Hybrid stair climbers combine the main attributes of two or more types of fitness equipment. The NordicTrack FreeStrider 35S (*Est. $1,000) is one such machine, splicing the up and down movements of a stair climber with the circular motion of an elliptical machine. Another, the Bowflex TreadClimber TC20 (*Est. $3,300) uses "Dual Treadles" to combine the motion of a treadmill, stair climber and elliptical. The dual treadles are essentially a pair of smaller treadmills (one for each foot) pivoting in an up and down motion. The idea behind hybrid stair climbers is to provide the user with a more dynamic workout that engages muscles otherwise ignored and works them in different ways.
The FreeStrider 35S is one of the most popular hybrid stair climbers on the market and our Best Reviewed choice. It is extremely durable, as suggested by the lifetime frame warranty, and boasts many features both useful and entertaining. These include 16 resistance levels, 15 preprogrammed workout apps and 15 target-toning workouts, handlebar heart rate sensors, built-in audio system, 8-inch cooling fan, and LCD display, as well as various workout settings. The TC20 is equipped with a backlit LCD display screen from which the user can control the climber's five functions: speed, distance, time, calories and heart rate.
The hybrid design of the NordicTrack FreeStrider allows users to push themselves through a workout using their own natural range of motion up to 35 inches, essentially creating a one-size-fits-all machine. This cannot be said of the Bowflex TC20, which has the longest foot treadles in the Bowflex hybrid stair climber series. Other trims may be too short for longer-striding individuals. The moving handlebars of the FreeStrider mean upper body involvement, providing an overall more extensive workout. While Bowflex claims three-and-a-half times the calorie burn, the TC20 does not contain any form of upper body workout. Many users say that the hybrid motion can be very awkward to use and may take some time to get used to. It is recommended that you find a place to properly test either trainer for yourself before deciding to purchase.
The FreeStrider 35S is compatible with iFit Live, a workout tracking application that is compatible with several models of exercise equipment and accessories from Icon Fitness (parent company of NordicTrack, ProForm and others). The iFit Live application is capable of automatically tracking your progress, plus it allows users to choose custom workouts designed by certified trainers. Unfortunately, the iFit module requires a wireless network, which is sold separately (*Est. $100). Similarly, the Bowflex TC20 has G.O. Coach (Goal Oriented), which creates interactive workout programs and monitors users' progress. G.O. Coach uses the heart rate reading from the stationary handles to adjust exercise intensity in order to meet the user's fitness goals.
The TC20 is the highest trim of the Bowflex's TreadClimber series, which includes the TC5 (*Est. $1,000) and TC10 (*Est. $3,300) trim. The TC20 differs from the two with longer foot treadles, customizable programming and a three-year whole machine warranty (versus only one and two years). The FreeStrider 35S comes in one more trim, the 35Si, which includes a free iFit membership, a Polar wireless chest heart-rate monitor and 10 more built-in workout apps.
Both stair climbers are feature packed and provide an excellent workout with their unique motion. However, at $2,000 less and with much more user feedback to support its build quality and performance, the FreeStrider 35S presents a much better value. The TC20, unfortunately, garners little positive support from credible user-based resources.