how to use a stairmaster (properly)

How To Use A StairMaster (Properly)

Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific exercise. This month we’re taking a look at the infamous StairMaster. The StairMaster can be a great exercise – if people only knew how to use it correctly. Here’s what to do – and what not to do when using a StairMaster.

How To Use A StairMaster (Properly)

how to use a stairmaster (properly)First of all, if you’re not familiar with a StairMaster – now is the time to get properly acquainted. It’s actually a great piece of gym equipment meant for simulating climbing up stairs. The machine CAN have some great cardiovascular effects as well as being a great tool on developing strength endurance in the leg muscles.

The Problem With Using The StairMaster

Every time I’m at the gym I cringe literally every single time I’m there when I see people that don’t know how to use a StairMaster. The machine is meant to simulate going up stairs – so why then do people find it necessary to add all of this un-natural movement to the machine?


Stupid Things People Do With A StairMaster

1. StairMaster Kickbacks

Did someone tell you that this would help give you a bigger butt? Or did you see someone else doing this exercise so you thought you would give it a go? Try doing squats instead. Kicking out your leg while going down on a machine does nothing for you other than giving you the impression that you think you’re actually doing something. After you do some squats do some hip bridges.

2. StairMaster Dancing

I get that you might want to have fun, but seriously, why?

3. StairMaster Hanging

There are only two reasons you should need to hang on to a StairMaster:

1. You’re older and have poor balance.
2. You’re completely new to working out and have developed no balance – which in that case you should slow down the machine and not go so fast.

4. StairMaster Sideways

Again, seriously, why? Because someone somewhere told you need to try to develop the side of your legs? Those muscles are probably already tight on you and if they’re not then going sideways on a StairMaster isn’t going to fix that.

5. StairMaster Reading

StairMaster Reading

Do you go to the gym to workout or do you go to the gym to study? There is a time and place for everything. Focus on the task at hand. If you want a good workout, then do a good workout. Reading at the gym is about as bad as an idea as treadmill desks.

6. Slumped Over StairMaster

slumped over StairMaster

For those of you that spend time looking like the people above on the StairMaster, do you think it’s okay to look like this when you sit?

poor sitting posture

Then why would you think it’s also okay to look like that when you use the StairMaster?! I see this just about every time I step into a gym. Seriously, WHY would anyone do this? It’s bad enough that people sit slumped over in an office chair all day long but going to the gym is supposed to correct those imbalances, not make them worse. Slow down the machine a little bit and stand straight up – chest out, shoulders back, and for God’s sake, let go of the bars!

How To Really Master A StairMaster

running up stairs

This picture should be worth a million words. Try a real set of stairs – there’s no machine going to help you with your movement (you actually have to work). You can’t lean on anything. You can’t read. You can even still even dance on these if you want to…

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  • Heelstickons Inc

    If kicking out your leg on the stair machine doesn’t do anything for you then why do half the stair workout videos on youtube say otherwise?

  • Why do those other half say otherwise than the other half?

    The first question I have to ask is – why do you want to do that exercise in the first place? That will help direct my answer.

  • Heelstickons Inc

    I get bored so I like to look up what other fitness trainers are doing to maximize the use of the machine. If you did a search on stair masters a lot of these fitness trainers show how to do back kicks on a stair machine. There are so many videos so it makes me question this article.

  • Heelstickons Inc

    Please see my comment above

  • But what is the ultimate goal – strengthen glutes? Lower back? Or just fix boredom? If you’re looking to cure boredom on a stair master, then by all means go ahead and do that. There are a million things to do that could fix boredom. When glute kickbacks get boring, try juggling baseballs while eating a sandwich. But if you’re looking to strengthen your glutes or your lower back or work on lumbo-pelvic stability there are quite a few better options out there that I would personally recommend over leg kick backs on a stair machine.

  • Heelstickons Inc

    Juggling baseballs while eating a sandwich is not a workout. Let me be more specific instead of expecting you to read between the lines. I’m saying there must be a reason why these fitness trainers recommend kickbacks on a stair machine and it’s questionable that you say there is no benefit to it. Why do you say it is stupid? What justifies your article? That is all. Curing boredom while getting a great workout is the goal. I don’t appreciate your juggling comment.

  • I’ve already addressed that above.

  • Heelstickons Inc

    No you have not. Looks like you are not hearing me so I give up.

  • The movement has hardly any significance while being performed on a stair master. It’s more your hip flexors pulling you down than your glute lifting your leg up and there’s quite a bit of compensation for most people within the lumbo/pelvis region. For real glute development, developing lower back strength, or working on lumbo/pelvic stability, there are far better exercises that could be done and I don’t necessarily see the merit in doing a movement on the basis of making something less boring. Unless of course that movement is going to inherently going to contribute to the well being of the musculoskeletal structure in some way, shape, or literally, form. Good luck!

  • Jonathan Kelley

    Okay I got a question for the Authur of this article. Are you seriously telling people to not hold on to railings? I am a 6 foot man who has pretty great balance (I skii), and sometimes I feel the need to hold on to the railings. The steps are about 12 inches high and the tops are to small to fit my whole shoe so i use the railings because I don’t want to bust my knee on a stair master like my Fiance. Also there is a reason these machines have railings I doubt you know more about the proper use of a stairmaster then the creators of the stairmaster. I also find it funny how you posted that photo to make it look like normal stairs don’t have railings…..I could be completely misinterperting what you are saying but I think letting go of the railings creates an unnecessary risk.

  • You’re right, I don’t know about a Stair Master as much as the creator of a Stair Master. I’m also not financially biased towards them. I don’t exactly know your level of fitness as well as your kinetic ability but I’m big on natural balance. You ski but that doesn’t necessarily translate to great balance. How’s your stability with pistol squats? The proprioception stimulus on a solid surface like that of a real stair case that’s not moving is far less than that of a stair master and a lot safer. If balance is an issue, go slower or start with stationary stairs to minimize the risk and work on increasing the ability of your body to compensate to unstable surfaces. Faster isn’t always better. Obviously, if your balance system is so weak then I’d advocate for holding on to rails – and I’d be even more inclined to suggest ditching a Stair Master all together until adequate balance can be achieved on stable surfaces. Start small, work your way up. It’s the same concept as squatting. Perfect the technique with body weight and hip mobility before moving on to barbell squats. Good luck.

  • URJokin

    This is a terrible article, especially regarding handrails. I have adequate balance, but having a moving set of stairs under your feet increases the likelihood of losing your balance and causing injury. These rails are there for your safety. Discouraging the use of them to “get a better workout” is just asking for trouble and bad advice.

    People also do a variety of moves on the StairMaster (SM) to prevent boredom. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Last, but not least, criticizing people for studying/reading while on the SM…you have some nerve. At least they’re improving their minds. Some exercise to relieve stress, others do it bc it’s the only place they can find some alone time, to exercise, and to study and/or read WHILE exercising. Get off their back.

  • JShanae

    Glute kickbacks on the stair-master works great for me and is used in addition to squats, lunges, reverse lunges, stadium runs, etc. If I want to run on stadium stairs, I will do that. If I want to also do glute kickbacks on stadium stairs, I will do that as well. They work marvelously for me as I have significantly rounded the shape of my backside. If they don’t work for the author of the article, YOU don’t do them.


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