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Let me say right now, this is not the place to start on your first day in the gym. But if you want shapely legs and a leaner body, it’s the machine you should work towards.

You know the piece I am talking about – the infinity staircase, the forever stepper, the piece of equipment that spits you out the back if you aren’t looking where you are going.

Live in Denver?  Go to WWW.FITNESSBYATLAS.COM to get a free pass to one of our classes

Frank knew that if the elevator at work ever broke down... he would be ready.

The Stepmill is an excellent piece of equipment that challenges both the leg muscles and cardiovascular system. If you aren’t a regular exerciser (at least once a week) then this machine is not for you… just yet.

I recently posted an article that talked about the top three pieces of equipment: the treadmill, the bicycle and the elliptical machine. What I didn’t realize is that although those are the most commonly talked about, that doesnt necessarily make them the best (think Britney Spears).

I received a post shortly after asking me about the rowing machine and my opinion of that. I of course realized my error immediately. I had pandered to the masses!

I had Ignored the legions of less-popular equipment users that for some reason would stumble across this blog and indignantly protest my narrow perspective of exercise equipment. Shame on me!

Why do I love this machine? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Replicates the real world
  • Works the all the major muscles of the legs
  • Because few enough people use them that you can usually find one that isn’t taken
  • Great Cardiovascular exercise
  • The variety of foot positions keeps you from ‘hamster wheel syndrome’
  • One of the few machines I recommend to average gym goers as well as high level athletes

Climbing the Vatican Stairs - bring a water bottle... and extra calf muscles

I can use this machine in a variety of ways. If I am constantly changing the way my body steps then I can be sure to work all angles of my glutes/quads/hamstrings/calves while still burning fat and reaping the cardiovascular benefits.

Some step patterns are more demanding than others, but here are just a few positions that I have my clients make use of when they feel up to the challenge.

For a full lower body challenge, try climbing the ‘virtual staircase’ any of in the following patterns:

  • Regular position
  • With feet wide
  • With feet narrow
  • At a 45 degree angle to one side
  • Regular position stepping slowly then quickly stepping up (think about waiting ’til the last second to step up with the other foot)
  • Angling the feet so they are pointed 45 degrees out
  • Angling the feet so they are pointed 45 degrees in
  • 2 steps at a time

For an extra booster, try any of the above variables with the following tweak:

  • Just one finger from each hand lightly touching the rails (great stability challenge)
  • One/Both hands behind the back (awesome leg and stability emphasis)

Warm up before your Cardio

Of course the most important thing in all of the above is that you are warmed up – I know, I know – you gotta warm up before you do cardio? You’re kidding, right? This machine is a challenge on your lower body joints – not something to lead off with.

Be sure you feel your knees and ankles are fully warmed up – try five minutes on one of the more popular exercise equipment pieces in your gym before stepping up to the high yield workout that is the Stepmill cardio session.

If you wanted to do the above as part of your regular workout, here is a recommended program to follow:

For this workout at a 7/10 intensity the whole time – be sure to get a couple of stepmill workouts under your belt before you start going for the steeplechase championship.

Looking at these stairs, I would wager that these Buddhist monks probably have some killer glutes and calves hidden under their robes

Beginning full lower body stepmill workout:

  1. 5 minutes on treadmill at easy pace to warm up
  2. 1 minute regular
  3. 1 minute wide
  4. 1 minute 45 angle left
  5. 1 minute 45 angle right
  6. 1 minute regular with only left hand on rail
  7. 1 minute wide with only left hand on rail
  8. 1 minute 45 angle left with only left hand on rail
  9. 1 minute 45 angle right with only left hand on rail
  10. 1 minute regular with only right hand on rail
  11. 1 minute wide with only right hand on rail
  12. 1 minute 45 angle left with only right hand on rail
  13. 1 minute 45 angle right with only right hand on rail
  14. 1 minute regular
  15. 1 minute wide
  16. 1 minute 45 angle left
  17. 1 minute 45 angle right
  18. Feel free to repeat the above 16 minute cycle as many times as you would like depending on the time you have to workout or when you start to feel the burn in muscles in your legs you didn’t know you had.
  19. 5 minutes treadmill to cool down and finish
  20. Stretch major muscle groups of the legs

All of us are looking to improve our results in less time in the gym. If you want better results for your lower body, the best thing you can do is change up the stimulus for the lower body. By increasing the angle at the hips, knees and ankles. (such as with the angle formed when using the stepmill).

Not sure what to say about this one other than - Whhhaaaaaat?

The total amount of work required by the legs is greater in the step – if the leg bends 15 degrees (as you would walking on a treadmill) then the muscles used and the amount of work is significantly less than if there is a 60-90 degree bend in the knee and hip. Don’t believe me? Try walking the stairs vs walking the path.

More hip and knee angle in your workout is always going to mean more muscles worked (which makes for better looking legs).

Next time in the gym, dodge your regular cardio routine and have a play on the stepmill. Sure, it’s a bit dusty and doesn’t have a fancy program tool or incline adjustment. But just try it out.

After a few weeks of conquering the Stepmill you will find a newfound ability to conquer hills and staircases of varying altitude. More importantly, you will now have the power to saunter past the next escalator you see, giving a consolatory sneer to the poor saps that just dont have what it takes to take the real stairs. Those wusses.

Jamie Atlas

Live in Denver?  Go to WWW.FITNESSBYATLAS.COM to get a free pass to one of our classes

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  • lucy May 15, 2009 Reply

    do you put your whole foot on the step of a stepmill or just the ball of the foot (for the best butt workout?)

    • jamieatlas May 15, 2009 Reply

      Ahh, good question Lucy. I needed to think about this one before I answered it as there are a few things to consider.

      To stay on the toes would be to work the calves more but would be more unstable than if you had the feet flat on the ground – this might inhibit the glutes from working powerfully…. A very good question indeed. I would have to say it depends on the individual but my tendency would be to say start with the heel down and press up and lift the heel up as you press through and bring the other leg up ready to step. In other words, press through to an ‘on toes’ position but start on the step with your heel making contact.

      If you are looking to blast the glutes, here are a few tips that help tap into the butt muscles.

      1: Don’t use the handles
      The handles allow your upper body to rest. If you can lean the body slightly forward AS IF you were going to rest your arms on the supports but dont touch anything then your glute will have to support your upper body as you step which equals greater glute burn.

      2: Double step it
      You can take two steps which will increase the angle of the hips and work the glutes more. You may want to slow down the step speed a little for this one.

      3: Step across
      By stepping across the body at an angle (place the right foot just left of center as you step up and the left foot just right of center as you step up.. This creates more length through the glute. Imagine you are going up the stairs as if you really had to go to the bathroom and your legs are slightly crossed 🙂

      Hope that helps!


      Does that help?


  • d Jul 17, 2009 Reply

    it depends on the size of your foot!
    And who has time to take these instructions on your workout?

    Listen to you body and follow what you feel.

    Also know that at 15 minutes this machine turns OFF!

    If you aren’t aware, you will fall down.

    This machine is NOT for beginners or slackers.

  • Dee Jul 21, 2009 Reply

    I could’ve of sworn Lucy’s question was regarding the STEPmill not the TREADmill. I was looking forward to that answer myself.

  • Dee Jul 21, 2009 Reply

    Jamie, thanks so much for the revision, yes that did help very much, but I figured it be hard to do the heel toe because we’re unable to get a full foot on the step….unless we slant the foot which I guess is an effective option as well??

  • […] which gives you different workout suggestions to emphasis the different muscles of the legs:…e-in-your-gym/ __________________ First mini goal: Started August 3, 2009 Halloween Challenge goal: 190 lbs. […]

  • shandell Oct 3, 2009 Reply

    Hi. What about doing the stairmill backwards? Any benifits to that?

    • jamieatlas Oct 3, 2009 Reply

      Hey Shandell. Although there are benefits to going backwards up the stairmill, they are mostly quad-related. That is, going backwards focuses the attention on the quads. If you are trying to rehab a quad for some reason I might recommend it (as part of a rehab therapy system that was approved by a physical therapist, of course) but I would probably not have you do it for the reason that most people tend to overuse their quads already. Tapping into the posterior chain (hams, glutes, calves, lower back) is a much more effective way to burn calories, save your knees and balance out your muscles.

      Hope that helps!

  • padre Nov 18, 2009 Reply

    The step mill machine to me is the best cardio machine in the gym ever!. Im a runner and I have used all of the cardio machines in the gym and none of them make me sweat like this machine. The funny thing about it is that I never paid any attention to this machine in the gym and I would always walk by it. Now! after trying this machine i’m obsessed with it . what a great sweat machine I LOVE IT!

  • Stefanie Dec 8, 2009 Reply

    Will this machine cause knee pain? I love it, but feel that it might be further damaging my knee pain, caused from running (I think???).

    • jamieatlas Jan 25, 2010 Reply

      Hey Stefanie! Thanks for your question. The knee is something you should treat carefully, but try to be careful as well with your hips and ankles – be sure to stretch them both well before hopping on, vary the steps as you go and let me know how that works out for you.

      Thanks again for reading!

  • ivona Jan 23, 2010 Reply

    i love this machine! i get an unbelievable workout even in 20 minutes.
    i have a slight knee problem. does this machine strengthens the knees or damage them?

    • jamieatlas Jan 25, 2010 Reply

      Great question Ivona – the answer is yes. It can both strengthen and damage them if used properly or improperly. The key would be to mix it up as part of your gym workout – dont use it every workout and dont use it in the same way every workout. Keep the knee happy by changing your position regularly to balance out the wear and tear but also to strengthen all the different muscles that get used with the different positions.

      Thanks for the question!

  • michae moritomo Sep 1, 2010 Reply

    i love stepmill. been using that machine now for over six years. I just finished 40 mins at level 20 which i m very proud of that accomplishment! I race motocross run marathon and lift a lot of iron, and the stepmill has always been an awesome tool for my preparation…

  • sunnyseven Dec 10, 2010 Reply

    I am in love with this machine too. I was always a treadmill afficianado, but the stairmill has stolen my heart. I tried it because I noticed the people on it were super fit and they were dripping with sweat. I got on it and started sweating in two minutes, but it felt wonderful. Now I do 40min on the stairmill, then 30 treadmill and I’m juiced. I bypass the elliptical and the bikes. Those are for wusses.

    • jamieatlas Dec 10, 2010 Reply

      Thanks for the comment sunny7. The stepmill for 40 minutes? Rock and roll! Thats some serious steppin’ right there 🙂

  • Caren Zhang Jan 12, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jamie! Is the stairmill 3 times a week, plus 2 strength training sessions and 1-2 pilates sessions a good workout? I need to lose 20lbs!
    Also, level 20!?? My Gosh.. I can barely do level 8!!

  • Steven Faehrmann Jan 20, 2011 Reply

    Could you please suggest what is a good goal for the stair mill? I am currently using the “fat burn” setting level 10 without touching the hand rails and achieve 120 floors in 35 minutes. Thank you

    • jamieatlas Mar 14, 2011 Reply

      I think you might need a different setting. Fat Burn is a relative term that is grossly misunderstood. Try some intervals with higher highs and lower lows – you should be able to get more fat burned that way.

  • Jeff Bergstrom Feb 22, 2011 Reply

    If you do a stairmill regularly, do you still need to dedicate a day to lower body/legs workout with weights or do you think the stairmill will provide enough bulk and tone for the average person? Thanks!

    • jamieatlas Mar 14, 2011 Reply

      hey jeff – while there is no such thing as ‘average’, I would say that dedicating a day to lower body should mean something different than leg press and leg curls. I’m thinking lunges, deadlifts, step ups, squats, side lunges, sprint drills and skipping. now that would be a great leg day 🙂

  • SimplyWebly Feb 24, 2011 Reply

    I will definitely trying the full body beginning workout.. I want to be booty short ready for photoshoots this summer. Do you have mire stepmill workouts posted?

    • jamieatlas Mar 14, 2011 Reply

      Sorry SimplyWebly – no more stepmill workouts yet. Get the stepmill exercise done but also look at my ‘perfect butt’ posts I have put up here – they talk a lot about different exercises that are ‘booty short friendly’ if you know what I mean.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Terry May 14, 2011 Reply

    Just wondering can the stepmill be used to replicate walking both up and down stairs? I seem to remember that I heard it is a much harder workout to walk down steps. Can a person train on this machine by going both up and down the steps?

  • No, you cannot use it to go downstairs because it won’t reverse direction…and walking BACKWARDS up a Stepmill is a good way to fall down and go boom…and it won’t work the muscles like walking downstairs in any case. Find a shopping mall or an unused “up” escalator and use that (works for me).

    For a real work out get a weighted vest or a backpack (with hipbelt) and load it up. I use the stepmill with 50#, level 8-10 and if I can do it at age 53 so can you!

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