Climbing a StairMaster isn’t your average low-impact routine. You can score serious fitness gains from step training. According to Brent Bareham, NASM certified personal trainer and owner of Lion and Luxe personal training studio in Rochester, NY, there are two main benefits. The first: “An increased range of motion in the hips and knees — something runners usually lack — which results in greater muscle activation in the glutes and thighs.” The second: Core activation. Not to mention, you’ll minimize impact. “The step mill offers a great high-intensity, low-impact alternative to the treadmill, elliptical, rower or stationary bike,” Bareham says.
If you’re worried about tumbling off the machine, don’t fret. As long as you use proper form and work at a comfortably hard speed, you should be fine, says Bareham. Stronger abs and a more toned butt with just a few steps? Count. Us. In.
Step Up for Your Health
No matter how in shape you are, climbing up a flight of stairs (or walking on a step mill for three minutes) always feels way harder than, say, jogging on the treadmill for the same amount of time. What gives? Bareham says it’s because you’re putting your muscles through that increased range of motion. “You primarily use your glutes and quads to propel yourself forward on a treadmill, which is what you’re using on a step mill,” he says. “But the degree to which those muscles are being used is dramatically increased because as soon as you step up a stair, your knee and hip motion expands.” It’s just like curling a dumbbell — rather than going 10 degrees, you move 120 and get a totally different experience.
RELATED: 3 Quick HIIT Workouts for Beginners
Plus, you’re literally lifting the amount that you weigh up to the next step over and over again. That’s why you’re able to walk around all day fairly easily, but as soon as you climb two flights of stairs, you might feel a little out of breath and are probably very aware that you’re putting in some effort.
Dos and Don’ts While Stepping
That all makes sense — but there’s just one problem. The StairMaster can get boring. (And no, that’s not a good reason to catch up on US Weekly while stepping — distracting yourself can be dangerous.) To keep from feeling like you’re climbing a staircase to nowhere, Bareham suggests mixing up your steps and focusing on your heart rate instead of speed. “[The stair mill] doesn’t have to be rolling super fast for you to hit your targeted heart rate zone, which makes it easier to switch it up by walking sideways, backward, or taking two steps at a time.”
As for form, Bareham says the biggest mistake he sees is people leaning their weight on the bars. This turns the machine “from an awesome cardio workout to a postural nightmare,” says Bareham. “Your spine moves out of a safe, neutral position and you move the weight to your back and arms,” he says. Instead, focus on keeping your abs tight, back straight, and arms off the bars (so you can pump them back and forth).
And don’t forget about your lower body. If you’re “tiptoeing” your way up the stairs like you’re sneaking in after curfew, you’re doing it wrong, says Bareham. “If the ball of your foot is all that’s touching the stair, you’re not making the most of the movement and you’re placing unnecessary stress on your knees,” he says. So be sure to drive through your heel to maximize your glute and thigh activation.
Your 20-Minute StairMaster Workout
This 20-minute HIIT workout from Bareham will keep your brain, balance and footwork on point. First time going backwards and sideways on a stair mill? Keep your hands close to the rails for safety. When you get to the lateral portions, cross one leg over the other as you step up to the next stair.