Treadclimbers 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, yet without putting undue stress on joints. These hybrids are much pricier than simple stair steppers, but they're also heavy-duty, commercial grade pieces of equipment that can give you a very intense and varied workout.
Experts say you should consider a treadclimber if you have joint issues that might make even a traditional stair climber too tough to use. Another benefit of these hybrid steppers is that they have a much smaller footprint than either treadmills or elliptical machines, so would be a good choice if you're short on space. On the downside: they tend to be pricey, but plenty of users say that they are all you really need in a home gym.
If a hybrid stair stepper is for you, the Bowflex TreadClimber series has no competition. 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.
Among the available models, the Bowflex TreadClimber TC100 (Est. $2,200) gets a lot of love from reviewers for its good array of features, customizable workout options and sturdy build. Unlike a treadmill, you can't run on the TreadClimber in spite of its treadmill-like dual motion, but reviewers say it gives you one of the best low-impact workouts of any other type of fitness equipment. It also can be adjusted for virtually any level of fitness, from beginner to more advanced, although its top speed is only 4 miles per hour. Those who do a lot of hiking love it for its incline training capabilities, too.
The TreadClimber TC100 is the latest model in Bowflex's impressive lineup of treadmill alternatives (it replaces the TC10, our former Best Reviewed, which has been discontinued). The TC100 has a newly designed console with a single display screen that tracks speed, distance, time and calories -- it can track and store data for two users. While there is a "quick start" function, there are no preset workouts, an omission that earns a thumb's down from experts. However the console is generously sized, with two oversized cup holders, a media holder, and a built-in USB charging port. You can check your heart rate with the contact grip sensors on the handlebars, but there is no option to add a wireless or chest strap style heart monitor. The TC100, which has wheels for easy moving, carries a two-year warranty and can support a maximum weight of 300 lbs.
For those who want a few more bells and whistles, the Bowflex TC200 (Est. $3,300) has all of the features of the TC100 plus an impressive array of add-ons. To begin with, the TC200's treadles are longer for more comfortable strides and may be a better fit for taller or longer-legged users; like the TC100, it has a maximum capacity of 300 pounds It has a top speed of 4.5 miles per hour.
The TC200 can track and store the progress of four users, and includes five preset workout programs -- although experts still say that's a fairly scant offering. There are a few more bells and whistles as well, including a "heart rate zone" that shows you whether you're exercising in warm-up, fat burn, cardio or performance mode, as well as a free app that can share your progress with a variety of online tracking programs, such as MyFitnessPal. The TC200 comes with a slightly longer three-year warranty.