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Stair climbers work the same muscles as walking up steps.
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Stair climbers mimic the experience of walking up steps and provide a cardio workout while toning buttock, thigh and calf muscles. You can make your climbing workout as leisurely or as intense as you please by adjusting the levels, which usually involves pressing the arrow buttons on your machine's display. At the higher levels, using a stair climber can be extremely tough. In fact, the average person won't venture past the middle range.
Understand the Levels
Most machines allow you to pick a level between 1 and 20, with each level representing a different speed. At the lowest speed, you climb about 24 steps per minute. At the highest speed, you climb about 162 steps per minute. At the mid-point of 10, you climb about 89 steps per minute. Each level is 7 to 8 steps per minute faster than then next. For example, level 2 is 31 steps per minute, while level 3 is 39 steps per minute.
Decipher the Numbers
Using numbers alone, the levels may have little meaning. However, understanding how hard they make you work can help you choose the right one. "Shape" magazine uses a perceived exertion scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest. Climbing at level 2 or 3 on the stair climber rates as a 3 or 4 on the exertion scale. Climbing at level 5 on the stair climber rates about a 5 on the exertion scale, while climbing at level 10 rates in the 8 to 9 range. Using level 10 or higher on the stair climber requires major exertion for most people and is best left for highly fit individuals or short spurts of activity.
Customize a Level
Because perceived exertion rate can differ from person to person, you may want to choose your stair climber level based on your own fitness level and goals. For cardiovascular benefits, you should aim for moderate to vigorous intensity, with vigorous levels best suited for relatively fit people. During moderate cardio, your breathing quickens, you sweat after about 10 minutes and you can speak but not sing. During vigorous cardio, you sweat after a few minutes and cannot finish a sentence without pausing for breath; however, you should not be gasping for air. If your current level seems too light or too intense based on these guidelines, adjust accordingly.
Nobody ever said you had to stick with one level throughout your entire workout. For added challenge and excitement, try an interval workout. Start with a five-minute warm-up of easy stepping, then alternate 60-second intervals at a vigorous intensity with three-minute intervals at a moderate intensity. By working out in intervals, you may speed up your metabolism for hours after your workout, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.