Stair steppers are the cardio equipment for the staircase runner who lacks a staircase. Models sport safety handles, and wide pedals fit your sliding feet. And while basic climbers offer manual pedal actions for a minimal price, pricier climbers sport motor-driven pedals. Regardless of which stepper you buy, if you have a bad back a stepper can aggravate it. And if used improperly, a stepper can cause back pain.
Gyms attract customers with the variety and quality of their equipment; ask a trainer which steppers are manual and motor-driven, and then try each to gauge your preference. Or head to a local athletic store and invest in an in-home model. Try both types and watch for shakiness, difficulty pushing the pedals down, or any discomfort in the back when putting the stepper on the lowest resistance. If any of these things happen, skip that one and move to the next model.
Slouching from fatigue, hunching over the console and leaning on the handlebars causes poor posture. And poor posture leads to back pain. When your feet are repeatedly stepping away and your posture's so-so, you'll feel that pain in your lower back. If you already have a back condition that flares up, such as degenerative disc disease or postnatal tailbone pain, you may notice pain sooner than most.
Proper posture is important during any exercise, and especially while on a stair stepper if you want to avoid back pain. Stand with your feet facing forward on the pedals and your back straight. Look straight ahead, not down, up or to the side. Keep your abs tight and your shoulders pulled back. Gripping the handlebars is OK, just do so lightly. Use them for balance and stability, not to keep you going when fatigue sets in. Lower your resistance or slow down if you find your posture slipping, or your grip getting tighter.
Safety and Considerations
Leave bare feet and loose clothes for post-exercise lounging. Wear clothing that fits snugly, but doesn't bind tightly around your waist, like belts or zipped shorts. Buy a flexible pair of athletic cross-trainers. A basic pair of cross-trainer shoes will protect your back as you exercise. And they will travel with you from exercise to exercise, and machine to machine.
And check with your doctor before stepping on a climber if you've had problems with your back in the past. Stop exercising on a stair stepper if your back bothers you. Don't resume climbing until it stops. Add the stair stepper to other aerobic activities and fit in 150 minutes, or as long as your back tolerates, of cardio a week.
Having studied at two top Midwestern universities, Catherine Field holds degrees in professional writing and patient safety. Writing since 2000, Field has worked with regional newspapers while publishing fiction online. She conducts medical communication research at a Midwestern medical institution and is slated to write a book based on her research findings.