Stair Climbers & Step Machines

Star Trac Stair Climber Star Trac Stair Climber (SC4130)
If you've ever felt out of breath strutting up a flight a stairs, you know how effective a step machine can be. Since the early 1990s, stair climbers or steppers have become popular at health clubs and home gyms as they pack a lot of workout in a little floor space.

Varying resistance levels and programmed courses can add an extra cardio challenge and keep boredom at bay. Speaking of boredom, it's generally easy to watch television or read a book while using the stepper. Side rails are an option - they add to safety and security, but leaning on them may prevent you from working out as hard.

Most step machines are powered by oil or air-filled shocks, while fancier machines (that are more like treadmills) operate with a quieter cable and chain system. There is a difference between entry level (around $100) and top of the line models ($3000 and up), so consider the following features when looking for the right step machine for you.

Independent pedals: With independent pedals, your legs have to work during both the upward and downward motion. Dependent pedals automatically move together in opposing directions, making the step machine do half the work for you.

Frame: If you want your stair climber for the long haul, go for a strong, sturdy, durable frame. It shouldn't tilt or shake when in use.

Noise: Noisy machines can be annoying, especially if you want to workout to television or music. Those operating with hydraulic pistons tend to be the noisiest.

Programs: To fend off boredom you need to add a little variety and challenge to your workout. Step machines with hill programs, heart rate targets, speed motivators and customizable courses can help keep you climbing.

Controls and displays: Controls must be easy to adjust mid-step and displays of information like speed, time, calories burned and step-count should be clear and visible.
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