If you watched late-night TV infomercials in the ‘80s, you might remember the VersaClimber, that total-body cardio machine. More recently, you might have seen it pop up in your Facebook feed as a celebrity training secret, with converts including LeBron James and Jennifer Aniston. And now, the low-impact, high-intensity vertical climber continues its second act in studios, where a few gyms across the country are building entire workouts around it.
One such gym is Rise Nation. Founded by LA-based trainer, Jason Walsh, Rise Nation opened in 2014 as the first VersaClimber-specific studio, and now sports locations in West Hollywood, Cleveland, Dallas, and Miami.
“I wanted to come up with something that was superior to the other conditioning classes being offered,” says Walsh. “I wanted to create something that’s truly good for you, and VersaClimber workouts gave me that. They’re effective, efficient, and safe.”
With handles and pedals that utilize all four limbs, the VersaClimber engages the entire body in a cross-crawl motion—when your right arm goes up, so does your left leg, and vice versa. This primitive movement is something we’re conditioned to do from a very early age. It’s something that Walsh says reinforces proper movement patterns. “Functional movements like that promote overall strength and stability,” he explains. The exercise works your legs, glutes, arms, back, and core. And if you do it long enough, you’ll work up a serious sweat.
All that work translates to a significant calorie burn. Walsh says this is because the more muscles you recruit, the more oxygen you require to keep going. And oxygen is the catalyst that sparks that calorie-torching fire inside your body. In this case, to the tune of an estimated 600-800 calories per 30-minute climbing session. Not bad for a half hour’s work.
Like any new exercise class or unfamiliar machine, trying the VersaClimber for the first time can be intimidating. But once you get the hang of it, the fluid, low-impact movement will begin to feel a lot more natural. So let’s get started.
When you approach the machine, the pedals will be staggered. Step onto the bottom pedal first, then the top pedal. Grab the handles to balance yourself. Those are adjustable and should be placed at shoulder height.
The screen in front of you has all the stats you need, including time elapsed, total steps, steps per minute, and more. Check the screen periodically to keep an eye on your progress, and note your total steps at the end. That number is a handy indicator you can use for setting goals as you continue to use the machine and improve over time.
Though it may feel natural to stay completely upright at first, with your body hugging the machine’s vertical center rail, you want to keep your weight back. Bend your knees, push your hips back, and keep your chest high. That will ensure you’re engaging your glutes, which are the body’s biggest muscle group, and the primary driver of the VersaClimber.
Control the Speed and Range of Motion
How fast you go is entirely up to you. Same with the range of motion. You can take short strokes or long strokes and should do both to mix up your workout. In a class like Rise Nation, the instructor will lead you through the movements, varying speed, and stroke length to keep thing interesting.
Change Up Your Grip
The horizontal handles can be gripped with your palms facing away from you or toward you. Switching your grip on occasion alters the muscles being worked in your arms, provides variety, and also just helps you stay comfortable.
Change Up Your Stance
The primary position you’ll employ on the VersaClimber is the same as explained above, with your hips back and chest up. But you can also place your hands on the machine’s lower, stable bar, which allows you to move farther back in your stance. This puts even more emphasis on your glutes and legs. Spend a few minutes in this position, and you’ll feel the difference.
Toggle the Resistance
Directly in front of you, and just below the display screen, you’ll find a small knob. Keep it all the way to the left for the lowest resistance, and turn it to the right for increased resistance. The farther to the right it goes, the more difficult the workout.
Just Keep Moving
A few minutes in, your heart and lungs might wonder what they did to deserve such punishment. But keep moving, and eventually, your breathing will regulate, and you’ll find your rhythm. The VersaClimber is no joke, but if you keep at it, the work will get easier as your conditioning improves.