Stair Stepper Workouts for Burning Calories

One of the best ways to raise your heart rate, and reap the cardio benefits, is to climb stairs. However, there aren't always a convenient set of stairs available. In fact, you'd probably have to go up and down the ones you do find dozens of times to gain anything. Well, thankfully a trio of Oklahoma fitness enthusiasts designed the first stair machine in the early 1980s.

Today, fitness-minded people can get step machine workouts right in the comfort of their own home. Stair machines can be from small, portable designs to large gym stair machine models. Here are answers to a few common questions about stair machines, plus three excellent Stairmaster workout programs that you can incorporate into your exercise plan.

Questions and Answers

Is Stair-Stepper a Good Workout?

While walking or jogging on a treadmill and stationary bikes are great exercise, the stair stepper workout adds both cardio benefit and resistance. You'll gain the benefits of an elevated heart rate, plus workout your entire lower body, including your core. You can get in shape without the help of a personal trainer.

What Does a Step-Machine do for Your Body?

The motion of climbing stairs causes you to create a physical force to lift your body up one step to the next. Each time you push off from a lower level, you use both your upper and lower leg, plus your buttocks. To stabilize between lifting one leg and transferring your balance you also use your core muscles.

How Many Calories do you Burn on a Step Machine?

The calories burnen on a stair machine workout and other types of cardio equipment is relatively comparable. For instance, a 175-pound person will burn on average 243 calories during a moderate 30-minute stair stepper workout. To match this, you would need to run 2½ miles at a 12-minute per mile pace.

How Long Should You Stay on a Stair-Climber?

Like any machine exercise programs, the time of your cardio workout should be matched with your fitness level. While you can go for more extended periods at a casual climbing speed, most stair machine workouts are no more than one hour in length, with a general average of 20 to 30 minutes. You can use an lcd display to track your progress. 

Which muscles does the Stepper work out?

The step machine, when used as a hiit trainer, tones your lower body, the movement working out the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, and calf muscles. It also improves your sense of balance.

Is Stair-Climbing Good for Your Abs?

While the primary benefits that stair climbing targets are the lower leg muscles and your cardio system, climbing the stairs is also great for your core. A vigorous stair machine program is an excellent way to sculpt your entire body, including your abs. Stair-Climbing doesn't tend to do as much for your upper body.

Is Stair-Climbing Good for Weight Loss?

The physical act of forcing your body up one step at a time increases your heart rate at a higher rate than walking or moderate jogging. Since losing weight means burning calories, and burning calories is the number one factor in weight loss, stair climbing is a super way to shed pounds.

Three Excellent Methods

There are many preset programs on most step machines. While these are designed to put you through a good workout associated with your training level, sometimes you may want more. You may be pressed for time or want to focus on more speed and endurance.

You may also want to do a workout that incorporates multiple benefits into one session. Each of these Stairmaster workouts can be modified to fit your fitness level or training aspirations. We'll begin with a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program. Next, we'll explain a good interval circuit to build speed, and then finish with a crossover workout.

20-Minute Session


  • Begin the HIIT session with a two-minute warm-up period at zero resistance.
  • Raise the resistance to moderate, and climb for 60-seconds.
  • Once again, raise the resistance one more level and climb for an additional 60-seconds.
  • Complete a third 60-second interval with the resistance level increased one more level.
  • Reduce the resistance back to zero, and climb for 30-seconds.
  • Second Segment

  • Set the next resistance level one higher than the previous maximum and climb for 60-seconds.
  • Go up one more resistance level and continue climbing for another full minute.
  • Raise it a third time, and climb for another 60-seconds.
  • Reduce resistance back to zero and continue climbing for 30-seconds.
  • Repeat exactly, and make sure all three previous one-minute intervals again using the same resistance levels.
  • Third Segment

  • Do another 30-second interval at zero resistance.
  • Start this interval segment at the highest resistance level you've used thus far and climbed for 60-seconds.
  • Raise one level of resistance and climb for another minute.
  • Add one more level or resistance intensity and push yourself for another 60-second interval.
  • Increase the resistance a fourth time, and finish the interval portion with a final 60-second interval.
  • Cooldown

  • Take the resistance back down to the level you used for the third interval of the first segment.
  • Climb in 30-second intervals, reducing the resistance one level back towards zero.
  • Finish the last two minutes with no resistance to allow your body to cool down.

  • Speed-Building Interval

  • Begin the speed-building interval program with the same two-minute warm-up period.
  • Instead of raising the resistance levels as in the previous HIIT program, you will begin by increasing your stepping speed gradually.
  • Step at a rate of at least 100 steps per minute (spm). This is an above average speed where you will complete two full minutes.
  • Reduce your speed to around 80 steps per minute for 30-seconds.
  • Pick up the pace again, this time to 120 spm and continue for another two-minute interval.
  • Reduce your speed back down to 80 spm for another 30-second interval.
  • The next interval is for a full five minutes. Push your speed up to 140 spm and continue for five minutes.
  • Drop back to 80 spm once again, and complete another 30 seconds.
  • The final interval segment is six total minutes in length. Bring your speed up to 100 spm, raising your speed 10 spm every 60-seconds. You will finish one final 60-second interval at 160 spm.
  • Make sure to end the speed-building circuit with a five-minute cool down period to relax your body.

  • Crossover

  • Start off your crossover workout with the same two-minute warm-up period. Climb one step at a time, 50 steps per minute using zero resistance.
  • During the first 60-second segment, take two steps at a time without raising the resistance.
  • Return to one step at a time, but increase your steps per minute to 100 spm for another minute.
  • Maintain 100 spm, but return to skipping a step, stretching to two steps each time.
  • Go back to one step at a time for another 60-second interval.
  • Now, turn your body sideways and step up one step at a time making a crossover motion for one minute.
  • Return your body straight and climb for 30-seconds.
  • Turn your body the opposite direction of before, and use the crossover motion for another full 60-seconds.
  • Repeat these two sets of crossover intervals twice more each.
  • After the 30 seconds, return to climbing two steps at a time.
  • Using two-minute segments raise your speed 20 steps per minute, every two minutes and complete three of these intervals.
  • Return your body parallel with the console and reduce your step speed to 80 spm. Warm down for five minutes to allow your muscles time to cool.

  • You can gain tremendous low impact cardio benefits from using a stair stepper machine. Because the action of climbing stairs raises the heart rate so dramatically, it is consequently an excellent way to burn calories as well. For suggestions for portable stair steppers or the best stair-steppers for home use, check out my buying guide: