Since the days of neon leggings and Lycra bodysuits, gym goers have received plenty of stair climber benefits! But just what are the benefits of this machine compared to simply walking up and down some ordinary stairs? Well, let’s find out!

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In this article we will cover:

What is a Stair Climber?

After its debut in 1983, stair climbers gained popularity as an effective workout for overall health. Whether you call it a stair climber, step mill machine, or stair stepper, it’s a great way to get your blood going.

So, just what is a stair climber machine? A stair climber is a machine used to reproduce the activity of climbing steps. It uses a platform with a series of steps, often ranging from five to fifteen at a time, that move up and down at varying speeds. This is a reason why these machines became so popular, as workouts could be both low and high impact.

One of the stair climber benefits is that it tends to be easier on the joints than real life stairs, due to the softness of the pedals on the machine. Quicker turnaround speeds can also be seen because the stair climber is on a loop. This means the user must keep up with not only the cadence but the form, making sure they are using the machine in a way that doesn’t increase their risk of injury. Simply put, a stair climber simulates the act of climbing stairs in a more controlled and low-impact way.

Another difference to note is that the stair climber is not the same thing as the Jacob’s ladder machine, which requires you to climb with your hands and feet. The stair climber benefits from handholds you can rest your arms on. It also differs from free stride machines as, again, you won’t be actively working out your arms. The free stride machines have suspended foot plates rather than a rotating staircase.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the benefits of the stair climber machine!

Stair Climber Benefits

#1 – Engages Different Muscle Groups

Climbing stairs requires significant muscle engagement, particularly in your lower body.  The stair climber machine has workout benefits for many muscle groups, including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core.

Your quadriceps are responsible for knee extension and are essential for walking, running, and even standing up from a seated position. Your hamstrings play a crucial role in the climbing motion; in order to move your momentum forwards, the hamstrings contract to extend your hip. Climbing two or three stairs at a time is a fantastic way to maximise hamstring gains and show the true benefits of the stair climber.

Similar to the hamstrings, the gluteus maximus is responsible for extending your hip. To improve glute definition, straighten your leg after each step and squeeze your glutes. 

Your calves are the last muscles to contract to push you upwards, fighting against gravity. If you are trying to target this area, push upwards with your toes as hard as you can on each step. Try bracing your core and tightening your abs before each step to promote better posture as you climb and give your abs an extra workout.

#2 – Increases Bone Strength

The stair climber exercise machine benefits your bone strength as well as your muscle strength by forcing your body to resist gravity and rise vertically. The impact of exercise on bones works in a similar way to exercise on muscles – it makes them stronger. Bone is living tissue and changes over time in response to any forces that act on it. Therefore, regular exercise encourages your bones to adapt over time by becoming denser.

However, you won’t see as many benefits of the stair climber machine in this area if you don’t combine your workouts with a proper diet, which is crucial to maintaining any gained bone strength. Specifically, calcium is needed for the bones to grow stronger. Calcium can be found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables, shellfish, tofu, and almonds. It’s also important to include energy-boosting foods in your diet to keep you motivated during workouts.

#3 – Improved Metabolism

Your BMR (basal metabolic rate) refers to the amount of energy your body needs to maintain its homeostasis. It is largely determined by your lean mass, especially muscle mass, due to lean mass requiring a lot of energy to maintain. 

One of the stair stepper machine benefits is that it gives us control over our energy expenditure during exercise. Throughout the course of a workout, your muscles can burn through an impressive 3,000kJ per hour.

Any cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming, walking, or aerobics, act on your metabolism in a stimulating way. These activities help burn calories and even temporarily suppress your appetite after a workout. 

Anything that reduces your lean mass can help to reduce your BMR, but another one of the gym stair climber benefits is that it uses your skeletal muscles, which also increases metabolism! This can all translate into more calorie burning and more weight loss in the long run as lean muscle mass increases while muscle tone improves.

#4 – Improved Cardiovascular Health

Oxygen intake is the limiting factor with any form of physical activity. The more you can take in, the longer you will be able to exercise for. VO2 max refers to how much oxygen your body can absorb and use during exercise. 

When stair climbing, your heart and lungs are having to work hard to supply your body with the oxygen it needs in order to maintain your workout. The harder you push into this training, the more improvement you will see in your VO2 max. One study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine had young women climb stairs for a short duration for 5 days a week. After 8 weeks, VO2 max had improved by an average of 17%. This highlighted how the stair stepper benefits your cardiovascular endurance over time.

Stair climber workout benefits go far beyond simply increasing your oxygen flow: your resting heart rate lowers, your blood pressure normalises, and your cholesterol levels reduce. This all leads to another benefit of the stair climber machine – it may help you live longer! 

One study that investigated men who climbed an average of 700 steps each week found that the men reduced their risk of death by 20%. To achieve this result from walking, you’d have to cover about two miles, taking around 30 to 40 minutes. However, the men were able to use the stairs in mere minutes.

#5 – Improved Mental Health

The stair climber isn’t just beneficial for your physical health, consistent use can improve your mental health, mental toughness, and provide you with a mood-boosting rush of endorphins. Aerobic exercises such as swimming, running, and stair climber workouts can benefit your memory, improve your sleep, build resilience, reduce anxious feelings, and improve your self-esteem. 

Scientists propose that the increase in blood flow to the brain plays a role, and that the endorphins released can improve your overall mental health over time. 

In terms of mental toughness, the stair climber brings something special to the table: the psychology of defying gravity and always moving upwards can be an incredibly rewarding experience, encouraging you to push yourself to your limits each time you work out. 

Exercise in general has many mental benefits, so another one of the benefits of the stair stepper is the endorphin rush you’ll receive after your workout. Let’s be honest, stair climbing is hard work. Constant strenuous effort is needed all the way through the workout, but once you’re done, you are rewarded with feel-good chemicals that produce euphoric feelings. That means you’ll be exhausted at the end of your session, but you’ll feel amazing about it!

#6 – Sustainable & Accessible

It can be easy to become bored with your workout routines and this can hinder your progression. When you’re looking for the right piece of gym equipment, the stair climber benefits from versatility. You can do a remarkable number of routines, each designed to target a different area of your lower body (or an all-around workout). 

For example, you could follow a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) cardio circuit, designed to increase in difficulty: 

  • 30 seconds of jogging up the stairs at a moderate effort.
  • 30 seconds walking at a very easy effort.
  • 15 seconds running at a moderate effort.
  • 60 seconds of walking at a very easy effort. 
  • 15 seconds of sprinting up the stairs at maximum effort. 

The stair stepper also benefits from accessibility and approachability. If you’re a first timer to the gym, it can be very overwhelming to decide where to begin, and learning how all the different machines work can be off-putting. Fortunately, with the stair climber, all you do is simply step on and start climbing! 

Once you’re on, you can change the speed of the machine to adjust each of your workouts to your current fitness level. As you improve, you’ll be able to climb at a faster rate or for a longer period of time. If you don’t have access to the gym, you could try the mini stair stepper which has benefits similar to the full-size machine.

#7 – Better Than Climbing Actual Stairs

At this point, you may be wondering what the stair stepper exercise benefits are when compared to walking up and down your stairs at home. After all, won’t you get the same results? Well, in short, the answer is no. 

When you use the real thing, you have to come back down again, which can be a problem for your knees. As you descend, your connective tissue is constantly having to act as a brake to combat gravity’s pull. 

However, when you use the stair climber you do not have to worry about any of this. You are constantly on the upward climb, meaning your connective tissues and joints are not being worn down. Plus, stair climbers fall away from you, reducing the strain required and leading to a sustainable pace noticeably higher than climbing real stairs.

Another reason the stair climber beats out real stairs is that it provides targeted training. While actual stairs cannot provide you with a variety of resistance levels, the stair climber exercise machine has the benefit of a series of buttons that alter your workout. Depending on which setting you choose, you can target your training to fat loss, muscle gain, or strength.

Most staircases have the same step height, so if you work out with real stairs you have to skip steps in order to change the size of the step you take, but this can be troublesome when one step isn’t deep enough and two steps are too deep. Another of the stair climber machine benefits is that it has levered pedals, allowing you to take steps of any size so your workouts are always challenging but still within your comfort zone.

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#8 – Improves Joint Health

Climbing up the stairs is considered to be a low impact exercise. This means that when you’re using the stair climber your feet, shins, and knees suffer less stress than other cardio workouts such as running. 

As a result, you can reap all the benefits of the stair climber without having to suffer through knee issues, shin splints, or other joint problems that occur from exercise. Using knee compression sleeves is an ideal way to help alleviate some of those knee pain symptoms, as well as provide additional support for your joints. 

If you’re looking at the stair climber vs elliptical benefits, both machines are great options for improved joint health and joint mobility. Both of these exercises come with the benefit of improved strength, reduced stress, and lower blood pressure, as well as cutting down your risk of musculoskeletal injury. 

This is why low-impact exercise is a fantastic option for everyone, particularly those who struggle with fast paced, high impact workouts.

Exercise is measured by its relative intensity, which is the amount of effort needed to carry out an activity (which affects your heart rate and breathing). An easy way to understand intensity is by using the ‘talk test’. 

If you can talk with relative ease whilst you’re exercising, you are most likely doing a low impact exercise such as walking or cycling. When you’re doing a high impact activity such as running or climbing, it becomes much harder to talk.

Regular stair stepper workouts benefit you by helping you reach important health goals, which include: maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your risk of heart disease, strengthening your bones and muscles, and reducing your risk of Type 2 diabetes as well.


#9 – Aids Weight Loss

One of the main reasons people exercise is to lose weight. However, if you’re just getting started, some of the equipment in the gym can be intimidating. Now, here’s where the stair stepper comes in – it’s super easy to use for first timers and amazing for weight management!

The stair stepper is an incredibly efficient calorie burner, meaning it can help you burn body fat quicker. As little as 10 steps on the stair climber is as effective as taking 38 steps on flat ground (such as when you’re using the treadmill). This means the stair stepper benefits weight loss nearly 4 times more efficiently than other workouts!

To put this into perspective, if a 68kg person used the stair stepper for one hour, they would burn around 546 calories. To lose one pound of fat you have to be in a deficit of 7,000 calories. This means that a daily workout will have a 68kg person losing half a pound of body fat per week. 

There’s another reason why the stair stepper is so effective at fat burning. While most types of cardio exercise give you some time to ‘ramp up’ to the fat burning zone, the stair stepper pushes you into that zone very quickly – usually within one minute of starting you are within it.

Another stair stepper exercise benefit is that it is actually a fantastic full-body workout. It works out every single muscle in your legs, uses your core strength for balance, your lower abs for lifting your legs, and, if you are moving your arms alongside your body and not resting them on the handrails, your arms get a workout too! The stair stepper focuses on some of the largest muscles in your body, such as your glutes and quads, so is a great way to burn some fat.

Some tips if you want to reap the full benefits of the stair stepper: 

Set your own intervals If you really want to push yourself to your limit, set your own intervals rather than using the preset ones on the machine. This way you can tailor your workouts to your goals and current level of fitness.

Let go Quite literally, let go! If you can, don’t use the handrails – if you’re putting your weight in your hands, you’re short-changing yourself and won’t see the results you’re aiming for. 

Check your heart rate Knowing your heart rate is a great way to ensure you’re working at the intensity you’re aiming for. Simply place your hands on the sensors and wait for the reading. Just remember to take your hands off again!

#10 – Muscle Tone 

The stair climber provides a targeted workout to the glutes, thighs, hips, and abdominals. Another benefit of the stair climber is that because it focuses on the areas of the body where we tend to accumulate body fat, repeated workouts lead to improved muscle tone. Muscle tone is about more than simply looking good. Well developed muscle tone is a real sign of health and fitness as it comes from low fat to muscle ratio. 

In layman’s terms, muscle tone is the capacity for your muscles to resist stretching while in a passive, resting state. It ensures that even when you are at rest, your muscles are at least partially contracted.

Muscle tone has three crucial functions. Firstly, it aids you with maintaining posture as it helps your muscles resist the forces of gravity. Simply put, this is your ability to remain centered and balanced even while at rest. Secondly, it helps you retain energy and make it possible to release that energy whenever you need it. This is the case even for something as simple as walking. 

And finally, because muscle tone acts like a spring, toned muscles will absorb shock and stress much better, even from ordinary muscle movements. This type of function is crucial for people who exercise as it furthers muscle development and helps you avoid injury. The stair stepper benefits you in all of these ways as it targets important muscle groups.

In the gym, the stair climber can also benefit the physiological functions of your entire body. Your posture will improve, the heart will be healthier, your joints will be more flexible, stamina will increase, and your body will be able to fight off illness more easily because of your increased stamina.

You’ll also sleep better, as muscle tone is linked to REM sleep, and your skeletal-muscular balance will improve. This means that rather than allowing one set of muscles to bear the burden of your physical stress, toned muscles distribute those stresses over the skeletal-muscular system.

During stair climber workouts, your leg muscles are the ones that will be receiving the most benefits. This is why it’s important to ensure your upper body is being toned too. Tricep exercises and bicep exercises are vital for keeping you strong, especially if your main focus is on stair climber workouts.

#11 – Great for Runners

If you’re a runner, adding the stair climber to your training regimen is a great move. As a runner, you need lower body strength and power to have a successful workout. Because stair climbing forces your muscles to work against gravity, it provides both of those qualities. 

Another major benefit of stair climbers for runners is that the gradient on the climber is as great as anything you’ll encounter on a real life run. This increases your heart rate and makes you breathe faster to get more oxygen. Continuous use of the stair climber teaches your body to use that oxygen and convert it to energy quicker. However, if you would like to challenge yourself to some harder terrain, trail running might be just the thing for you!

The stair climber machine can also benefit your balance and coordination because the stair climber allows you to target muscle stabilisers such as the gluteus medius. This doesn’t get much stimulation during a real life run, so you’ll feel a difference on your next run after working out. Plus, the fact that you have to balance on one leg each time you step improves your overall balance, minimising any risk of injury on your next run.

#12 – Results

Before you get started on your stair stepper workout and benefits, you’re probably wondering how long it will take for you to see results. The answer to that depends on a number of factors, including current weight and level of fitness. 

The stair stepper benefits weight loss for people who are overweight and those who do little to no exercise will see fairly dramatic results within one or two weeks. If you’re already at a fairly healthy weight and do some exercise, you can expect to see weight loss within two to four weeks. However, this is only as long as you combine the workout routine with a healthy diet. Although, if you’re a fitness veteran, weight loss will typically take a bit longer.

Because the stair stepper provides a great cardio workout while strengthening the main muscle groups in the lower body, you’re really getting two workouts done in the time it takes to do one. As a result, it will take less time for you to see and feel the benefits of your new workout routine. This is why one of the greatest advantages of stair steppers are the results you’ll see.

If you’re after better heart health, it’s recommended that you complete 150 minutes of intense exercise per week or 75 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This translates into about five 30-minute sessions on the stair climber. Within a week or two you’ll feel your legs getting stronger and see them becoming more toned. If you’d like to track your heart rate during workouts, heart rate monitors are an effective way to do this.

Another one of the stair stepper benefits is that you can tailor this workout to what suits you most. If you’re after heart health, you’ll be using the machine a little differently than if you’re after muscle growth.

#13 – Workout Variation

If you’re an exercise enthusiast, you are always looking to improve your performance and take your workouts to the next level. But a phenomenon known as adaptive resistance can impede your performance and bring your fitness progress to a halt. 

Adaptive resistance is when you have done an exercise repeatedly over a long period of time, and your body no longer responds to it. One of the benefits of the stair climber is that you can create variation and change exercises throughout your routine, which leads to more progress over time.

The stair climber offers a number of variations to enable you to keep your workouts fresh and invigorating. Once you’ve gotten used to treading every step on a step mill, challenge yourself to walk on every second step. At first, you will probably want to hold onto the handrail as you make this change. You can also work different muscle groups (hamstrings and calves) by walking backward on the stair climber.

A stair climber machine workout also benefits from being incorporated into a circuit workout: when used in conjunction with other cardio and resistance equipment, such as small weights and resistance bands, it will provide you with a killer full-body workout. If you want to take your cardio up a notch, try HIIT workouts, or incorporating sidesteps and high knees into your workout. If you want to build more muscle, try adding squats, two steps, kickbacks, and weights to the workout.

While variation is important, too much can be an issue. When you’re deciding which exercises to add to your workout, two or three should be chosen for each muscle or movement. It takes time for you to optimise your form on complex compound movements, and it takes time for your body to adapt to new stimuli. If more exercises are added, it becomes increasingly difficult for your body to adapt to each new movement, leading to slower fitness progress.

How to Get Started

If you’ve never used a stair climber before, there’s no reason to feel overwhelmed!

Step 1

Begin by resting your hands gently on the support bar. If you’re feeling bold, try resting just your fingertips (The stair climber is ideally used without holding the support bar at all, but using it to get started or to keep your balance is perfectly fine).

Step 2

Now, put your right leg onto the first step, just as you would when climbing any flight of stairs. Depending on the machine, it will either automatically start when you step on, meaning that you have to climb as soon as you’re on, or wait for you to push start and choose a routine before moving away from underneath you.

Step 3

Once you’re on, try to stand upright with a very slight lean at the hips; this will help to stop your knees from locking and protect your lower back from overarching.

Step 4

Start by taking even, moderately deep steps rather than short, quick steps – this is tough on your calf muscles and reduces the number of calories you burn. Keep your entire foot on the pedal as this helps you to work out your glutes and thighs rather than putting all of the strain on your calf muscles.

Step 5

Keep going! Once you’ve got going there’s not much more to explain, complete your set and follow the final step to finish your workout.

Step 6

If you’re climbing at a fast pace, you’ll want to gradually slow your pace so the machine can slow down with you. Once slowed, you simply need to stop climbing for the machine to stop, and step off to complete your workout.


Now that we’ve discussed the basics, let’s get into some beginner stair climber workouts!

  • One step, two step: Climb one stair at a time to work out your quads. Climb two stairs at a time to target your hamstrings and glutes. So, to get a full workout, mix the two together. Try five sets, alternating between one step and two steps.
  • Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and start the machine at a slow speed. Squat down then spring up onto the next stair, ensuring your knees bend as you land. If you’re struggling with balance, keep your hands lightly on the support bar.
  • Crossover steps: Step up with your right foot and place it on the next step where your left foot would usually land. Then step up with your left and place it where the right would land. You’ll notice that each foot literally crosses over the other. To keep your balance, keep your hands lightly on the support bar.
  • Alternate leg raises: While stepping at a normal pace, bend slightly forward at the waist while kicking your leg out behind you. Ensure you contract your glutes as you kick to get the full benefit, then balance yourself as you return to the step. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Sumo step: As you step, make an exaggerated step to the far edge of the step (if your left leg is climbing, go to the far left of the next step). As the name suggests, you should imitate the way a sumo walks. Maintain an upright back to reap the full benefits.
  • Sidestep: Turn your body sideways so you are no longer facing the machine. Step up with your foot, then cross over and up with your other foot. Do a pre-set number of steps on that side, then turn to the opposite side of the machine and climb again to work out your other side. You may lightly hold the support bar here as it requires some coordination.


How long should you workout on a stair climber for?

If you’re new to the stair climber, start with a 10-15 minute session to get you used to it. Remember, you can always come back to it again during a circuit! 

For the more experienced user, aim for staying on for 30 minutes, incorporating some alternate exercises for a great fat-burning session. All users should start with a 5-minute warm up at a low-intensity to get their body prepared for the full workout. 

Before you begin, it’s also best to warm your legs up by performing stretches so take a look at our articles on the best calf stretches and hamstring stretches to get started.

How often should you use the stair climber?

The vast majority of health associations such as the NHS and British Heart Foundation recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week to maintain a strong, healthy body. This equates to five 30-minute sessions on the stair climber per week. 

However, if you are able to do cardiovascular exercise every day then you definitely should. Due to the low-impact nature of stair climbers, you won’t be putting strain on your body; only making it stronger. Keep in mind that 150 minutes of exercise a week is the minimum amount you should be aiming for, so always try and do more if you can.

Is a stair climber better than a treadmill?

This all comes down to what your fitness goals are. If you’re looking to improve your heart and lung health, or give yourself a killer leg and core workout, you’ll want to use the stair climber. However, if you’re looking to burn as many calories as you can before feeling exhausted, the treadmill is the better option. 

If you’re a runner but are not sure which machine to choose, keep in mind that one of the benefits of the stair climber is that it is a lower-impact alternative to the treadmill, which makes it useful for reducing risk of injury. Nevertheless, just like the stair climber machine benefits, there are also plenty of benefits of running on a treadmill.

Is the stair climber better than running?

Both of these physical activities are fantastic options for a cardiovascular workout, but whether one is better depends on a few different factors. Stair climbing is low-impact, so less pressure is placed on the legs, ankles, and knees, while also offering more aerobic and muscle-building benefits than running does. On the other hand, running burns a higher number of calories, so if weight loss is your goal, this may be the way to go. 

However, as with most types of exercise, it depends more on how intense the activity is, not necessarily the activity itself. For example, a long, uphill run will be more beneficial to your body than a slow stair climber workout and vice versa.

Is the stair climber good for losing weight?

Stair climbers are one of the best fat burning exercises as it focuses on strengthening the lower body, toning the glutes, thighs and calves, and losing inches on the waist. The reason it makes a fantastic full-body workout is because it focuses on some of the largest muscles in your body, as well as providing benefits for your lungs and cardiovascular system.

Stair stepper machines are best used when incorporated into larger workouts. When being used alongside other gym equipment or such as treadmills and weights, it is likely to burn more calories, tone different areas of your body by providing a full workout.

Before You Go

While stair climbers aren’t the newest, flashiest pieces of equipment, we hope this article has shown that these machines are not to be overlooked. Whether you want to manage your weight or simply improve your heart and joint health, the stair climber machine can benefit any fitness level.

If you have a passion for all things health and fitness related, a rewarding career in the industry might just be the thing for you. OriGym’s CIMSPA accredited Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training is the perfect first step to launch your career. Even better, it can be completed in whatever way suits you best – either online, in the classroom, or a mixture of both!

Alternatively, download our FREE prospectus to see the range of courses we have on offer here at OriGym to find the ideal one for you.


  1. Scribbans, Trisha D et al., ‘The Effect of Training Intensity on VO2max in Young Healthy: A-Meta Regression and Meta-Analysis’ in International Journal of Exercise (April 2016, Vol.9, Issue 2), 230-247. PMID: 27182424.
  2. Fletcher, Gerard F et al., ‘Exercise Standards for Testing and Training: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association’ in Circulation (October 2001, Vol. 104, No. 14) 1694-1740, doi: 10.1161/hc3901.095960.

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About the Author: Erin McDonough

Erin OriGym Author
Erin holds a BA in English Language and Linguistics, which she attained whilst studying at Bangor University. Whilst studying, she found a passion for editing and writing, and has worked with writers from the Wirral and Liverpool area over the past 3 years. Erin also has a keen interest in strength training and yoga, often incorporating mindfulness techniques into the latter. Outside of work, Erin can be found gaming, catching up with the newest book releases, or song writing.

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