Stepper machines are a great way to work out in the comfort of your own home. Their size means they are easy to store out of sight if you wish, and compared to other machines they are relatively inexpensive. Working out on a stepper machine provides a number of health and fitness benefits. Including cardiovascular health, muscle toning and weight loss. This guide will go into detail on fitness related stepper machine benefits as well as some practical benefits of using stepper machines compared to something like a treadmill or rowing machine.
What is a stepper machine?
Before covering the benefits of stepper machines, let’s take a moment to fully explain what they are.
A stepper machine works the lower body by replicating climbing steps or stairs – hence the name! Climbing steps works the muscles of the lower body, this is why your legs start to tire quickly as you walk up several flights of stairs.
You stand on the stepper pedals and raise one foot after the other. There is resistance built into the pedals to make the action more challenging. A workout will simply be pushing up and down on the pedals for an extended period of time.
There are several varieties of stepper machine available that will add to this basic movement, but all are based on the simple up down motion. We will cover the variety of machines later on in this article.
As you climb steps you will also feel your heart rate increase, and your breathing will become heavier. This is your cardiovascular system kicking into gear in order to supply more oxygen to your muscles as more strain is placed on them.
Who is a stepper machine suitable for?
The type of workouts that take advantage of stepper machine benefits mean they are suitable for almost 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
Pros and cons of stepper machines
|Health and Fitness||Health and Fitness|
|Tones muscles of the lower body||May not provide an upper body workout|
|Improves cardiovascular endurance and health||Require greater balance than other machines|
|Increases muscle endurance in the lower body||Can be challenging to use for long periods|
|Low impact on joints|
|Burns high number of calories, helping weight loss|
|Practical Considerations||Practical Considerations|
|Take up limited amount of space so easy to store||Could just use the stairs!|
|Can be relatively inexpensive|
|Possible to exercise in front of the TV|
Stepper machine benefits
Next we will go into detail on the stepper machine benefits outlined in the pros and cons table above.
Tones muscles of the lower body
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.
Improves cardiovascular endurance and health
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.
Increases muscle endurance in the lower body
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.
Low impact on joints
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.
Burns high number of calories – helping weight loss
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.
Take up a limited amount of space
Most stepper machines are small enough to be stored underneath a bed or on the floor of a wardrobe. Once you take it out to exercise it will fit into a limited space, meaning it can be used in any part of the house.
The HOMCOM Mini Stepper shown to the right is only 37cm x 41cm x 21cm. A stepper machine is one of the smallest pieces of exercise equipment that can be used at home.
When compared to the cost of other exercise machines such as exercise bikes or cross trainers, stepper machines are inexpensive. The model shown above right cost just £35.99 on the date this article was published and available for quick delivery on Amazon Prime.
Exercise in front of TV
Exercising in front of the TV can actually beneficial to motivation levels and encourage more regular workouts. Any exercise can become boring, but combining a stepper machine workout with your favourite TV show can keep you entertained as you exercise. This will encourage you to work out more often, and stop you finding excuses to put it off!
Things to bear in mind with stepper machines
It wouldn’t be fair to write an article on stepper machine benefits without discussing some of their less positive elements compared to other exercise machines.
They do not all provide an upper body workout
Many stepper machines work only the legs and not the upper body. If you are looking for an all over body workout, a machine like a rowing machine would be a better bet. However some steppers do come with elastic ropes or cords which allow you to exercise your upper body as you step. This can help but the upper body stimulus is still comparatively limited.
Vertical stepper machines are a variation that is less commonly seen but provide a greater upper body workout. They involve an upward pulling motion from the arms and shoulders, we will discuss them in a little more detail later on.
You need a reasonable level of balance to use a stepper machine
Most stepper machines do not have any frame for you to balance against so rely on your core to keep you upright and balanced. Some machines do have a frame to support you, but there are other draw backs to this type of machine.
The fact that you engage your core to balance is a benefit, as you improve your core strength and balance. However for those with balance issues, for instance recovering from injury, a stepper machine can be tricky to use.
A frame to hold on to can assist with this, but the flip side is that you get less of a workout to your legs and core as a result.
Is it not easier and cheaper to use the stairs?!
You may think so, but there are drawbacks to using the stairs.
- Stair walking is tougher on your joints from the impact – which is much reduced on the stepper
- It disturbs the rest of the household!
- Walking up and down the same set of stairs gets boring very quickly
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.
Things to consider when using a stepper machine
A simple and versatile machine there are no major complications in using stepper machine. It is worth keeping the following in mind though:
Is upper body exercise important in your exercise plans? If your goals are simply toning your legs and working the heart for instance, then a stepper is great. If you want to exercise the upper body then a vertical stepper will do this, but there are many other options such as weights or a rowing machine.
Your current level of fitness. A stepper machine can be quite demanding if your current fitness levels are low. Especially if you use it for an extended period of time. If you are currently unfit, consider building fitness with easier exercises such as walking on a treadmill first. If lower body exercises with impact are an issue, a step machine can be suitable. But if you have any doubts or concerns then check with a medical or fitness professional first.
Do you want a straight up/down motion or a “twisting” motion? There are machines that are designed to provide either on or the other. A twisting motion tones the outer muscles of the leg and the bottom. An up/down movement is more functional and better suits training for a trekking/climbing event.
Stepper machine workouts
Stepper machines are simple to use, and this is one of their strong points. However it is important to add variation into any form of exercise. There are three major ways to do so with stepper workouts:
- The speed at which you step
- The tension you apply to the pedals, therefore the resistance level
- The length of time you step for
It is important to keep good posture, otherwise you run a risk of injury. Your back must be straight, with your head up, shoulders back and chest out. Posture is as important for stepper workouts as it is for any other form of exercise.
There are more ways to add variation to your routine. The video below demonstrates a 20 minute routine for the stepper machine. You may not wish to follow the video exactly, but it gives some further ideas on how to add variation into a workout.
Final thoughts on stepper machine benefits
Stepper machines are a great, convenient way to work out at home. They have practical benefits such as easy storage and inexpensive pricing as well as health and fitness benefits like muscle toning, increasing endurance and weight loss. Like all exercise machines they have pros as well as cons, but as an overall package they are a fantastic home exercise solution.
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