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Stair Stepper: Muscles Worked, Benefits, & Workout Time

6 min read
a woman is climbing a stairmaster machine, her glutes highlighted, stair stepper muscles worked
Natasha Caleel post Reviewer Natasha Caleel post Reviewer
Verified by Natasha Caleel
MS in Occupational Therapy, BS in Kinesiology, Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Coach

Table of Contents

You probably use the stair stepper to help you burn calories and lose weight. You’ll be happy to know, then, that many lower body muscles are also worked, making it a great way to improve your cardio and strength.

This article will discuss the muscles you work when using the stair climber machine, what benefits this exercise has to offer, and how it can help you take your fitness one step further. 

Stair Stepper: Muscles Worked

Stair climbers are popular cardio machines, mostly used by people looking to shed excess fat.  But what muscle, or muscles, does the stair stepper work?

Stair steppers, also known as stair climbers or step machines, work way more than just our cardiovascular system. 

Here is a list of primary, secondary, and stabilizing muscles that are worked when you use a stair stepper. 

a male model with muscles worked during a stair stepper workout highlighted, stair stepper muscles worked

Primary muscles

  • Gluteal muscles (maximus, medius, and minimus)

Secondary muscles

  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps 
  • Calves

Stabilizing muscles

  • Hip Flexors
  • Abdominal Muscles

Does The Stair Stepper Build Glutes?

The exercise can help you achieve a rounder butt, as the glutes are the main muscles worked by a stair stepper. The act of stepping down on a stair utilizes hip extension, a key movement for building stronger glutes. You can also adjust the speed of the stepper to increase intensity and load on the gluteal muscles. 

However, a stair stepper alone may not give your butt the volume you desire, as the progressive overload is limited. In order to grow your glutes, you should pair stair climbing with resistance exercises, like dumbbell glute exercises, as they target these muscles. 

Does The Stair Stepper Work Abs?

When performed with proper posture, the stair stepper can work the abs, as they are activated to maintain balance when moving up the steps. Therefore, this exercise can also be used to improve core strength. 

Does The Stair Stepper Build Muscle?

Stair steppers are primarily cardio machines, which means they can improve your cardiovascular health. However, they can be a great addition to fitness programs that target the glutes and lower body, as they can still provide a stimulus to the muscles by requiring you to lift your body weight to climb the stairs.

Still, as highlighted above, a stair stepper alone is unlikely to build muscle, especially if you are more advanced than a beginner.

Stair Climber Benefits

Step machines provide a series of benefits – here we outline the main ones.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

On a stair climber, you are in a constant state of motion, which can help improve your cardiovascular health by increasing your lung capacity and strengthening the heart. [1] Having strong lungs and a strong heart is important to prevent and manage cardiovascular illnesses. Therefore stair climbers can be a great component for fitness programs to improve health parameters like cholesterol. [2]  

Fat Loss Support

Stair steppers are cardio machines, which means they can support your fat-loss journey by helping you burn more calories. In addition, they can also help improve your fat metabolism by increasing the number of mitochondria in your muscle cells, which ultimately improves the ability of your body to utilize fat to produce energy. [3]

Studies have also demonstrated that not holding onto the handrails when climbing the stairs elicits a greater metabolic demand, and hence it may help you shed fat quicker. [1]

Improved Muscle Tone

Stair climbers are great for building and therefore toning the muscles in the lower body and core. This is because stair climbers offer some, albeit limited, level of resistance, as they require you to lift your body weight in order to climb the steps.

Additionally, it is possible to add a further muscular stimulus, as it is possible to adjust the speed, which impacts the duration of muscle contractions. [4]

Lower Impact On Your Joints

Compared to running, a stair climber generates less impact on the joints of the lower body, such as the ankles and knees, making it a great alternative for those who struggle with joint pain during high-impact exercise.

However, if you are already suffering from a knee or ankle injury, double-check with your doctor or physiotherapist to see if stair climbing is the right exercise for you. 

Less Boring Workouts

Last but not least, the stair climber offers a great range of workout options, from different speeds that allow you to do HIIT workouts, to the possibility of including different movements, such as kickbacks or squat walks, to spice up your training sessions. 

How Much Time Should You Spend on the Stair Stepper?

The amount of time you should spend on a stair stepper depends on many factors, such as your goals and your fitness level. 

If you are aiming to tone up your glutes, using the stair climber for 15 minutes with unsupported arms is a great way to fatigue the muscles of the glutes and core. [5] More experienced gym goers can proceed at higher speeds to achieve greater muscle activation, whilst beginners should start with moderate speeds and slowly work their way up.

If your goal is to speed up fat loss or lose weight, you could either perform 40 minutes at moderate intensity or perform a 20-minute HIIT-like workout, with 8 seconds at high intensity and 12 seconds of active recovery at low intensity. [6]

How Many Calories Can You Burn on the Stair Stepper?

The stair stepper is a great tool to use for burning calories, as it requires greater metabolic effort than other cardio machines. You can burn around 200-400 calories in just 30 minutes, depending on intensity as well as your body weight. [7]

Wrapping Up

The stair stepper is a great way to take your fitness one step further, thanks to its wide range of benefits for both your health and aesthetics. Here are the key points about stair climbing:

  • The stair climber primarily targets the glutes, but it also works the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, and hip flexors.
  • You can achieve a more toned butt when working out with the stair stepper, although to grow your glute muscles you’ll need to combine this exercise with glute-specific resistance training exercises.
  • Stair climbers offer many benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, fat loss, muscle toning, and can be a low-impact alternative to other cardio exercises as it is easier on the joints.
  • The amount of time you should spend on the stair stepper depends on your goal and fitness. Indicatively, you should climb the stairs for at least 15 minutes at faster speeds if your aim is to tone up your glutes, whilst for fat loss, you should exercise for either 40 minutes at moderate intensity or do a 20-minute HIIT-like workout with 8 seconds at high intensity and 12 seconds of active recovery.
  • On average, people burn 200-400 calories in 30 minutes when using the stair stepper, although this depends on the exercise intensity and your body weight.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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