The Truth About the Stair-Climber

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Walk into any fitness center and you will see people marching up the endless steps of the infamous stair-climber machine. This fitness product has been around since 1983 when it was launched as the StairMaster, and since that time it has evolved into one of the most attractive workouts in the fitness industry.

The machine combines cardiovascular conditioning with muscular strength development in the body's lower extremities, which, for obvious reasons, heavily appeal to the female demographic. Climbing stairs is one of the best ways to stay healthy because it increases cardiovascular levels and bone mass, making it an ideal choice for preventive medicine. Just ask your doctor for a fitness program, and he will have you walking up the stairs.

But as great as this sounds, I cannot close my eyes to the improper uses of this piece of equipment and the more practical, cost-efficient means of simply using the stairs. Think about this: Most people sit at a desk all day, which causes inflexibility, muscle tightness throughout the body (especially in the lumbar back), poor posture, and an anterior tilt. If this is you, why would you subject yourself to a machine that trains your body in one linear manner and can possibly worsen your posture?

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If you jump on a stair-climber fatigued after a hard day at the office, you'll probably grab on to the handles, which causes you to lean your torso forward, thereby worsening your posture. And since typing on the computer all day wreaks havoc on your hands and wrists, how do you think these body parts feel with all of your weight pressing down on top of them?

I suggest saving your money on a gym membership or costly piece of equipment and just take the stairs. It's as simple as that. Coaches and physical education teachers have been running their athletes and students up flights of steps for years, and studies have shown that walking up the stairs is two times as taxing on the body and burns calories two or three times faster than walking briskly on a level surface. You can move at your own pace, improve strength in all planes of motion (not just linear), have your hands free (which is great, as you can incorporate your upper body and burn more calories), stand tall and keep your posture safe, have a friend join you for motivation, and do it indoors or outdoors. It's also time-efficient and—better yet—free.

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So what are you waiting for? Start climbing. Set a goal for number of flights you'll walk each day, and try to shoot for 20. (You can tackle these all at once during your lunch hour or periodically throughout your day—whatever your schedule allows.) If you're doing as many as you can at once for a good workout, see how many you can climb without stopping or using the handrail. Once you get to the number where you have to stop or use the handrail, finish the flight and take the elevator down. Use this as your rest period and then attempt to complete half the number of flights from your first round. If you are advanced you can jog or run up the flights, using the same parameters. Add rounds each week and listen to music while you're doing it to help push your body and fitness level farther.

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