Stepper machines are an amazing piece of exercise equipment with many benefits to people of all ages and levels of fitness. The aim of this guide is to lay out how a stepper machine can become an invaluable part of your exercise routine, explain the different types available, how they will benefit your health and fitness, and then recommend the top stepper machines available to buy in the UK.
What is a stepper machine?
It’s a simple machine that works the lower body with a movement that replicates climbing stairs. If you think how climbing several flights of stairs makes you legs feel, plus the impact on your heart and lungs, you can imagine why this could be a useful exercise machine.
Stepper machines are becoming an ever more popular way to work out, with benefits to the cardiovascular system and muscle toning and endurance. We will cover the benefits in more detail a little later.
Another reason for the popularity of this machine is that it is small and relatively cheap when compared to many other exercise machines on the market. This makes it a great option for working out at home, where it can be stored out of sight easily.
Types of stepper machine
As simple as the name suggests, an up/down stepper has pedals that move in an up and down motion. Resistance is provided by the hydraulic pistons beneath the pedals. Step onto the machine and push down with one foot at the same time as raising the other. The level of resistance can be altered to create a more demanding workout. The speed at which you pedal can also be increased to work your cardiovascular system harder.
Very similar to the up/down stepper but with lateral movement added to the pedals. This creates a “twisting” motion which engages muscles slightly differently. It works the glutes more (large muscles in the buttocks), giving a more toned bottom. They also engage the oblique muscles on the side of your torso (part of the core muscle group).
With cords or ropes
The addition of cords or ropes to the step machine starts to engage the upper body as well for a more rounded workout. The cords are made of rubber which gives them an elastic property, creating a level of resistance when you pull on them. Typically you would include bicep curls or shoulder presses as you step.
A vertical stepper is a seriously tough piece of equipment to work out on and is not for the faint of heart! It replicates scaling a step mountain or climbing wall and is one of the toughest machines in the gym. It uses your body weight and gravity to get a great cardio workout. Pushing up with your feet while simultaneously using the upper body to pull yourself up.
Benefits of stepper machine
As mentioned earlier, the major muscles worked by a stepper machine are those in the legs. The quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes and hips all get a workout. The nature of the exercise is more suitable to toning muscle than building it – so don’t worry about getting bulky legs! To grow large muscles in the legs you need to perform over-loaded weight exercises in low reps, supplemented with a high calorie, protein rich diet. The high volume non-stop action of the stepper machine will not do this.
There are some machines available with handlebars attached to help balance. These should be avoided if possible. Balancing your own body weight as you move engages lots of stabilising muscles, providing a better, more rounded workout.
You may have seen stair climbing machines in the gym (as shown to the right). These are undoubtedly better at toning your legs as they give a greater range of movement. However they are very expensive and take up a lot of space. Meaning they are not really a practical option for the home.
Muscle endurance is the ability for your muscles to carry out a task repetitively without becoming fatigued. When you exercise you tire in two ways. One is when heart and lungs are not able to supply enough oxygen to your body. The other is when your muscles are not able to carry on performing, even if you re not out of breath or your heart is not beating too fast. The second is muscle endurance, and this can be improved by training the muscles to become accustomed to working hard for a period of time.
Stepper training improves the muscle endurance in the legs as well as any other exercise. It is a great way to prepare for an event like trekking and hill climbing. It is also great for preparing for long distance running events, even if they do not require any sort of climbing. You often see long distance athletes train with hill climbing runs. Using a stepper machine does effectively the same thing.
The biggest muscle groups in your body arm found in the legs. Therefore by working the leg muscles it is possible to burn a high number of calories in a relatively short time. This is a resistance and cardio workout at the same time, which is the best fat burning combo out there.
An average sized 155 pound (11 stone) person will burn in the region of 450 calories per hour on a setpper machine. This figure increases for individuals that weigh more as they have greater resistance against gravity. If you increase the intensity of the workout by adding some upper body exercise on a machine with cords or some dumbbells the calories burned get even higher.
Working out on a stepper machine will certainly work up a sweat. The pace at which you step is a determining factor on how much of a cardiovascular or resistance based exercise it is. The faster you move the more it becomes cardiovascular, while moving slower at higher tension levels makes it a more resistance exercise.
Cardiovascular exercise improves the function of your heart and lungs. Making them better at delivering oxygen to your muscles. This is a combination of two major factors. The fist being the heart becoming stronger and being able to pump more blood from a single heartbeat. The second is an increase in the lungs capacity, taking in more oxygen from a single breath, and then becoming more efficient at taking the oxygen out of the air and transferring into the blood.
The stepper machine will get your heart beating harder and breathing heavier. Doing this more often increases your cardiovascular fitness. It’s recommended that a person gets 30 minutes exercise 5 times a week and this machine is a great way to do so.
Low impact workout
A stepper machine is a very low impact way to exercise. Think of the impact on you joints when you bounce around in an aerobics class, or when you run or jog. You are in constant contact with the steps which means your body weight is always supported. This makes working out on a stepper a great option for those recovering from injury or with pre-existing joint problems.
Who is a stepper machine suitable for?
The range of benefits from working out on a stepper machine means that they are suitable for pretty much everyone. But there are circumstances when they may be an especially good choice for certain people:
- Those that want to work out at home but have limited space in which to store exercise equipment
- People with lower body joint injuries or weaknesses
- Someone that is looking to tone their leg muscles without them becoming larger
- A person preparing for a climbing event that isn’t able to get away from home to train often enough
Stepper machine workouts
One of the beauties of a stepper machine is it’s simplicity. Just climb in and start stepping. However it’s obvious that there are three major ways to add variation to a stepper routine:
- The speed at which you step
- The tension you apply to the pedals, therefore the resistance level
- The length of time you step for
The most important thing is to keep good posture, otherwise you run the risk of injury. Keep you back straight, your head up, shoulders back and chest out. Posture is important for stepper workouts just like it is for any other form of exercise.
But there are more ways to add variation to your routine. Check out the video below for a full 20 minute workout and some variation ideas should you not wish to follow it exactly.
Things to consider when buying a stepper machine
A simple and versatile machine there are no major complications likely to arise from purchasing a stepper machine. It is wise to keep the following factors in mind however:
Do you want a straight up/down motion or a “twisting” motion? The twisting motion is good if you want to concentrate on toning the outer muscles of the leg and the bottom. The up/down motion is a more functional movement and would be better if you were training for a trekking/climbing event.
How important is upper body exercise as part of your stepper machine routine? If it’s burning the most calories as possible you are after then consider an option with cords/ropes. If you are more focused on toning legs or building leg endurance then the cords are not as relevant.
Is it worth investing more money on a vertical climber? Well they definitely work you harder. If you want to start an activity like wall climbing, building fitness on a vertical stepper is far better than an up/down stepper. If it’s convenience and working out at home that you are concerned with a vertical stepper will be harder to store and because it’s tougher you are likely to use it less often.
Your current physical condition. Using a stepper machine correctly for an extended period of time can be quite demanding if your current fitness levels are low. It could be worth building fitness by easier exercises such as walking first. If you suffer with issues with your lower body a step machine can be suitable, but if you have any doubts or concerns then check with a medical or fitness professional first.
Is it not easier and cheaper to use the stairs?!
Good thinking! On the surface it would appear so. But there are drawbacks to using the stairs.
- It disturbs the rest of the household!
- Stair walking is tougher on the joints as there is impact – which is much reduced on the stepper
- Up and down the same flight of stairs gets boring, you can use the stepper in front of a window or TV