Separates itself from the rest of the pack due to its highly ergonomic design. Adjustable height settings suit all body types. Extremely portable.
The foot pedals are smaller than those of most other units.
Praised for its innovative twisting action, which tones and strengthens muscles unlike any other unit on the market.
Some customers liken the machine's small stride to taking "baby steps" rather than full strides.
Ultra-low impact and smooth strides makes this unit a leading choice for anyone suffering from injuries or general aches and pains.
Some units squeak despite oiling and retightening bolts.
Gets top marks for its adjustable hydraulic resistance, which lets users choose the intensity of every workout.
Built-in computer prone to unpredictable operation and often shorts out.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Step machines — also known as stair machines, climbers, or steppers — simulate the act of climbing stairs. If you’re looking for a way to strengthen and tone important areas of your lower body, such as the thighs and glutes, a step machine is a fantastic tool. If you want an at-home machine that can give you a good cardio workout, a step machine can help you with that, too.
Though the step machine concept is relatively straightforward, there are several variations on the market. Some machines are extremely compact and focus on the feet alone; others take up lots of space and include levers that work the arms as well. Which type of step machine is right for your home or office? We can help you decide.
In this article, we cover the ins and outs of step machines so you can make an informed purchase. When you’re ready to shop, take a look at the step machines we’ve highlighted as our favorites.
When shopping for a step machine, there are some key factors to consider. You’ll want to be aware of the different types of steppers on the market so you can zero in on the attributes that are most important to you. Most step machines are designed to work with all body shapes and sizes. Size and portability may also be important, depending on where you plan on exercising. You may also want to keep your personal fitness level in mind, as some machines are built with more robust fitness settings than others.
Basic step machines provide low-impact workouts that recreate the effect of climbing multiple flights of stairs. Some basic machines have simple resistance settings. Others are more advanced and automatically move the steps at various speeds. Many have handrails for upper-body support, and some have levers to work the arms as well.
Mini step machines are designed to set up quickly and work effectively in small spaces. They are great for those with busy work schedules, as you can easily get 15 to 20 minutes of cardio in spaces that typically don't have enough room for larger workout equipment, such as a bedroom or office. These machines are extremely lightweight and often portable enough for travel.
Climber step machines simulate the act of not only stepping with the legs but also climbing with the arms. These machines burn lots of calories, as users are forced to work their entire bodies to create movement. They work well for those who want a total body workout as well as those who just want a change of pace.
Elliptical step machines provide a circular up-and-down motion that's somewhat a split between a ski machine and a stair stepper. The design makes them extremely easy on the joints, though some models allow for increased resistance for tougher workouts. Some elliptical step machines feature levers to work the upper body, and there are mini versions that can be used while sitting.
A versatile stepper at the top of its class
The MaxiClimber XL-1000 is a popular step machine for good reason. Its smart ergonomic design distinguishes itself from other steppers, and its adjustable height settings make it an effective stepper for individuals of all shapes and sizes. It’s lightweight, easy to set up, and foldable for portability and storage.
You’ll want to consider how much space you have for your future step machine. Many steppers fold up for storage, but some larger machines may require planning to fit comfortably in a space. Climber step machines tend to be quite tall because of their vertical design, and older basic models tend to have large bases.
For the most part, step machines are easy to use. By itself, a step machine can be a great way for a beginner to build endurance and burn calories without too much stress. Seasoned exercisers can also benefit from a step machine, as it's a great piece of equipment for warming up, cooling down, and performing intense cardio. That said, a mini step machine may not feature enough resistance or movement options for an advanced user. A person looking for a challenge may be happier with an elliptical or climbing step machine.
Contrary to what some may believe, consistent use of a step machine won’t add bulk to the lower body. It will improve definition and endurance, but if you’re trying to build muscle mass, you’ll need to add some progressive strength training to your routine.
Most step machines feature a simple LCD screen that, at the very least, has a timer for workouts and a step counter to keep you informed of your progress. Advanced machines may have extra settings that control resistance. In cases where the step machine is fully automated, you may also be able to control climbing speed.
A step machine with adjustable resistance allows you to start at your own pace and work your way toward your goals. This is an important feature for those who are serious about making progress. Some steppers feature adjustable elastic bands with handles so you can exercise your arms as well. Working both the upper and lower body at once can produce fantastic results.
A step machine allows you to get a solid cardio workout while limiting impact on the joints. It’s a great alternative to running or jogging.
$50 to $100
You can find reliable and effective mini steppers and basic step machines for less than $100. These machines are typically compact, lightweight, and perfectly fine for beginners. Users looking for a more intense workout or heavy-duty equipment will need to look to the mid-level price range, however.
$100 to $200
This price range is typically where performance meets affordability. Here, shoppers will find climbers and step machines that utilize both upper-body and lower-body movement. Mid-level step machines are simple enough for beginners but also adequate for those who are more serious about working out. You may find some more advanced resistance options and digital settings here.
$200 and above
The most advanced step machines and elliptical designs cost more. These machines offer the greatest versatility and also tend to be much bigger. If you’re interested in investing in a long-lasting step machine that can deliver effective workouts for various fitness levels, this is where you’ll find it.
Step machines are excellent for strengthening parts of the lower body like the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. They’re also effective at working the lower back muscles and tightening the core.
Compact, effective, and affordable
The Twist Stepper from Sunny Health & Fitness is an ultra-compact step machine that combines resistance bands and stepping power to provide a unique cardio workout. Its steel frame is durable, and the slip-resistant pedals are made to secure users of all sizes. The resistance bands are removable, and the compact size allows it to fit nearly any room or office space.
The IDEER LIFE Under Desk & Stand Up Stepper is a mini stepper that allows users to get a quick cardio workout even while sitting at a desk. The small machine is highly adjustable with multiple resistance levels and a wide base to prevent users from rocking or bumping their knees while exercising under a desk. You can monitor time, distance, calories, and step count on the LCD display while keeping your workout to yourself thanks to this machine’s smooth, quiet pedaling mechanism.
For an upright full-body workout, we like the Conquer Vertical Climber. It’s a simply designed piece of equipment that offers more than just a lower-body workout. This vertical climber provides a low-impact workout with the added benefit of upper-body movements to tone your arms while burning calories. The machine is easy to use and suitable for all fitness levels. What’s more, it’s foldable for easy storage.
Q. Can I use a step machine every day?
A. Yes. Step machines are great because they provide a cardio workout while minimizing pressure on the joints. You can keep things interesting by adjusting settings, adding weights, or supplementing other exercises before, after, or in between sets.
Q. How effective is a step machine at burning fat?
A. Daily cardio activity can play a huge role in the loss of body fat. To lose one pound of fat, the average person needs to burn about 3,500 calories. One hour on a step machine can burn about 657 calories in a 160-pound person. This could add up to more than one pound of fat loss per week. As fat decreases and muscles become more toned, many users are pleased with their results.
Q. What’s the difference between a using a stepper and climbing actual stairs?
A. A step machine mimics the effects of constantly walking up stairs. Using a stepper can be more effective than actual stair-climbing because of the step machine’s ability to remain in constant motion. What’s more, step machines are equipped with settings to add more resistance or speed. This forces users to push themselves, thus creating a more effective workout.
Q. Are there different types of workouts you can do with a step machine?
A. Yes. Users can add variety to their workouts by adjusting settings and getting creative. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) calls for intense, fast-paced stepping for short intervals at a time. Endurance training requires steady movement for longer durations. Some advanced users can also move while stepping and challenge themselves to walk sideways — or even backwards — while on the machine.
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