You probably never looked at a ladder and thought, "Hmmm...I bet climbing that thing over and over would give me a good workout." Yet climbing really is effective, challenging exercise. The first climbing workout machines were stair steppers but, although they are still widely used in health clubs and homes, the newer generation of climbing workout machines base their effectiveness on an entirely different type of climbing.
Types of Machines
The old reliable stair steppers are good at giving you a workout that is similar to walking uphill, an effective workout in its own right. But other types of climbing machines have evolved to simulate a vertical climb, like climbing a ladder or a rock wall. Two popular climbing machines actually replicate those kinds of climbs quite well: the climbing mill or tread wall, which is a lot like a climbing wall you use to practice rock climbing; and a ladder mill, which can be vertical or on an angle and feeds ladder rungs to you non-stop, simulating a never-ending ladder climb. A third machine, the basic climber, is similar to the tread wall because your body is vertical, climbing straight up during your entire workout, and using your arms and your legs. The climber is kind of like a ski machine or elliptical trainer; the movement of your arms sets your legs in motion and vice-versa. Some climbers even come programmed to take you on simulated climbs of various challenge levels from an easy beginner's climb to Mount Everest.
What They Work
If you choose your cardio machines based on the number of body parts they activate as well as the level of cardio challenge they provide, climbing machines will soon become a staple to your workouts. The vertical climbers all work your legs and your upper body at the same time, so not only are your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves working hard, but your core muscles, shoulders, lats, biceps and triceps get to join the party, too, giving you a full body workout. By getting your entire body in on the workout, you'll be kicking up the cardio aspect, too, for increased calorie burning and building endurance in the bargain.
Climbing workout machines are useful to train for sports you already enjoy or to get you ready for something you'd like to try. Rock climbers can benefit from any of the vertical climbing machines since they duplicate different aspects of climbing or crawling up the face of a rock wall. If you enjoy back packing, load your pack up, strap it on and jump on a climber or a ladder mill to get conditioned or help keep your condition in the off-season. Even if your sport of choice isn't climbing-oriented, because climbing workout machines call upon your whole body and build endurance, they'll help condition you for whatever you enjoy, from skiing to swimming.
More Than One Workout Use
You can use climbing machines for the obvious and just hop on one to get your cardio workout for the day. But don't overlook using the climbing machine for other purposes. Incorporate it into a circuit or use it for a few minutes before your workout as a warmup. Climbing machines have a way of setting a rhythm that you can carry with you through the rest of your workout.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.