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 -- your basic stepper 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.
Hybrid stair steppers offer the most versatile workout. They combine the movements of a stepper with that of a treadmill and/or elliptical, which manufacturers say works more muscle groups that that of just a basic stepper. Many hybrids come with nice amenities, such as fans, water-bottle or magazine holders, heart-rate monitors, entertainment systems, and/or interactive programs for tracking progress. Most have easy-to-read and operate LCD screens and are ergonomically designed for maximum comfort.
Many people call hybrids "treadclimbers," but that term actually refers to a proprietary hybrid-type machine. The StairMaster TreadClimber is a machine made for commercial institutions; the Bowflex TreadClimber is the model made for home use. We cover the latter in this report.
Hybrids are at the high end of the price point. They can run from $1,000 to more than $3,000. The more basic stair steppers can be had for $100 or less. Compared to some other pieces of exercise equipment, they're highly affordable. 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 stair steppers, but are also pricier. Want to give up your gym membership altogether? See our report on home gyms for the best alternatives.
There aren't a lot of reviews for stair steppers, but ConsumerSearch editors pored through what was available, as well as polling our active friends and acquaintances for their top picks. 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.
Best Stair Climbers
Stair steppers conveniently get your heart pumping and quads burning
Basic stair climbers offer convenience and affordability, as well as a good workout. Many offer a choice of resistance levels and will monitor how many steps you take and calories you burn -- and when your workout is done, they will also be easy to move and store in a closet or under a bed. Many steppers can accommodate a maximum weight of 250 lbs.
Among the array of basic steppers on the market, the Stamina SpaceMate Folding Stepper (Est. $100) earns the greatest number of positive comments and good ratings, making it our Best Reviewed model. 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 parts. It also folds easily, with the removal of a pin, so you can store it in slim places.
The Stamina SpaceMate Folding Stepper earns an average rating of 4.4 stars out of 5 from almost 170 users posting to Walmart.com, with owners agreeing that it is a convenient machine that has helped them lose weight or otherwise improve their fitness. In addition, personal trainer Arthur Thares, writing for Bestcovery.com, names the model as his top pick in budget steppers, commenting that it provides a workout similar to what you'd experience at a gym. Amazon.com users give the Folding Stepper a somewhat lower average rating of 3.7 stars from almost 160 users; many say it offers a very effective workout, but some would like it to be more strenuous, and some report breakdowns.
If you're looking to spend a bit less, reviewers consider the Sunny Health & Fitness Twist Stepper with Handle Bar (Est. $65) a good choice. It also features adjustable resistance, plus it moves with a twisting action, which the company says helps tone buttocks and thighs. Its LCD computer monitors time of workout and calories burned. The Twist Stepper has a steel-frame construction and non-slip footplates, and it comes with a 90-day warranty. Some reviewers love the handlebar feature, saying it helps them to balance. If you don't need that feature you may prefer to spend $10 less for the regular Sunny Health & Fitness Twist Stepper .
The Twist Stepper with Handle Bar earns an average rating of 4.1 stars out of 5 from more than 180 users posting to Amazon.com, and an average rating of 4.3 stars from almost 25 users posting to Walmart.com. Nearly 25 users also post to Target.com, for an average rating of 4.5 stars. Most say it provides a good workout, although a few say it's uncomfortable to use, and some report breakdowns or malfunctions.
For a smaller and more portable option, reviewers also like the Sunny Health & Fitness Mini Stepper with Resistant Band (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 an average rating of 4.1 stars out of 5 from more than 120 users posting to Amazon.com, and 4.3 stars from more than 55 users posting to Walmart.com. Most applaud its compact size and low price, but some don't find that it gives an adequate workout.