The Best Cadence for Stair Stepping as an Exercise

Stair stepping provides cardiovascular benefits and builds leg strength.

Stair stepping provides cardiovascular benefits and builds leg strength.

Whether you're hitting the step aerobics class or scaling the stairs of the apartment complex next door, stepping can boost heart and lung power while sculpting gorgeous legs and glutes. The term cadence refers to your speed, and the best one for you will depend on your fitness level as well as your workout goals. A faster cadence shreds serious calories, but a slower one can help you get the hang of fancy stepping moves.

Step Aerobics Cadence

Step aerobics is like a dance routine for fitness seekers, and the cadence is determined by the song selection. "Shape" magazine recommends stepping to tunes that run between 119 and 122 beats per minute, the pace of many light rock songs. Most dance-oriented music is too fast, often running at about 128 beats per minute. It's vital that you avoid moving too quickly through your workout -- when you rush, your technique may falter and you could have a greater risk of injury.

Cadence for Stairs

Counting steps per minute is the most accurate way to determine cadence with stairs. If you use a stepmill, you can either adjust your machine between levels one through 20 or choose exact steps per minute, depending on the model; on stationary stairs, you can gauge steps per minute by counting your steps for 15 seconds and multiplying the number by four. For the average woman, levels two or three on the stepmill, or 31 to 39 steps per minute, provide a good warm-up rate. Level five, or about 53 steps per minute, is moderate, while levels eight through 10, or 75 to 89 steps per minute, will provide an intense workout.

Determining Intensity

Rather than relying on generic numbers to find the best cadence, use your heart rate. First find your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220; so at 25 years old, your maximum rate is 195 beats per minute. Now find your target heart rates: for a moderate cardio workout, which is ideal for beginning and intermediate exercisers, your target rate is 50 to 70 percent of maximum -- 97.5 to 136.5 beats per minute for 25-year-olds. For vigorous cardio, a good choice if you're physically fit, your target heart rate is 70 to 85 percent of maximum, or 136.5 to 165.75 beats per minute. Find your heart rate by counting the pulse on your wrist or beneath your jaw for 15 seconds, then multiplying by four.

Workout Guidelines

You'll benefit most from cardio if you get 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate activity, or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous activity. Stepping can be hard on your body at first, so ease slowly into a routine to avoid injury. Shorter steps are easier and well-suited for beginners, while advanced steppers may wish to increase step height for a more challenging workout. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends wearing shoes that are somewhat inflexible and have plenty of padding in the forefoot. See your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.

About the Author

Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by,, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.

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