Stair Machines: Climbing to Peak Fitness

Like walking, running, and swimming, stair stepping is an aerobic activity that improves your overall fitness. People at all fitness levels can use stair machines to lose weight, moderate high blood pressure, rehabilitate after reconstructive knee surgery, or cross-train for specific sports participation. To get the best cardiovascular workout in any aerobic exercise, you must exercise at least 3 times each week for at least 20 minutes each session at an intensity that elevates your heart rate to more than 60% of your maximum heart rate (max. heart rate = 220 - your age).

Types of stair steppers
Stair stepping equipment is categorized as non-mechanized or mechanized. Non-mechanized steppers, such as machines that use air pistons, do not move fast enough to provide an ideal aerobic exercise workout. Mechanized stair steppers or stair machines provide the best aerobic workout of stair stepping equipment. They can be found at public gymnasiums and health clubs or can be purchased from an exercise equipment dealer or manufacturer.

The styles of stair machines include staircase ergometers, independent pedal steppers, and linked pedal steppers. Staircase ergometers, which were the first style of stair machine available to the public, are similar to escalators and are the most like climbing stairs. Pedal steppers, which are currently more widely distributed in health clubs, have linked pedal action (e.g., Bally's Lifestep)) or independent pedal action (e.g., Stairmaster PT-4000). Both staircase ergometers and pedal steppers have settings for speed control, time, distance, and workout intensity. However, each style is used differently so ask a trainer at your health club or gymnasium or ask a salesman to teach you how to use the machine you plan to include in your workout.

Posture
Because stair machines are designed for you to stand upright while using them, they provide an excellent form of exercise to strengthen Your back Muscles. To get the most benefit from exercising with this equipment, You should stand upright and lightly grasp the handrails, using them only for balance while stepping. Many users reverse their grip on the handrails, lean forward or hunch over, and prop themselves on the handrails or electronics panel, Supporting their upper body with their shoulders and wrists. This poor posture prevents you from developing strong back muscles and decreases the actual workout intensity by at least 20% because your leg muscles are not supporting your full weight.

As with climbing stairs, you 'Must lift Your feet about 6.5 inches to 8 inches each step to exercise your leg, buttock, and back muscles using the stair machine. People who take tiny steps or step with their tip-toes exercise their calves but not their thigh and buttock muscles. The amount of calories burned depends on how much you involve the large muscle groups, such as the thigh and buttock muscles, in aerobic exercise. Using a complete stride of 6.5 inches to 8 inches with upright posture burns the most calories. Because stair stepping strenuously exercises the large muscles of your legs, you need to do gentle stretching exercises before and after your workout. Stretching before you exercise helps prevent injury. Stretching after you exercise, especially your hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thigh) and heelcords, helps restore muscle fibers to their pre-exercise length to prepare them for all the other demands placed on them.

Remember, when you begin any exercise program, you should start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration as you get in better shape. Overexerting Yourself can lead to injuries and other problems, such as anterior (front) knee pain.

Including a climb on a stair machine in your exercise program provides a good, healthy aerobic workout if you use the proper technique.

Paul D. Zawatsky, M.D.
Columbus, Georgia