A stair climber can give you a great indoor workout
A stair climber, otherwise known as a stair stepper, is an exercise machine that simulates the motions used when climbing stairs. The main purpose of these machines is to provide a cardiovascular workout as well as to help you tone and strengthen your lower body. Most stair steppers offer multiple levels of resistance and varying rates of speed, enabling users at any fitness level to get a quality workout. A few stepper models exercise the arms and upper body as well. There are two basic types of stair steppers -- basic steppers and hybrids.
Basic stair steppers are small, often portable, and highly affordable. They can be little more than a pair of sturdy pedals on a frame. Other models may have bands to work your arms at the same time, a stationary bar to help keep your balance, or a movable handlebar for an upper body workout. Upgraded steppers will have features such as step tracking, speed, heart monitors or workout tracking. Reviewers say that, although they look basic, they can give you an excellent workout. They can also be easily stored in a relatively small space. Some are great for travel and can provide a portable workout.
Treadclimbers offer the most versatile workout. These stair steppers, also called "hybrid stair steppers" or "treadmill alternatives," combine the movements of a stepper with that of a treadmill and/or elliptical, which works more muscle groups than that of just a basic stepper. While we use the term "treadclimber" here, that actually refers to a proprietary hybrid-type machine made by Bowflex.
Stair climbers have been on the market for years and continue to improve, but they're just one component of a well-rounded fitness routine. Our report on treadmills will help you find a model that lets you take long walks even in inclement weather. We also have a thorough report on elliptical trainers, which tend to be more versatile and offer a more intense workout than basic stair steppers, but are also pricier. For another very low impact alternative, head on over to our report on exercise bikes. Want to give up your gym membership altogether? See our report on home gyms for the best alternatives.
There aren't a lot of expert reviews for stair steppers, but ConsumerSearch editors evaluated what was available from sources that we consider to be reliable. In addition, we pored through thousands of user reviews posted at retailer web sites. The result is our picks for the top stair steppers with superior performance, ease-of-use and good durability to help you go the distance.
The best stair climbers
Among the array of basic steppers on the market, the Sunny Twister Stepper with Handle Bar (Est. $70) earns the greatest number of positive comments and high ratings from users, making it our Best Reviewed pick. It gets kudos for its easy assembly, which most say is straightforward and intuitive. Once assembled, the Sunny Twister Stepper is reported as quite light (it weighs 28 pounds) and easy to move around. Its small footprint means it can be tucked away in a corner or closet when not in use.
In spite of its minimalist vibe, users say the Sunny Twister Stepper gives them an excellent lower body workout. Many say they have noticeably improved their leg strength and stamina since using this machine on a regular basis. One thing that puzzles many owners is the "twist" claims; most misunderstand that to mean that the handlebars twist. In fact, the handlebars are stationary and are intended only to provide additional stability, the "twisting" action is actually very subtle and refers to the slight outward slant of the pedals when stepping on them. The company says this motion helps tone buttocks and thighs, but users say it's barely noticeable.
Still, most agree that the Sunny Stepper gives them an excellent workout, in fact, plenty of sweaty owners say it's almost too intense and that they can't work out for more than 10 minutes or so at a time. The resistance is adjustable though, via a knob on the base, so that may help you to find a workout intensity that works for you. Handle height is also adjustable -- a handy feature for users of different sizes. Reviewers also like that it includes a straightforward, easy to read LCD display that tracks time elapsed, steps and calories. Its maximum user capacity is 250 pounds.
We did find some durability complaints with the Sunny Twister, either that the unit was delivered damaged or that it didn't hold up well over time, but most agree that this basic stair stepper is a great value for the price. The Twist Stepper has a steel-frame construction and non-slip footplates, and it comes with a 90-day warranty.
The Stamina SpaceMate Folding Stepper (Est. $100) is another basic, but well-regarded stair climber that hits all the right notes for your home gym. It offers adjustable resistance, so you can vary the level of your workout, and features two hydraulic cylinders for smooth stepping. There's a battery-operated monitor that tracks number of steps per minute, number of steps per workout, time, and calories burned -- plus slide-resistant pedals and foam-covered handlebars, for a more stable and comfortable experience. It has a heavy-duty steel frame that carries a one-year warranty, and there's a 90-day warranty on other parts. It also folds easily, with the removal of a pin, so you can store it in slim places. Like the Sunny Stepper, the SpaceMate's maximum capacity is 250 pounds.
For a smaller and more portable option, reviewers also like the Sunny Health & Fitness Mini Stepper with Resistance Bands (Est. $40). It comes with detachable resistance bands that provide an upper-body workout, and it also features a counter that tracks time, steps and calories. The Mini Stepper earns kudos from those who love its compact size and low price, but note that it's not a good choice as a dedicated piece of exercise equipment. Rather, they say, it's best for just moving more while watching TV, talking on the phone, or for a few minutes while on a lunch break. Although it's small, the maximum user capacity is fairly generous at 220 pounds.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Treadclimbers | Buying Guide | Our Sources