Hybrid stair climbers combine the main attributes of two or more types of fitness equipment. Their purpose is to provide a more vigorous workout by targeting more muscle groups and working them in different ways. Hybrids tend to be much pricier that simple steppers and may feature amenities such as fans, water-bottle or magazine holders, heart-rate monitors, and entertainment systems or hookups for an iPod or other music source.
Among hybrid stair steppers, the three-model Bowflex TreadClimber series has become very popular. These machines use "dual treadles" to combine the motions of a treadmill, stair climber and elliptical in one. The treadles are essentially small treadmills (one for each foot). They rise to meet each foot as you walk, the way an elliptical trainer would -- plus they respond to pressure by moving downward, as the stairs on a stair stepper do.
In this category, the Bowflex TreadClimber TC10 (Est. $2,200) -- the middle model in the series -- receives the most top reviews, making it our Best Reviewed hybrid stair stepper. It features four LCD display screens that electronically track speed, distance, time and calories, and it can store and track the weekly progress of one user. There's also a "quick start" function and an ergonomic console that provides easy access to a water bottle and magazine. The model, which has wheels for easy moving, carries a two-year warranty and can support a maximum weight of 300 lbs.
The TC10 earns an average rating of 4.2 stars out of 5 from nearly 2,000 reviews that appear on Buzzillions.com. (Buzzillions.com gathers its reviews from retail websites). Most of these reviews are extremely complimentary about the workout provided, but some reviewers cite problems assembling the product, and several find fault with Bowflex's customer service. The TC10 also gets a high rating from the editors of FitRated.com, who give it a score of 91.3 percent.
For those who want a few more bells and whistles, the Bowflex TC20 (Est. $3,300) is similar to the TC10, but it features longer treadles for more comfortable strides, a backlit LCD screen, and an interactive goal-setting program. It also monitors heart rate and can track the progress of two users. It comes with a three-year warranty.
For those who want a hybrid stair stepper but prefer a less pricey one, the Schwinn 460 Variable Stride Elliptical (Est. $1,000) is also well reviewed. It allows you to walk, run or step -- plus, you can pedal backwards, to target different muscles. It has 16 programs and can monitor the progress of two users. There's also a fan, backlit LCD touch screen, heart-rate monitor, and water-bottle holder. It has a 10-year warranty on the frame, with two years on the parts, one year on the electronics, and six months on the wear parts.
The Schwinn 460 earns an average rating of 4.1 stars out of 5 from more than 120 users posting to Amazon.com. Most say it provides a workout that rivals what you'd get from a commercial gym machine, although there were some reports of malfunctions, noises and breakdowns. In addition, the Schwinn 460 earns a nod from the editors at TheEllipticalReviews.com, although they don't specify their qualifications as reviewers, nor do they describe a testing methodology.