How to Have a Better Stairmaster Workout

by Evelyn Valdez

If you’re looking to have a good cardio workout at the gym, you probably think of hitting the treadmill or picking up a jumping rope, but you might be forgetting about one of the best options there are - the StairMaster. It might look intimidating at first, but it’s definitely worth it.

The StairMaster, also known as stair climber or stepper, is a great stationary machine for your cardio workouts, helping you burn more calories at the gym without even leaving your spot. It simulates a staircase or, more accurately, an escalator going backward. Even though it involves a pretty simple movement, in which you climb one step at a time in a steady motion, a good StairMaster session will have your muscles burning at the end!

So, what does the StairMaster work exactly?

This cardio machine mainly works your legs, more specifically your glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings, while also activating your hip flexors and core for stability. All in all, it’s a great lower-body workout for those looking to sculpt their legs and get stronger while burning tons of calories, but it’s crucial to use it correctly so you can reap all the possible benefits.

In this article, we’ll show you how to effectively use the StairMaster machine, as well as a few modifications that you can do to make your workouts more challenging.

How to use the StairMaster correctly

Using the StairMaster is as simple as going up a flight of stairs, except that these stairs are infinite - or at least until your workout is over! But, in order to master your climbing technique, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind so you can have an effective workout:

Keep a good posture

Proper form and good posture are a must when doing any kind of exercise, and StairMaster workouts are not the exception!

During your stair climbing session, pay special attention to your upper body. Since you’re not moving it, it could easily have bad posture without you noticing, such as rounding your shoulders or your back. In order to have proper climbing form, you need to keep a straight spine by engaging your back muscles, pushing your shoulders down and back, and your chest up. If you hunch forward, you’ll put a lot of tension on your lower back, which could cause pain and even injuries in the long run.

Hinging slightly forward at the hips is fine because it’s the natural posture when climbing stairs and it helps you with lower body motion, but don’t go too far forward so you can keep your balance and avoid unnecessary straining. You need to keep a good and constant pace, so you’ll want your body to be as comfortable and stable as possible.

You should also keep your head up, looking forward as you climb so you don’t strain your neck. At first, you might need to look down from time to time to get used to the pace of the stairs so you can find your balance and rhythm and avoid tripping. But you’ll get the hang of it after a few minutes and you’ll be able to keep the pace comfortably!

Step with your whole foot

You should use a StairMaster just as you would use regular stairs, by driving your weight through your heel, placing your whole foot on the step. Some people tend to climb by stepping with the balls of their feet instead, placing all of their weight on the front part of the foot - but doing this won’t take you anywhere!

The reason why you should step with your whole foot is to drive your weight through your heel and up to your legs. If you step on the balls of your feet, leaving your heels hanging off the steps, the weight won’t be correctly distributed, and it will all go toward your calf and hamstrings and you’ll end up overworking them.

By stepping heel first and pushing down to climb the step, you’ll bring your quads and glutes into the action and you’ll be able to work out for a longer time without exhausting your leg muscles. Stepping with your whole foot will also give you a wider range of motion, activating more muscles at a time and allowing you to give your lower body a better workout overall, so keep those heels down!

Don’t hold onto the rails

This aerobic exercise is meant to work your lower body and give your leg muscles a good burn, but holding onto the railings will take that work away from your legs.

Just like with a regular flight of stairs, you sometimes need to hold onto the handrails to keep your balance and avoid tripping, but the difference between regular stairs and the StairMaster is that the second one is meant to exercise your legs. You can place your hand on the rails for stability, especially if you’re a beginner and need to get used to the machine first, but don’t rely on them!

If you grip too tight, you might start reducing the load on your legs and placing them on your arms, which reduces the effectiveness of the workout. The rails are there for your safety in case you need to find your balance, not to place your weight on them, so try to keep your hands off them while you can so you can develop a good climbing form for better workouts.

Warm up properly

This one should be a given, but surprisingly a lot of people skip their warm-ups and go straight for the workout. The thing is, just because it looks like a simple workout doesn’t mean that your muscles are immediately prepared for it!

To get your muscles out of their usual resting state, you can perform a few dynamic stretches that mimic the climbing movement. This way, you can get your legs, hips, and back stretched out and ready for the workout. As a final warm-up movement, begin climbing the stairs slowly, to get into the motion without pushing your muscles too far too quickly.

By warming up for around 10 minutes before your workout, not only you’ll be able to avoid muscle soreness and possible injuries, but you’ll also be able to improve your performance and last longer on the StairMaster. Your muscles will be ready to keep moving for a while and smash your workout, so never skip your warm-ups!

Check your shoelaces

Wearing appropriate fitness attire, such as breathable clothes and comfortable shoes is also a must when climbing, but you need to be careful with loose clothing, especially when it comes to shoelaces.

Just like when you’re running or even just walking, untied shoelaces can cause you to trip and injure yourself on the StairMaster. The up-and-down movement of your feet makes it really easy for the shoelaces to fly around and get where they’re not supposed to be, so be careful and tie a strong knot before you get on the stair stepper so you don’t end up chin-first on the floor.

And remember to get familiar with the machine so you know how to stop it whenever you need to!

Tips for improving your StairMaster workout

Ready to take your StairMaster workouts to the next level after mastering the standard climbing form? Here are a few things that you can do differently to make your climbing sessions more challenging:

Pick up the pace

This is the first thing you usually try on StairMaster workouts, because it doesn’t involve changing your form or adding anything to the workout, only going a little bit faster!

When you’re a beginner, aiming to climb for around 10 to 15 minutes is a good base goal. After a while, you’ll get comfortable with your climbing technique and you’ll be ready to go for a little bit longer. Increase the speed of the steps little by little so that it matches your current climbing capacity, this way you’ll always be giving your muscles a good burn instead of letting them get used to a set pace.

Climb two steps at a time

The standard climbing exercise on a StairMaster involves going one step at a time, just as you would on a regular staircase. But one good way to make it a little bit more demanding for your legs is by going two steps at a time, which is basically just skipping a step every time you move each foot up.

By skipping a step and going directly to the next one, leave one empty step in the middle, you’ll make your range of motion much wider and your leading leg will need a bigger effort to lift you up to the next step. This calorie-burning exercise will help target your upper quads and glutes, helping you build nicer and stronger legs, and it will activate more muscles than the regular climbing movement.

Make sure that you give both legs equal working time, stepping out at around the same time and keeping a steady pace. And don’t forget to squeeze your glutes when you’re driving your weight up!

Add a resistance band

Want to activate your glutes even further?

Add a light resistance band to your workouts! We suggest decreasing the intensity on the StairMaster so that you can move more in control, and add a resistance band around your thighs to help give your glutes an extra resistance to work against.

You can simply step up as usual, or switch things up and do lateral side walks, incorporate kickbacks, or even squat down before stepping up. There are many ways to use a resistance band in your StairMaster workouts!

Change your position

Besides the standard climbing and skipping a step, there are other positions that you can try on the StairMaster to hit your muscles from different angles and achieve a more complete workout.

One of them is going sideways, known as crossover steps, where you turn to one side and climb the steps by criss crossing your legs. It might sound a little bit difficult, but with practice, you’ll find it easier than it looks! This movement targets the medial glute, as well as your quads, abductors, and other stabilizing muscles, and it’s perfect to give your muscles a good burn from a different angle than usual.

Another climbing variation is going backward, which helps target your quads, calves, and hamstrings so you can grow bigger and stronger legs. You can begin slowly while already in position, or you can start by going forward and then carefully turning around when you feel comfortable enough with the pace.

In both positions, you’ll have the added challenge of keeping your balance. The railings on both sides and in the middle are there to help you, so don’t be afraid to use them to keep your body stabilized, but remember not to rely on them!

As you can see, the StairMaster can be an incredibly useful cardio machine when used correctly, and you even have the option to add some strength training to your climbing sessions, so it’s definitely a win-win for your time and effort! It helps improve your strength, resistance, and cardiovascular health, all in one.

Need some fitness gear to help improve your workouts?

UPPPER Gear has got you covered! 

Our UPPPER Collection includes all kinds of fitness gear that you can use for your training sessions, from Barbell Pads and Lifting Belts to both Short and Long Resistance Bands, and even Wrist Wraps! They’re all designed to support you during your workouts, helping you improve your performance and confidence at the gym.

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