I began using a mini stepper machine for my main cardio exercise over two years ago after researching various options.
And today I’d like to share the stepper exercise benefits I discovered that convinced me to start using one in my own workouts.
Besides learning how stepper exercise can improve our health, I gathered some fitness tips from sports science experts on how to best put this machine to use in our workouts.
I’ll share this helpful info in the next sections.
Stepper machine benefits
Regular stepper exercise provides a low-impact workout that can improve our heart health.
It can tone & strengthen all lower body muscles, from our butt on down through our thighs & calves.
A stepper machine is small & portable, and it’s quiet while in use too.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
Improve fitness on a stepper machine
Here’s a little more detail into each of the health & fitness benefits that regular workouts on a stepper machine provide us.
Stepper exercise is low-impact exercise
A stepper machine is considered a low-impact workout because your feet never leave the machine’s surface.
In a nutshell, this means that on a stepper you’re sparing your hip, knee, and ankle joints from the repeated impacts they endure while running or doing an aerobics class.
Those activities require that your feet leave the ground and come back down again hundreds or thousands of times, with your whole weight pressing down on all your lower body joints at impact.
It’s easy to see why they’re considered high-impact exercise.
High-impact exercise — which has its own set of benefits to be sure — may not be the best choice for older people (40 & up) or anyone else who is dealing with joint pain, arthritis, or bone loss issues like osteopenia or osteoporosis.
And so using a stepper machine to get in our low-impact cardio workouts is a great alternative.
Stepper exercise provides cardiovascular benefit
A stepper machine provides a moderate level of aerobic activity when you use it for your regular 30 to 60 minute steady-state cardio workout.
Steady-state just means that you’re going at the same pace throughout your workout.
The American Heart Assn. recommends we get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity in order to reap its benefits.
A great way that regular physical activity like this benefits us is that it improves our cardiovascular health.
This means our heart will get stronger from our consistent exercise and won’t have to work as hard during our daily life.
As a result we’ll gain more endurance, and normal tasks that involve physical effort – like carrying groceries up the stairs – will become much easier, thanks to regular exercise.
A stronger heart also gives us a chance to take part in more of life’s fun activities like playing ball with kids, going on a long bike ride, or hiking with our dog.
Burn calories & lose weight on a stepper
Does a stepper machine burn calories? Of course it does.
Does a stepper machine burn enough calories to lose weight?
Well, that depends on a couple of things which we’ll look at now.
How many calories do stepper machine workouts burn?
To find this out, use an online calculator like this one or consult a chart that has a list of common exercise options (treadmill walking, jogging, skiing, stair step machines, etc.).
Going with the calculator, I type in my personal stats:
- Age: 61
- Weight: 180
- Height: 6′ 2″
- Activity: stair step machine
- Duration: 60 minutes
Hit enter and voilà – for every hour on the stepper machine I’ll burn somewhere in the neighborhood of 572 calories.
Your number will be different of course.
Weight is the main determinant here, so if you weigh more than me you’ll burn more than 572 calories.
If less, you’ll burn less.
To lose weight, burn more calories than you consume
Experts at the Mayo Clinic say we need to burn 3,500 calories more than we consume for every pound of weight loss.
Let me illustrate how to put weight loss in motion using a stepper machine & myself in an example.
So if I do a 30-minute stepper machine workout 6 times a week (3 hours’ worth), I burn about 1,700 calories/week above what my body uses when it’s inactive*.
(*You need a calculator to give you your Basal Metabolic Rate, which is how many calories your body burns per day if it’s inactive. Here’s a free one for you.)
And if I clean up my diet and reduce my daily calories by 500 a day, there’s another 3,500 less calories per week.
Combining the better diet and the stepper machine exercise, in this example I’m now burning+reducing 5,200 calories/week more than what I’m taking in with all my eating & drinking.
That’s about a pound and a half of weight loss per week, which is great.
Medical experts agree that 1-2 lb. per week is a safe amount of weight loss.
Strength training on a stepper
Your leg muscles and your glutes (AKA your butt muscles) will become stronger from regular cardio workouts on a step machine.
This is because a stepper workout provides a form of resistance training, AKA strength training.
The resistance comes from the hydraulic piston/s that your muscles encounter as you press down on the step machine’s pedals.
Some mini-steppers like my Xiser have adjustable resistance.
So as your leg muscles get stronger you can increase the resistance you encounter in your workout, which in turn will improve the quality of your stepper cardio time.
Progressive resistance training
Steadily and gradually increasing the intensity like this is called progressive resistance training.
This type of strength training workout program offers a boatload of benefits to your physical & mental well-being.
As you build the muscle mass from your butt down through your legs using your stepper exercise machine, your body’s metabolism will increase.
You will burn more calories while you are at rest as a result, and this will be a big assist to any fitness & weight loss goals you may have.
HIIT it for more stepper benefits
I talked earlier about the traditional steady-state cardio workout where you cruise along at a moderate pace for 30 to 60 minutes.
And you’ll burn the appropriate amount of calories per hour at that moderate pace (it was 572/hour for me).
Make no mistake: consistently doing that will bring you benefits.
…how would you like to increase the weekly calorie burn & weight loss numbers as well as better improve your cardio fitness and your muscle strength…in less time?
It sounds like a phony infomercial claim, but it’s true…I proved it to myself that it was true.
What did I do?
I switched to a low-impact HIIT program on my stepper for my weekly cardio.
I stopped doing the 3-4 workouts per week of the longer moderate exercise, and switched to 4 HIIT workouts per week instead.
How to HIIT it
Are you familiar with HIIT?
This links to Mayo Clinic’s brief explanation of HIIT’s principles & benefits.
HIIT involves going all-out for several seconds, then resting for at least double the time of your 100% effort, repeating that cycle as needed.
The American Council on Exercise posted a sample HIIT workout on this page.
I don’t follow it, I just do my own thing as usual 😄.
I’ve studied HIIT’s sports performance research quite a bit, and I’ve written a few guides on high-intensity training you can read here on heydayDo if you’re interested:
My own HIIT routine
I switch the way I work out — meaning, my weightlifting & cardio routines — every 6-8 weeks or so.
(This is for a couple of reasons: keep me from getting bored, & to keep my muscles ‘guessing’.)
When I’m using HIIT in a training cycle, I’ll do either 3 or 5 minutes of high-intensity training on my mini-stepper per workout, 2 apiece per week.
On a 3-minute day I do 6 x 30 seconds @ high intensity, and so I rest for a minute between each one.
Those workouts take 3 minutes of high + 6 minutes of rests = 9 minutes total to complete.
On my 5-minute days it’s the same process.
I just increase the number of sets to 10 x 30 seconds @ high intensity, and 10 1-minute rests in between.
That workout takes 5 minutes of high-intensity +10 minutes of rests = 15 minutes total to complete.
Big time savings
My steady-state cardio exercise used to require around 2-3 hours per week of my time.
It drops to around 60-75 minutes per week (total time, high intensity + the in-between rests) whenever I switch to a HIIT program.
Looking over my workout diary, I figured that’s a time savings of over 60%.
yours truly HIITin’ it on my stepper
My low-impact HIIT + low-carb diet experiment
Two years ago I combined my stepper HIIT routine I mention above with a low-carb diet, where I dropped my daily calorie intake by a few hundred.
I lost 19 lb. in 3 months’ time. So yeah, I’m a big believer in the effectiveness of low-impact HIIT exercise on my mini-stepper.
By the way, I kept diligent records and will be posting my workouts and my diet from this 3-month experiment here on heydayDo.
And anyone without health issues can also apply this high intensity interval training method to their stepper exercise routine.
(I did it as part of my physical rehab following heart surgery, to help me get my wind back.)
A mini-stepper is portable
One of a stepper’s really nice benefits for me is that it’s a compact exercise machine that doesn’t weigh very much.
I own a Xiser Mini StairMaster and its “travel” dimensions are 21” x 14” x 4”, and it only weighs 14 lb.
Here’s what it looks like:
It’s easy to take with me on road trips or put away if need be.
I can work out wherever I want to with ease.
I did a detailed product-testing review on several mini-steppers here, and you can see that all of them are small & lightweight.
This is a very convenient feature compared to traditional stair machines, ellipticals, or treadmills.
You can get a great workout without having to cough up a big chunk of real estate in your home to do it.
A stepper is a quiet exercise machine
The last benefit of a stepper exercise machine I want to mention is a minor one, but it still comes in handy.
Stepper exercise is virtually silent.
There’s no motor noise, nor is there any noise of your feet impacting the machine like you hear when you’re on a treadmill.
Stepper Exercise FAQ
Here are answers to a few of the commonly asked questions asked about steppers & stepper exercise.
What muscles does a stepper tone?
A stepper exercise machine will tone all of your lower body muscles, from your butt down to your feet.
In between it will strengthen and tone your thigh muscles (quads & hamstrings), as well as the muscles in your calves.
Will a stepper tone my stomach?
Directly, no. Indirectly, yes.
Since it burns a decent amount of calories as a form of resistance exercise, a stepper machine can reduce your belly fat which will improve your stomach’s appearance if — and it’s a big if — you combine it with a lower calorie diet like we looked at earlier.
Which is better, the stepper or the treadmill?
Both machines offer very good moderate or vigorous physical activity levels depending on how they’re used.
The stepper machine is better at providing a low-impact cardio workout for people who don’t want to stress their joints, like those dealing with arthritis.
Their workouts can be longer on a stepper & pain-free too, because there’s no foot impact like there is when running or briskly walking on a treadmill.
And — ironically perhaps — a treadmill is better for your bones because it is provides higher-impact exercise, and weight-bearing exercises like walking or running strengthen your bones.
Related articles here on heydayDo
OK, time for me to step on out of here (ouch) 😄.
I hope my research into stepper exercise benefits is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.