woman performing a stairmaster workout in a gym
Injury Prevention

Stairmaster Workout Tips

Stairmaster, step mills, stair climbers, steppers. They come in all different shapes and sizes. These cardio machines are found in most gyms and can offer a genuine cardio blast.

A Stairmaster workout can get your heart rate up in a hurry and work the major muscle groups in your lower body in a very functional way. When I say functional, I’m referring to movements that mimic activities you might perform in the course of your everyday life.

Sounds like a win-win right?! 

Time out. Before you go running up the stairs, there are a few things that can sabotage your workout and put you at risk for injury. This article will highlight some critical do’s and don’ts to maximize your stairmaster workout and keep you safe!

Disclaimer: Always seek proper instruction before initiating an exercise program. Not everything is great for everyone! Consult with your qualified health care practitioners for an exercise program tailored to your needs. Stay healthy and injury-free people! Read the full disclaimer.

1. Push through your whole foot.

In other words, don’t climb up on your toes.

This is about optimizing your movement for the best muscle activation. The body likes to move in patterns, meaning several muscles work together to perform movements. Injury, weakness, and poor form can alter these patterns leading to overuse and injury of other muscles that were just there to pick up the slack.  

Pushing through the midfoot and heel will help engage the glute muscles more effectively. Those muscles were designed to perform heavy work, for example when climbing stairs, propelling forward with walking, or even getting up from a chair. 

2. Don’t perform kickbacks between steps.

Don’t do what! There are so many articles encouraging this!

I know. I read it on the internet so it must be true. 

This topic is a bit polarizing. I’m not sure when this became a thing. I’m going to take a stance and say I’m not a fan.

Before you form a line around the block, let me explain. I fully understand cardio machines can be monotonous. It might feel like you’re adding some flair to an otherwise dull and repetitive workout.

Here’s where the kickback idea falls apart for me: it can aggravate your lower back.

When I see people performing said kickback, I see increased extension at the lumbar spine from forcefully whipping their leg backward. Aggressively extending the lumbar spine can exacerbate existing conditions or cause new issues.

Not all exercises and movements are created equal and the kickback is likely not giving you the results you’re after anyway.

There are many other exercises to isolate glute strengthening, producing safer and better results. Some alternate options are squats, lunges, bridging, leg extensions with a cable machine, quadruped leg lifts, and leg press just to name a few. Keep in mind all of these can be modified to your fitness level. As always, seek proper instruction on form.

You will be able to focus on proper form rather than quickly bringing your leg back, so you don’t miss a step.

3. Sidestepping, turning in circles or anything else that isn’t climbing forwards.

Again with the trying to spice it up.

I get it, but you don’t want to cause knee injuries.

Or slip and fall. You know, safety. If you’re looking to perform side and back stepping, use a step in the gym and keep yourself safe. Use a BOSU round side up if you’re looking to add a balance challenge.

Today it seems we’re always looking to remix everything. Sometimes the classics are the best to accomplish the goal.

You seem really against sidesteppingWhat gives?

Long answer: The hip abductors (the muscles on the side of your hip) are often a neglected area of focus in exercise, and they serve such an important function. If there is any weakness in these muscles, it changes our movement patterns and places additional stress further down the leg. Think knee and ankle. Or even up to the low back.

Your body will always figure out how to accomplish a motion, often with bad mechanics at the expense of overusing the wrong structures.

Performing side stepping with poor mechanics for a prolonged period has the potential to aggravate other areas.

Isolating form on exercises can be challenging enough without adding a moving surface into the equation.

When the goal is to work your hip abductors, you can get more bang for your buck elsewhere, sans risk of falling down a moving staircase.  

4. Posture Posture Posture. 

Stand upright with hands placed (lightly) on the handrails. No death grip! Not holding on is a recipe for disaster, one distraction and its over. 

Avoid leaning or slumping over the machine to support yourself. This may mean you need to adjust the level. Good posture will give you a better workout with less risk of injury.

The goal is to work the right muscles in the most efficient way. Slouching forward overworks neck and back muscles. These are the same muscles that are already overworked with poor posture slumped over a computer or phone most of the day. You took time out of your busy day to get a workout in, might as well do things the right way.

Your time is valuable, don’t waste it on poor form. Keep these tips in mind for your next Stairmaster workout to keep yourself active and safe! Try some interval programs to challenge your workout.

Do you have a love/hate relationship with stairmaster workouts? Leave a comment and let me know!

​Craving more workout tips? Check out Body Awareness for Injury Prevention and Exercise Modifications!

Featured image credit: kegfire / bigstockphoto.com