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Stair steppers use vertical distance to track flights completed.
As with most cardio machines, stair steppers provide a collection of data about your workout that you can use to track intensity, volume and progress. Some models provide the total number of floors, or flights, you have traveled. Although a fun and original way to gauge the intensity and progression of your workouts, the lack of an industry standard to calculate this statistic and the fact that some steppers don't provide it at all, leaves you with data that, although interesting, is not all that useful for comparing workouts.
It's Not What You Might Think
A stair stepper cannot calculate the number of flights solely based on the number of steps you take. Unlike a step mill, a stair stepper does not have a set step with a predetermined height. Depending on the specific model, a stair stepper machine allows for a step between one and 14 inches. One user might take smaller steps, while another user takes much longer steps. If the machine simply calculated one flight to equal 20 steps, users with long steps would travel much farther to complete one flight than those with shorter strides.
Flights Measured by Feet
Stair stepper machines typically calculate a flight by the distance traveled, with one flight equaling 10 to 12 vertical feet. One exercise equipment brand calculates a floor to be about 10 vertical feet, which is approximately equal to running 100 feet on level land. Every 10 vertical feet of distance you cover, the machine adds another flight to your stats.
Using the Same Machine
Not all equipment manufacturers provide the method they use to calculate a flight. One brand may calculate it slightly differently than another. For example, one brand my equate a flight with 12 vertical feet, while another may equate a flight to 10 vertical feet. Do not use total floors completed as the sole method for comparing two workouts on two different machines, as this may not be a fair comparison. However, if you always use the same machine, how the calculation is made is not relevant. It's only important that the measurement is calculated the same every time. As long as you use the same machine, you can use the total flight data as a way to track your progress across workouts.
Something to Consider
Not all stair steppers provide the number of floors traveled, but they do provide other information such as total steps, stride length, elapsed time and vertical feet traveled. In this case, you would need to use other data to track your workouts. Total distance traveled, total steps and elapsed time should be relatively consistent calculations across machines, offering you multiple ways to compare workouts and track your progress.