The stair climber has passed the test of time for a reason: it works! The machine engages various muscle groups in effective ways, including your glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings. If you’re looking to shed pounds, the stair climber is a great starting point, since it requires you to fire up so many different muscles. “Not only are you strengthening these muscles, but you’re also speeding up your metabolism,” says Caleb Backe, certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. What’s more—for those suffering from a back injury—the stairmaster can help speed your recovery. Here are some expert-approved stair climber tips to help you torch the most calories.
Avoid holding the hand rails
Handrails are not meant to be used for your entire workout. They’re really only there to aid in stability. In fact, holding onto them can totally throw off your posture and balance, causing you to slump over and lose the core engagement that makes the stair climber a great workout in the first place, explains Chris Ryan, CSCS, founder of Chris Ryan Fitness. “Safety is always key with any workout. Get comfortable at a pace you can handle without holding the hand rails, first,” he adds. “Up the intensity slowly to get your heart rate at 80 percent of your maximum or above to get the max out of your workout. Engage your core by pulling your shoulder blades down.”
Check on your heart rate
If you can carry on a full conversation and are hardly out of breath, you’re probably not pushing yourself to your max; a great way to determine this is to keep an eye on your heart rate. “You will release a greater amount of overall calories operating at 80 percent or above of your max heart rate through excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC effect) than you will operating in a low heart rate state for your work intervals,” explains Ryan. “Not to mention it will take less time to get a great workout!”
Take full steps
If you crank the speed dial up too high, you might have trouble catching each and every step. Not only could this lead to an injury, but it also shortens your range of motion. This ultimately leads to less overall muscle recruitment and less calories burned, according to Ryan. “The most effective way to step is as fast as possible, but with full steps engaging all the muscles in your legs and core,” he says. “The more muscle recruitment, the more calories burned.”
Use a weighted vest
Enlisting the help of a weighted vest is an easy way to up the ante on your stair climber workout. Even just ten to 20 pounds makes a difference. It’s a great way to add extra intensity to your overall workout and helps you get in shape fast; however, Ryan warns to take precaution. “Adding too much weight may cause excess knee pain or overload your core too much to walk upright,” he says. Consider starting slow—with just five pounds of added weight, then upgrading to higher amounts of weight, as you feel comfortable.
Most relatively new stair climber models have an interval setting that allows you to alternate between speeds and levels of intensity. “Changing the speed sporadically is a much more efficient way of working on your stamina. [A] sprint kills your energy too fast without giving you sufficient time to recover,” explains Backe. “The low interval should always be longer than the high interval. [This] ensures that you can finish the workout.” For example, if you’re doing a 25 minute workout, aim for two minutes of low intensity and one minute of high intensity until you reach 20 minutes. At 20 minutes you can slowly work your way down to a few miles per hour, or less, explains Backe.
Skip a step
Once you have mastered the lighter grip, Melis Edwards, fitness trainer, coach, and founder of HIT Method, suggests climbing every other step. Doing so will force you to fully engage your quadriceps, hips, hamstrings, glutes, and core further. “This method mimics elevation climbing outside,” she explains. “Try this skip-a-step method for bouts of 30 seconds to one minute, each with equal recovery time. Slowly work your way up to performing it for two to five minutes at a time.”
The most popular position for the stair climber is to have your feet facing straight forward. But, there are plenty of other positions that can give you an even more intense workout. Edwards suggests shifting the angle of your feet 30 to 40 degrees in either direction and using a crossover stepping method. “I do this when I run on land, as well; the point is to work the lateral and medial aspects of my leg strength.”
The more layers you wear, the more heated your body will be during the workout, and the more you will sweat; this is a great way to add more calories to your burn list. Ben Boudro, C.S.C.S., owner of Xceleration Fitness in Auburn Hills, Michigan, suggests throwing on some sweatpants and a hoodie. “I like the feeling of wearing a hood, jamming out with the headphones and watching the sweat pour throughout the body,” he says. Just remember to stay hydrated and be careful not to overdo it. “Hydration will only help the sweating process. [It will] allow you to rid the body of toxins and help you shed off more fat!”
Add leg kicks
Throwing in this easy move will activate more glute muscles than simply performing the standard stepping motion, according to Boudro. “Turn the setting down to a little bit slower so that you can get used to this motion,” he says. “As you step forward with one leg, kick your opposite leg back behind you. [Keep] your leg completely straight and squeeze your butt cheek at the very top.” Repeat on the other side. “This will seriously tax your lower body and help you hack the number of calories you burn during your time with the machine,” he adds.