You'll get an intense workout on a stair climber, a super cardio device that burns more calories than running, according to "USA Today." Whether your knees will love or loathe a stair climber primarily depends on your previous history. The American Council on Exercise, or ACE, states that "individuals with knee pain or a previous knee or leg injury should opt for a lower impact option when selecting cardio equipment." But if your knees are OK, a stair climber can serve as your own stairway to fitness heaven.
A stair climber targets your lower body, especially your quad and glute muscles. Your hip flexors and calf muscles also benefit. By strengthening the muscles that surround your knees, such as your quads, a stair climber helps protect your knees. Stair climbers also are great for general conditioning, which strengthens your heart and lungs and helps prevent diabetes and obesity.
Arthritis and Other Knee Problems
If you have arthritis or other types of knee problems that cause pain, you'll want to tiptoe around a stair stepper and opt for another form of exercise. Regular exercise is generally good for your knees -- it relieves stiffness and strengthens the muscles around the knees. But the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeon says that people with arthritis in the knee area need to avoid exercises that put too much pressure on the front of your knee, such as squats or climbing stairs. Lower-impact activities, such as swimming or walking, are better choices.
If you don't have access to a stair climber, try "real" stairs. In the early 21st century, the extreme sport craze spread to climbing stairways to towers and skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building. But you don't have to race to the top. As Steve Loy, a professor of kinesiology at Cal State Northridge, told "The New York Times," walking up stairs is easier on your knees and feet than running, with an impact of two times your body weight compared to three to four times body weight when you run. However, you'll want to take an elevator back down if you can -- tromping down stairs creates an impact equal to six or seven times your body weight.
To maximize your workout and minimize the chances of injury, use a stair climber correctly. Tufts Medical Center advises you to maintain an upright posture and resist the temptation to lean on the handrails. Leaning over or sticking out your butt can injure your back. Keep your heels on the pedals and push through the heel, not the toes, as you step. After your workout, stretch your hip flexors, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles.
- American Council on Exercise: What's the Best Piece of Cardio Equipment to Use?
- Runner's World: Is Stair Climbing Good Cross-Training?
- American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Patellofemoral Arthritis
- USA Today: Want a Low-Cost, Gym-Free Exercise? Try Climbing Stairs
- The New York Times: Skip the Elevator, Take the Stairs
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.