Working out on a stepper machine can be a fantastic way to keep fit and healthy. This guide will take you through the different sort of workouts you can carry out and their benefits. We will cover correct form when using a stepper, the individual muscle groups worked, a quick look at some workout routine videos, and tips on making the most of stepper machine workouts.
Types of stepper machine workout
Exercise a regular pace that keeps you challenged but are able to maintain for a significant length of time, at least 30 mins. Over time aim to increase the length of time, but starting out 30 mins is fine. This will raise your heart rate and make you breath more heavily.
Regular exercise like this will strengthen the heart, which is a muscle like any other, and adapts to regular stimulus. It will also strengthen the chest muscles used to aid breathing. In turn strengthening the lungs, resulting in lung capacity increases and more efficient absorption of oxygen into the blood. In your heart will be able to pump more blood with one beat, dropping resting heart rate. The lungs will be able to take in more oxygen with one breath, so it will take more for you to become out of breath.
Added benefits include lowered blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reduced risk of heart disease.
The key to fat burning is burning calories, well, more calories than you consume. Used correctly the step machine is more demanding on the muscles than other machines such cross trainers or bikes, as you cannot use momentum to assist you. Muscles are fully engaged throughout the whole workout.
The more demanding on the muscles a workout is, the harder it is, and the more calories you burn. Building interval training into your routine will aid this significantly. Push your self hard for a period so your heart rate really raises, 30 seconds will be enough, then give your self 60 seconds to recover. Repeat this as many times as you can, you should be looking to get to at least 10 repetitions over time. Not only does this increase calories during exercise, it continues to burn calories after you have finished.
Exercises on a stepper machine strengthen lower body muscles in the buttocks and legs. The main muscles worked are the front of thigh quad muscles, the hamstrings at the back of the thigh, the calf muscles on your lower leg, and the large glute muscles in the buttocks. We cover more detail on this muscle groups later in this article. Increase resistance slowly, in steady increments, to push the muscles in the lower body gradually. Resistance should be high enough to feel fatigue in your muscles while still exercising for at least 20 mins. To short and you will not realise the benefits and too long and it is not challenging enough.
Do not just work out like this on a stepper machine, mix up cardio exercise with resistance exercise. Doing just resistance exercise will mean you work out less often as it takes time to recover. In fact cardio training can help you recover quicker between resistance sessions.
Correct form for stepper machine workouts
There are more than one type of stepper machine so you should always check the guide that comes with the equipment. In general there are some basic guidelines to using them correctly, although these can be varied depending on your goals:
Feet flat on pedals
Keep feet flat on the pedals, without raising up onto tiptoes. Using the front of the foot will focus too much on use of calf muscles. Most people are looking to work on the thighs and glutes, to tone these areas without gaining large calf muscles. Push the whole foot, especially with your heels as this engages the glutes more. If you are wanting to work on the calves then focus on pushing more with the ball of your foot.
Upright posture – no slouching
Do not slouch as you exercise, use your core muscles to balance a stabilise yourself. This will be easier if you keep your head in an upright position. Looking down will naturally make you lean forward and prevent an upright posture. By staying upright and engaging the core you will be engaging more muscles, meaning you burn more calories. Poor posture also puts a strain on your body, it can lead to increased risk of injury and sore muscles in the back.
Your knees should stay over the middle of your foot and not extend over the end of your foot. It’s similar to technique for other leg exercises such as squats and lunges. Extending the knee to far will cause greater stress on the knee joint and surrounding tendons. This in turn causes discomfort and increases risk of injury.
Muscles used during stepper machine workouts
The muscles in the front of the thigh are known as the Quadriceps, often shortened to Quads in common use.
You will usually start to feel these muscles “burn” before the others as a workout becomes tougher.
There are four muscles (hence quad) and are used to extend the knee joint.
The most visible quad muscle is the vastus medialis, shown in red on the diagram to the left. This is what makes the “teardrop” shape on the inside of the thigh just above the knee.
The muscles on the back of the thigh are called the Hamstrings.
These muscles oppose the quads, pulling the knee joint through the opposite range of motion. They also rotate the lower leg and extend the hip.
Tightening the hamstrings will pull your foot back towards your bottom, therefore they are used more when taking larger strides.
The large muscles in your bottom are known as the Gluteus Maximus, and are generally called the Glutes for short.
These are normally the largest muscle in the body, and are uniquely large in humans, being the muscle that supports our body walking upright.
Larger steps make the glutes work harder, you will feel them work more when you climb a flight of stairs two steps at a time.
Those looking to tone their bottom or make it look more shapely will benefit from stepper machine workouts in particular.
Calf Muscles, or calves, are located on the back of your lower leg.
There are two major muscles that form the calves, the gastrocnemius and soleus.
These muscles control movement of the foot and will be engaged if you exercise on your toes. Keeping your feet flat they will make them inactive.
If you want to increase the size of your calves then use a stepper on the balls of your feet. If you do not want them to grow in size then exercise on flat feet.
Quick guide to benefits of stepper machines
For a full breakdown of the benefits check out our article on the benefits of stepper machines, but in summary benefits include:
- Tone and strengthen the muscles in the lower body and core
- Improve cardiovascular endurance and health
- Increase lower body muscle endurance
- Burn a high number of calories, helping weight loss
- Provide a low impact workout, suitable for those with joint issues or injuries
Example stepper machine workouts from YouTube
The two videos below are opposite ends of the stepper machine workout spectrum. The first is an interval training method and the second is a longer, steady pace workout.
Some stepper machine workout tips
These tips will help you to get the most from stepper machine workouts:
- Prevent boredom by watching TV or listening to music
- Stay motivated by setting training targets and measuring yourself against them
- Don’t keep the stepper machine hidden away, out of sight out of mind, seeing it every day will make you use it more
- Always stay hydrated during exercise
- Warm up before working out and cool down afterwards
- Don’t just focus on one type of workout, mix up muscle toning/strengthening exercises with cardio
Final thoughts on stepper machine workouts
Hopefully having got to the end of this guide you can see why stepper machines can be a great way to work out. They are simple to use, have a range of benefits and are really convenient to use at home. Plus they won’t break the bank!
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