varying the intensity to build endurance, stamina, and cardiovascular strength. This is easy to do on the stair climber due to its versatility as a cardio machine—here’s how.
Myth #3: It will make your legs bigger and bulkier.
Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase says this is the No. 1 thing she hears from people regarding stair climber workouts, but it is not true at all. “The stair climber actually sculpts and tones, for lean legs and booty,” she notes.
After this type of workout, your legs can seem bigger, but it’s due to a rush of blood bringing oxygen to worked muscles. Once your lower body recovers, this goes away. Of course, increased weight resistance can help build muscle in your legs over time, This may lead to increased leg size, but cardio machines aren’t the culprit.
Myth #4: Stair climber workouts are bad for your knees.
For anyone who has preexisting knee joint issues, the stair climber may not be ideal. It could aggravate pain or feel uncomfortable for weak or injured knees. However, stair climber workouts don’t create knee pain in the first place, if used properly. Be sure to go slowly and focus on a few key form elements. Continually activate your glutes and hamstrings instead of just your calf muscles, press your entire heel down when you step, and make sure the stairs don’t come all the way up or down to protect your knees from locking or overextending.
“The stair climber is better on your knees than if you were walking true stairs, as you’d have to walk back down—whereas with the stair climber you’re only going up,” Chase notes.
Myth #5: You won’t work your entire body.
“The stair climber actually is a great full-body workout because it works out every muscle in the legs,” Chase says. “It also works out your core, as you’re using it for balance, and your lower abs for lifting the legs—if you are moving your arms alongside your body, not leaning on the handrail supports. Improper form causes poor results.”
The higher the intensity, the more your heart can get a good aerobic exercise, too. For weight loss, the stair climber focuses on some of the largest muscles in your body, such as quads, glutes, and hamstrings. It can definitely help burn all-over calories.
Myth #6: Exercising on a stair climber is boring.
Honestly, a dull workout is a red flag that it’s time to find something you actually want to do in order to push yourself to the next level. Take a rest day to figure out the changes you need to make. Then come back refreshed and ready to go the next time you plan your week of workouts. For the stair climber specifically, consider switching to high-intensity intervals instead of preset programs on the machine. Or play around with picking up the pace, skipping stairs, and stepping with alternate legs.
“With the help of Aaptiv, workouts are no longer boring,” Chase says. “You have a trainer in your ear telling you what to do next while offering an awesome music playlist to get you through the workout.”