With the stair climber, also called a stepper, you can literally step your way to shapely glutes and thighs while getting in a killer cardio workout. Though most machines offer similar aerobic benefits, you'll find significant differences in range of motion, versatility, portability and -- here's a biggie -- price. Whether you're scoping the machines at the gym or ready to purchase your own stair climber, it's smart to bone up on the pros and cons of each model.
Like a treadmill with steps, the stepmill allows you to mimic the motion of walking up a staircase while remaining at the same elevation. The machine features cascading stairs that constantly move downward like an escalator, forcing you to maintain your pace. Some stepmills allow you to choose a speed from levels one through 20, with level one being the slowest. Other models allow you to set a step-per-minute pace, usually ranging from 24 to 162 spm. The beauty of the stepmill lies in its versatility: You can skip a step, step sideways or even face backward.
Pedal Stair Climbers
Lighter, simpler and more affordable than stepmills, pedal-based climbers consist of two independent steps that move up and down. The fanciest versions are motorized, but manual models are cheaper and can be just as effective. While you have fewer movement options on these than on stepmills -- for example, walking sideways is definitely out -- you often have the luxury of choosing resistance. Most machines allow you to choose a difficulty setting, which determines how hard you must push down on the pedals to make them move.
Mini stair climbers come with a low price tag, but you really only get your money's worth. These petite models come with two pedals atop a small platform and sometimes include protruding poles for balance. Range of motion is severely limited on mini steppers, and the American College of Sports Medicine reports that most users feel uncomfortable on them. Exercise equipment does no good gathering dust, so keep your wallet closed until you've given the machine a test run and are confident that you'll use it often.
Practice good form on your stair climber by maintaining a straight back, facing forward and tightening your abdominal muscles as you move. Resist the urge to lean on the railings -- a loose grip is best. For optimal glute shaping, take as large steps as possible to work deep into the muscle. If you're currently inactive or you have any health conditions, see your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, 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.