Squats Vs. Stair Stepper

A body-weight squat uses light resistance.
i Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you’re performing squats correctly, you’re not only building up your lower body but also burning off calories. Unlike stair steppers in which you’ll need to either take a trip to the gym or lay out a chunk of cash for an in-home machine, you can sneak in a set of squats while at work. Just duck into the ladies room, bang them out and blast your glutes. If you want to break a sweat with a rigorous but low-impact aerobic workout, 30 minutes on a stair stepper will do the job

Anaerobic Versus Aerobic Exercise

    There are two fundamental types of resistance or strength training, isolation and compound. Squats are a form of compound resistance exercise, requiring the use of more than one muscle group and motion at more than one joint. Resistance training is a subset of anaerobic exercise. When you perform squats, you’ll tap into your anaerobic metabolism, which doesn’t use oxygen to break down the glucose in your muscles as an energy source. The focus of resistance training is to increase the strength and power of your muscles. In contrast, a workout on the stairstepper is an aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, which requires oxygen to fuel the muscles. The aim of this type of exercise is to improve endurance and strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system.

Use of Muscle Groups

    The muscle groups used for squats depend on the type of squat you’re doing. There are variations, such as body-weight or free-weight squats. All squats will put stress on your thighs, buttocks and lower back. If you add weights, you can blast your upper body at the same time. For example, a front squat with a barbell will also work your arms, back and abdominals. In this exercise, you place a barbell high on your collarbone and squat as far down as possible. The main muscles used for stair climbing are the hip flexors, hamstring and quads. Hip flexion enables you to push down on the foot pedals and lift your body weight. You’ll also use your calf muscles and ankle joints.


    Most stair steppers provide a control panel from which you can choose desired levels of resistance and speed. You can even change the intensity level in the middle of the exercise if you’re finding it too easy or difficult. If you place your hands on the side rails, it can lower the intensity of the exercise by 20 percent. To get a vigorous workout, you should use a high cadence of about 100 steps per minute. If you wear a backpack to increase resistance, it can place too much stress on your knees and lead to injury. When you’re performing squats, you have complete control over the amount of weight to lift.

Impact on Joints

    Both squats and stair stepper exercises can impact your knees. In particular, when you’re doing squats with weights, you have to align your knees and ankles properly to avoid injury. Your knees should line directly above your ankles. If your knees move forward and beyond your ankles, you’ll transfer too much pressure to the knee joints. Comparing to running, the stair stepper is designed to be a low-impact exercise. However, you’ll still weather a lot of stress behind your kneecap, according to Clyde Soles’ book “Climbing: Training for Peak Performance.”

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