Most people who want to lose weight and get in shape start running on the treadmill or working out on the elliptical.
But there’s another piece of gym equipment that can help you drop pounds and improve your physical fitness—the StairMaster or stair stepper machine.
This often overlooked machine provides a high-intensity workout that will leave you dripping in sweat.
And because it mixes resistance training and cardio, it will tone and condition your body at the same time.
But what results can you realistically expect if you start regularly working out on a StairMaster?
After just a few weeks of using the StairMaster, your mood and energy levels will improve, and you may even start losing weight — if you can get your diet in check.
Your stamina will also increase dramatically, which will make running long distances or powering through tough workouts easier.
If you keep at it, your core will get stronger, your lower body will look more toned, and your bone mass will improve. You’ll also have a reduced risk of injury because your muscles and bones will be stronger.
To learn more about the results you can get from working out on the StairMaster regularly, I spoke to a few fitness experts. Here’s what they had to say.
Have you ever struggled to catch your breath after climbing up a few flights of stairs?
Stairs increase your heart rate and breathing so much because they’re steeper than most hills.
According to Runner’s World, the average staircase has a 65 percent grade, while one of the most punishing hills in the Boston Marathon, Heartbreak Hill, only has a 4.5 percent grade.
The StairMaster is meant to mimic climbing stairs, and likely has a similar percent grade. So if you haven’t worked out in a while, you’re definitely going to be out of breath after using it.
“If you’re just getting into fitness, what you’ll probably notice first is the cardio,” says Carly James, an experienced fitness instructor with Fitness Authority. “This will burn off calories and will also help your heart and lung function.”
Working out on the StairMaster is challenging, especially if you’re new to exercise. But as James points out, if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with increased stamina and better cardiovascular fitness.
In a recent study, participants climbed stairs for a few minutes every weekday. After just eight weeks, their VO2 max increased by an average of 17%.
Having a higher VO2 max will increase your endurance, allowing you to exercise harder and longer. It may even prevent you from developing certain diseases like dementia that have been linked to low cardiorespiratory fitness.
So if you want to run faster, perform better in your workouts, and improve your overall health, the StairMaster is a great choice.
When people want to shed pounds and get in shape, they often turn to the elliptical or treadmill.
But climbing on the StairMaster can help you burn just as many calories as other popular cardio machines—if not more.
Bodybuilder and author Chris Cucchiara states, “In my opinion, the StairMaister is the best piece of cardio machinery you can use when it comes to burning the most calories.”
A 200-pound person burns a whopping 820 calories per hour using the StairMaster.
(And you can also use my calculator to find out how many calories you burn climbing real stairs.)
That’s more than you’d burn by walking or jogging, and only a little less than what you’d burn by running.
If you clean up your diet, the StairMaster can help you burn enough calories to get into a caloric deficit and lose weight.
Cucchiara adds, “I have seen newbies, or people who haven’t worked out in a long time, lose 5 pounds of fat after 4-6 weeks.”
It’s generally considered safe and realistic for most people to lose about 1-2 pounds of fat per week.
With results like that, you’ll never want to go back to the treadmill.
Another change that you’ll notice right away is an improvement in your mood.
Working out causes your body to release endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that help relieve anxiety and boost your mood.
Many forms of exercise from yoga to pilates can trigger the release of endorphins.
But recent research has shown that high-intensity aerobic exercise releases more endorphins than lower intensity workouts.
And since StairMaster workouts are so challenging, you’re likely to get a pretty big bump in endorphins, which will have a positive effect on your mood.
Cucchiara says that you may see mood changes in as little as one month. He even knows someone who was able to get off half of their prescription medication because they felt so much better.
Cucchiara adds that your energy levels may even increase from using the StairMaster regularly.
But it’s all about consistency—you’ll get the best results from using the StairMaster three to five days per week for 20 or 30 minutes at a time.
Lower body and core strength
The StairMaster not only provides a great aerobic workout, but also tones your lower body and even your abs.
Because you have to maintain your balance as you climb up the steps, the StairMaster engages and strengthens your core.
Going back to James:
“Over the longer term, you’ll start to notice the benefits to the muscles in your core and your lower body (glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves). Not only will this make you look more toned, but it also helps improve your balance and posture and helps protect against injury.”
If you’re trying to strengthen your core, get athletic looking legs, and reduce your risk of injury, the StairMaster can help you achieve those goals.
But if you mainly want to tone and lift your butt, it may not be the best choice.
Fitness and nutrition expert Dr. Len Lopez says:
“The StairMaster automatically lowers the pedal for you and doesn’t require you to activate your butt muscles the same way that real stairs do. So if you are looking to firm up, climb real stairs or run outside.”
Although the StairMaster isn’t the best option for firming your butt, it’s still a great way to work your legs and core—so it’s definitely worth using if your gym has one.
Another benefit of using the StairMaster or any stair stepper machine at the gym is that it will improve your bone health.
James told me that working out on the StairMaster over the long term can increase your bone mass.
By the time most people reach age 35 or 40, they start losing bone density.
So even though low bone mass and osteoporosis are problems we associate with older adults, they’re things we should all be trying to prevent.
Working out on the StairMaster regularly can help you maintain your bone mass and prevent injuries like fractures.
If you have arthritis, the StairMaster may even help lower your pain levels by strengthening the muscles that support your joints.
And because it’s low-impact, it won’t put as much stress on your joints as something like running.
The StairMaster may become your go-to cardio machine after you experience some of its benefits.
Because the rotating stairs are so steep, climbing them will raise your heart rate quickly and challenge your cardiovascular system. After a few weeks of consistent workouts, you may notice that you have more stamina and don’t get out of breath as easily.
The StairMaster also burns lots of calories and can help you lose weight if you watch what you eat.
You may also notice that your mood is better after you work out on the StairMaster because the high-intensity cardio releases endorphins.
Over the long term, you’ll experience benefits like a stronger core, toned looking legs, and healthier bones.
Although the StairMaster won’t work your arms at all or firm your butt as well as real stairs, it’s still a great choice if you want to increase your endurance, tone your lower body, lose weight, and improve your mood.
Hope that helps!