Even the most dedicated barbell aficionados may glance the way of the cardio floor every now and again — especially when the power of social media compels them. StairMaster machines have been around since the 1980s, but they’ve climbed to the top of fitness trends once more. This cardio machine’s moment in the sun is well-deserved — a good StairMaster workout raises your heart rate and taxes your muscles.
Here’s your guide to StairMasters (which is a specific brand of stair climber that often stands in as a catch-all for the machines in general), complete with three StairMaster workouts you can try, based on your fitness level and goals.
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Why We Like the StairMaster
Let’s face it: cardio might not be your favorite thing to do at the gym. That’s why it helps to have so many toys to choose from. But whether you want to use the StairMaster, treadmill, elliptical, bike, or something else, they can all improve conditioning and boost your heart health. The more work you put in, the more you’ll get out of each cardio machine.
The StairMaster stands out because you can hit a higher intensity in a shorter amount of time. Stair steppers are a beast at bringing up your heart rate and taxing your core and lower body muscles all at once. Plus, it’s more low-impact on your joints than running during a treadmill workout.
[Read More: Stairmaster Vs. Treadmill — Which One Should You Use for Cardio, Strength, and More?]
On TikTok, the popularity of the 25-7-2 workout by user @shutupcamilla has shot up partly because it’s so simple: you’ll do the StairMaster at level seven for 25 minutes, two times a week. This matches the viral 12-3-30 workout in simplicity, where you walk on a treadmill at a 12 percent incline at a 3.0 speed for 30 minutes.
Stair climbers are suitable for gymgoers from beginners to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) enthusiasts. While we won’t give up on strength training (never), stair climbers let you feel a strong burn in your legs and glutes while ramping up your heart rate very quickly. More bang for your buck is the name of the game here.
Try This StairMaster Workout
Ready to give it a try? Step on up. You don’t need an actual StairMaster here — use whatever brand of stair stepper your gym has. Find the workout that fits you below and get climbing.
If You’re a Beginner
Beginners will want to get acquainted with the StairMaster before kicking things up, and proper form is key. You might have seen advice on TikTok to avoid using the handrails so you work your core muscles and upper body more. But if you cannot stay upright without them, you run the risk of some lower back compensation — we know from our early days.
[Read More: The 16 Best Bodyweight Exercises for More Muscle and Mobility]
In this StairMaster workout for beginners, start at a low enough level to see if you can avoid the handrails. (It’s OK if you need them — just try to use your hands for balance rather than relying on the rails for full-body stability.) You’ll warm up, gradually increase the resistance, work your way back down, and finish with a cool-down for a total of 30 minutes (shorter if needed).
Beginner StairMaster Workout
- Step up onto the StairMaster. Warm up with five minutes at level two.
- Increase to level three for five minutes. Stand tall and engage your core — practice climbing without the handrails (it’s OK if you need them, but go slowly enough that you’re not fully leaning on them).
- Increase to level four or five for 10 minutes (shorter if needed) Push through your heels as you step to engage your glutes.
- Lower back to level three for five minutes. Maintain your proper form. Continue engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
- Cool down with five more minutes at level two.
You can play with the levels and increase them as you get used to it. Working with a personal trainer can also help you find the right resistance for your fitness level.
Modification: For many athletes, the five-minute warm-up may well feel like an entire workout. That’s OK. If you’re exhausted by the end of the warm-up, then you can call it a day and build up gradually from there. Start wherever you’re at and know that with each session, you’ll gain more strength and skill.
If You Know What “StairMaster” Means
You’re already familiar with the StairMaster and you’re ready to really — ahem — master it. Intermediate athletes may want to try a steady-state cardio workout like the 25-7-2 StairMaster workout. This involves generally sustaining the same pace, heart rate, and intensity for a longer period of time.
[Read More: The 5 Best HIIT Treadmill Workouts to Bring Some Heart to Your Training]
Steady-state cardio is great for increasing endurance and generally cardiovascular fitness. As lifters, we also like it on our active recovery days.
Intermediate StairMaster Workout
- Step up onto the machine. Warm up with five minutes at level four or five.
- Increase to level six, seven, eight, or nine. Find the level at which you can maintain proper form without holding the handrails. Continue for 25 minutes.
- Slow it down to level four or five for three minutes.
- Cool down for two more minutes at level two or three.
Modification: If you’re gasping for breath during your workout, lower the level. The idea here is that your breathing should be elevated but not overly difficult. If you can’t manage to say a sentence or two, reduce the intensity.
[Read More: Everything You Need to Know About LISS Cardio and Why You Should Do It]
If You’re Looking to Grind
When you want to really go hard in your cardio workout, the StairMaster is your best friend. It’s perfect for a quick and sweaty HIIT workout, without all that heavy banging on your joints. When you want a break from hammering your joints and tissues during intense sprint workouts, try some HIIT on the StairMaster.
[Read More: The 20 Best Leg Exercises for Muscle and Strength]
Advanced StairMaster Workout
For this HIIT workout, you’ll select two levels. One will be your all-out, max-effort level — let’s say 12. The other will be your recovery level — we’ll say eight. Play around until you find the correct numbers for you.
- Step up and warm up for five minutes at a moderate level.
- Complete one minute at level 12 (or your max level).
- Recover for two minutes at level eight (or your recovery level).
- Continue for four to six rounds.
- Cool down for five minutes at a slow to moderate level.
Modification: Just because the examples here are levels 12 and eight, don’t feel the need to stay in that range. You might push it hard at level seven and take your recovery periods at level three. Whatever works for your body is the best option for you.
Benefits of the StairMaster
Why bother stair climbing? Here are the top benefits of sweating it out on the stairs at your next cardio workout.
- Cardio Is Good For You: Sorry, but it’s true. The StairMaster is a spectacular form of aerobic exercise. Regularly doing aerobic exercise is well-known to boost your heart health, help prevent cardiovascular diseases, improve blood flow, strengthen your immune system, and help you sleep better. It can also have mental health benefits and can contribute to boosting your mood and self-image. (1)(2)
- Elevates Heart Rate Quickly: Stair steppers often raise your heart rate quicker than other cardio machines because the resistance has you engaging multiple big muscle groups. You may be able to get a similar cardio stimulus without doing something more high-impact, like running.
- Burns Fat: Some say the 25-7-2 StairMaster workout will give you abs. You probably already know you build abs, like any muscle, through resistance training and nutrition. To see your abs, you may need to lose body fat. There’s nothing magical about the StairMaster and abs, unfortunately. Using it to burn calories through steady-state cardio or HIIT workouts can help, but you’ll likely need to be in a calorie deficit — which is largely about your nutritional plan.
- Strengthens Glutes and Legs: The StairMaster doesn’t necessarily build muscle. But, due to the resistance and movement pattern of stair climbing, it works your glutes, quads, and hamstrings more than other cardio machines.
- Works Core Muscles: Staying upright and avoiding the handrails will work all your core muscles to keep your spine straight. While it’s not quite a full-body workout, it’s more muscle engagement than some other cardio machines.
If you’re anything like us, even when you’re not at the gym, you’re still thinking about the gym. You’re probably scrolling fitness content on social media, researching supplements, and planning your next training session. No wonder StairMaster workouts have crossed your social feed.
These workouts raise your heart rate and tax your lower body muscles tremendously. Beginners can start slow to work their way up, intermediates can try steady-state cardio, and advanced athletes will love a tough HIIT session. Step on up.
Let’s wrap up with some common questions on the StairMaster.
It depends on what type of workout you’re doing. You can do a HIIT workout in 10 to 20 minutes. For a steady-state cardio session, aim for at least 30. If you can’t get to those numbers, don’t worry — start where you’re at (even at five minutes or less) and build up gradually from there. Some practice is much better than none.
Sure, if you’re using the stair climber as part of a more comprehensive training and nutrition plan. But you can’t spot-reduce it, or target belly fat specifically.
The idea is that to lose any body fat, you need to expend more energy than you take in. Using the StairMaster can help you burn calories and increase your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), potentially aiding your overall weight loss efforts.
The StairMaster can help improve heart health and cardiovascular fitness. It’ll also strengthen your glutes, legs, and core muscles. It tends to be more low-impact on your joints than running.
- Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018 Sep 28;5:135.
- Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106.
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