Using these machines (often known as StepMills or StairMasters) is like climbing a set of stairs that just never ends. It’s not pleasant, but it’s effective. “I like the stair climber because the user is standing the entire time, is time efficient, and it forces the user to keep moving the entire time,” says Iasevoli. It’s cardio on cardio on cardio.
But you’re also strengthening your lower body, too. After a few flights you’re going to feel the burn in your quads, butt, and hamstrings. “Climbing stairs puts all of your body weight on a single leg at a time in a lunge pattern,” Halevy explains. “The large muscle groups of the legs are being worked, so energy expenditure is very high.”
In addition to expending a ton of energy while you’re on the machine, having strong leg muscles is particularly great for increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR)—because these lower-body muscles are so big, they’re some of the most metabolically active muscles in your body (muscle mass requires more energy to maintain, so you burn more calories at rest). And when you’re climbing with proper posture your core is working to keep you upright and balanced, too.
To get started, Iasevoli suggests doing minute-on, minute-off intervals for 10 to 20 minutes, alternating between a faster and a slower speed. (Make sure your entire foot hits the stair with each step.)
The cardinal rule of stair climbing, according to Iasevoli and Halevy? No holding onto the arm rails for support. You can lightly rest your fingertips for balance, but for max benefits, don’t put weight into them.