My Favorite Cardio: Three StairMaster Benefits



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My gym needs more StairMasters!

Every time i go to the gym to do some cardio, there never seems to be one open. Or even worse, it’s broken. I love StairMasters!

How can the employees at the gym do this to me! On the other hand, I see rows and rows of perfectly working treadmills. Ugh.

You see, I started implementing the StairMasters into my cardio routine a couple months ago. Before then I had not been doing any kind of cardio. Why?

Today's accomplishment
Photo credit: phrenologist

Cardio is for pansies!

For the longest time I believed that cardio was useless. Yea, I played sports in high school. I played football and ran track, and I definitely noticed it’s benefits. But that’s not what interested me. I wanted to become big, and strong. So I lifted, and I ate.

A lot. I grew bigger and stronger. In fact I was the strongest 17 year old in California! Then I started to notice something. My joints began to ache, and my body didn’t look so aesthetically pleasing anymore. I was a 300 lb mess.

The truth is, I like being big and strong. Just because I wanted to lose a couple pounds (more like 75), didn’t mean I wanted to lose strength or muscle size either. I started slow. First was the diet, then came cardio.

I wanted to find the perfect cardio. I wanted something that would be intense, but easy on the joints as well. I know what runners look like. Skinny little twigs. I do not want to look like that. Ever.

The God of all Cardio Equipment

My little disclaimer, is that I believe that the StairMasters is the best cardio. I can tell you why. Don’t come crying to me because you like the elliptical!

1. Low Impact

Many people think that the StairMasters will put a lot of pressure on your knees. This is true and false. When stepping regularly, you are pushing down on your quad to lift you up. A lot of that pressure is going to your knee. Just like when people squat, if they cut the movement short, then the pressure will be added onto their knees instead of the muscle they are trying to train.

This can be fixed very easily, but it takes some practice.

Try to step 2 steps at a time. Yes, your legs will be working harder, but much of the pressure will be relieved from your knees. Since you are raising your leg higher to step up, the muscles are being moved from the bottom of your quad(near your knee) to the bottom of your glutes and hamstrings (near your hips). Since our hips can take much more abuse then our knees, this is a perfect solution for those looking for a low impact workout.

2. Perfect For BOTH HIIT and LISS

I have a theory. All the muscles we use at extreme repetition (hands, fingers, face, toes) are small. The smaller the muscle, the less energy it takes to contract. I see a lot of endurance athletes with small body parts. Small legs, and small arms. You would think that a marathon runner would have massive legs. This is not the case. A lot of people may contribute this the the fact that most of these kinds of athletes are not getting the proper calories to grow. I see otherwise. Why do pitchers have such small shoulders? How can someone go to the gym, and pump out a couple biceps curls for 30 minutes, and have bigger arms then someone who is stirring a pot of soup all day?

The more you use a muscle or body part, the smaller it becomes. Running is such an intense type of cardio. It will force your body to shrink, so that you will expend less energy. I guess if your really trying to get smaller, or to shrink, then running is for you. You must always keep in mind that the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn.

With the StairMasters, you are using a very small portion of your body to move. Only your legs, and some stabilizers. You can go slow enough so that your legs will not become tired, but you are still getting a great workout. I prefer is that way. Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) is my favorite kind of cardio. It doesn’t burn as many calories as HIIT, but it preserves muscle the most.

You can also perform HITT (High Intensity Interval Training) on a StairMaster. HIIT is the perfect kind of cardio for those who are trying to get in the best shape of their lives. It burns fat the quickest, and puts the highest amount of stress on your VO2. For those of you who don’t know what HIIT is, I will explain. You start at a heart rate that is comfortable for you. You hold a pace that is difficult to get your blood pumping and your sweat going. After you are warmed up, you sprint. On the StairMaster this would mean to increase the speed at which the stairs are moving. This pace should be very difficult. As you get between 30-60 seconds, you will notice that your lungs can no longer compensate for the muscles that need oxygen. When you feel completely out of breath, you drop the level again, back down to starting heart rate. You repeat this process, until you know you’ve had a good workout.

3. Great For Legs

Am I saying that doing the StairMaster is better than squats or leg press? No. I am saying that the StairMasters is definitely better for legs than any other cardio machine. As I stated earlier in the article, the StairMasters gives you the ability to increase your range of motion. When we run, or are on an elliptical, we are barely bending our legs. And when we are, all of the pressure is going towards our knees.

It always amazes me when people tell me I’m going too low on squats, and that I’m going to blow my knees out. The people who say that obviously don’t know basic human anatomy. As our leg bends, and the angle our hamstrings and glutes create becomes smaller, more stress leaves the knees and goes to the muscles of the leg, where it’s supposed to. The fact is, you can’t reach the same range of motion from an elliptical or treadmill that you would from a StairMasters. The more the range of motion, the more stress is on the leg muscle.

There you have it folks. Do the StairMasters. It’s an amazing piece of equipment, and it’s practical. Soon walking up the stairs will feel like second nature, if it doesn’t already of course.

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3 Responses to “My Favorite Cardio: Three StairMaster Benefits”

  1. Cade, I hear ya. I love me some stairmaster, but (gulp) my gym doesn’t have ANY! ANY!

    As a marathoner, I don’t need yet more miles running when I’m indoors. And so help me Moses, ellipticals are for panty-waists that like lots of ferns in their gyms. Blech.

    Done properly on a decent quality machine, the stairmaster is an effective piece of cardio equipment that provides an efficient workout.

    So YES: let’s get back to basics and climb those relentless stairs!

    Toro, Toro, Cade.

    • Good point Mary. I think it all depends on your goals right? For some people that want less impact they might go for the eliptical, but for people that are looking at doing some more aggressive HIIT training on a stairmaster. I actually do a lot of mountain hiking and it has made a huge impact as well as using a stairmaster. Any other suggestions for solid cardio that work well for you?

  2. Hi there, as much as I want to agree with you, I find that going 2 steps really hurts my knees. I felt a really sharp pain in my knee the other day doing 2-steps a time. Perhaps it was just an overuse injury, but icing and resting helped (skiing did not, but that was worth the pain!).

    I find that certain exercises like the Leg Press (even if done one leg at a time) cause huge amounts of stress on the knee, especially at the turnaround point.

    On the other hand, single leg Bulgarian squats seemed to help the most and causes low loads on the knee. I am yet to try lunges but I have a feeling that would really hurt too.