Stair climber machines usually have a pretty polarizing effect on people – you either love ’em or you hate ’em.
The people that love ’em feel that way because of how the stair climbers make them feel after finishing such a great workout.
And the folks that hate that likely feel that way because of how unforgiving these cardio machines can be.
But being hard is a good thing when you’re trying to burn calories, right?
Well, if you’re trying to decide whether or not using a stair climber is worth the effort, I’m here to tell ya that if your aim is to improve leg strength and burn a bunch of calories in the process, then it most certainly is.
But I’ll let you judge for yourself.
In this article, we’ll go over how many calories you can burn on a stair climber, as well as explore some of the other perks these fitness machines have to offer.
The actual amount of calories you burn will depend on your weight and stair climbing speed, but the average person can expect to burn somewhere between 6 – 12+ calories per minute on a stair climber.
Burning Calories On A Stair Climber
Stair climbers, or steppers, generally come in 2 forms – the revolving stair kind (aka “stair mill”) and the non-revolving stair kind (uses a flywheel and magnetic resistance to mimic going up stairs).
But both types of machines still give the sensation of climbing up stairs, which just so happens to be one of the most challenging tasks most of do in any given day.
Think about it – climbing a flight of stairs is certainly harder than walking on flat ground, but otherwise, it’s kinda hard to objectively talk about how challenging any physical task is.
Well, unless you start talking about METs that is.
MET stands for “metabolic equivalent” and it gives us an estimate of how much harder our metabolism is working for any task, compared to when we’re sitting still.
1 MET describes the energy your body is using sitting still in a chair, as you may be while reading this post. So, if a task like walking comfortably was rated at 3 METs, that would mean we’re using 3x as much energy doing that then we were sitting still.
MET’s are calculated by measuring oxygen consumption per minute while doing different tasks and can be used to get a good estimate of exertion during different sports and activities.
Here’s a great chart showing the different MET levels for a bunch of common activities, if you’re interested.
You can also use METs to get an idea of how many calories you’re burning:
- The average male burns 70 calories per MET, per hour
- The average female burns 60 calories per MET, per hour
So, if a woman is performing an activity that’s rated at 5 METs (like walking at 4 mph), she could expect to burn around 300 calories in an hour.
Now these are estimates of course and other factors like weight and age play a part as well of course, but using METs to calculate calorie burning is a pretty trusted method.
Ok, but what’s the MET rating for climbing stairs?
Well, according to this study, climbing stairs at a rate of 70 steps/min was measured to be 8.6 METs.
Using a MET rating of 8.6, that means your average man would burn around 602 calories/hour and your average woman would burn 516 calories/hour.
Or in other words, 8 – 10 calories per minute.
Now the above MET ratings were based on a specific rate of 70 steps/min, which is moderate, but likely still faster than some folks would be able to maintain for extended periods.
So, your actual MET rating may be higher or lower depending on your stepping rate.
MET ratings can be a helpful way to think about energy expenditure when comparing activities, but these days we have helpful calorie calculators we can use as well.
These calculators are activity dependent and the better ones take your weight into account for more accurate results.
This calorie calculator by Omni was created by MD’s and it uses MET ratings to calculate your expected calorie expenditure depending on whether you go up stairs “slow” or “fast” (although the steps/min for each are not provided).
According to this calculator, a 200 lb man would burn about 6.35 cal/min going up stairs slowly and about 14 cal/min doing so fast.
These calculations are made using a MET rating of 4 for “slowly” and 8.8 for “fast”.
So, based on the above discussion of METs, it would seem this calculator gives a pretty good estimate.
FYI, if you like math, you can calculator your estimated calorie expenditure yourself using the following equation:
Calories burned/min = (MET x body weight in kilograms x 3.5) / 200
To summarize, we can use MET ratings to get a good estimate of how many calories we’re burning on a stair climber, but the real life results will depend greatly on how fast we’re stepping, as well as several other factors.
(FYI, the studies mentioned above used stairs/escalators, which would relate most closely to a revolving stair climber machine; MET ratings for a stepper or HIIT trainer would vary depending on resistance level).
Other Factors That Effect Calorie Burning
The most accurate calorie expenditure calculators ask for your weight because weight plays a big role in how many calories we burn.
Generally speaking, the more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn doing any given activity.
And this is independent of stepping rate or resistance.
So, for example, a 150 lb woman will burn more calories than a 120 lb woman, even if both are climbing stairs at the same speed and for the same duration.
The same is true for men.
This is because the more you weigh, the more energy it takes to move your body (and calorie expenditure is simply a measurement of energy being used).
User age is another factor that’ll effect real world calorie burning.
And generally speaking, the older you are, the fewer calories you burn.
This is because our metabolisms slow down as we age, due to muscle loss and other factors.
Exercising regularly and including resistance training in our routines can combat this metabolism slow down, but with time, everyone’s metabolism starts slowing compared to when they were younger.
For this reason, younger individuals will burn more calories exercising at the same rate as an older individual (over 60).
I alluded earlier to the fact that there are differences in calorie expenditure between biological men and women, but it’s worth mentioning again here.
In general, men tend to burn more calories than woman, but this isn’t because men have faster metabolisms or anything like that.
It’s simply because men tend to weigh more and have more muscle mass than woman, which causes them to burn more calories doing the same activity.
That said, this rule isn’t written in stone anywhere.
A fit, muscular woman can surely burn more calories than a man.
Speaking of which, I should mention that muscle mass and body composition plays a role in how many calories you’ll burn on a stair climber or any other fitness machine.
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so folks with more muscle mass will burn more calories than folks with less muscle and more fat tissue.
This is why people always say that building muscle increases your metabolism.
Stair climbers are nice in the fact that they can help you build strength in your legs, while still getting a great cardiovascular workout.
Stair Climbers vs Other Cardio Machines
Ok, let’s see how stair climbers compare to other exercise machines with regards to their calorie burning capabilities.
And we’ll do so using MET ratings, as mentioned above.
Here are the MET ratings for a few common exercise machines:
|Treadmill (3 mph)||3.3|
|Treadmill (4 mph)||5.0|
|Stationary Bike (100 watts)||5.5|
|Treadmill (5 mph)||8.0|
|Treadmill (6 mph)||10.0|
|Stationary Bike (200 watts)||11.0|
|Treadmill (10 mph)||16.0|
So, based on the above estimates, using a stair climber at a moderate pace (70 steps/min, 8.6 METs), is the equivalent of jogging on a treadmill at around 5 mph.
And using a stair climber at a slow pace (4 METs) would be similar to walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical at a moderate level of exertion.
And again, you could certainly exercise on a stair climber at a higher speed to achieve an even higher MET rating.
Based on this data, I’d say stair climbers can be quite potent when it comes to burning calories.
Other Perks of A Stair Climber
Stair climbers are great for burning calories, losing weight, and getting a quality cardio workout in, but they come with a few additional benefits as well:
Believe it or not, stair climbers are surprisingly low impact.
Unlike a treadmill, where your heel/foot impacts the belt with an extended knee, stair climbers allow you to plant your foot on each step with a bent knee, reducing strain through the vulnerable joint.
And if you go with a stair climber like the STEPR+, which uses shorter, 5″ stadium-style stairs, the impact is reduced even more.
Personally, I find a stair climber to be much more comfortable to use than jogging or even walking on a treadmill (the older I get, the more prone I get to plantar fasciitis… I really should do something about that).
If you’re dealing with achy knees or hips and find using a treadmill to be painful, you might want to try a stepper.
Now this isn’t the case with all stair climber machines, but there are some out there (like the STEPR+ just mentioned) that are surprisingly compact.
And by compact, I’m talking about taking up a footprint of only 4′ x 2.5′, which isn’t much larger than what your average indoor cycle takes up.
It’s certainly smaller than the footprint required to hold your average home treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike.
Again, some steppers take up more space than this, but if you’re looking for a cardio machine that’ll fit in most homes, a stair climber is worth considering.
Improve Leg Strength
And when it comes to improve quad and glute strength, few cardio machines can compare to a stepper.
The repetitive climbing of stairs really gets these muscle groups working and if you’re using a stair mill, you’ll be able to double-step, which hits your glutes even more.
And remember what we said earlier about how having more muscle mass increases your calorie burning potential?
Yup, if building strength and burning calories sounds good, you might want to consider going with a stair climber.
Alrighty, I think that’ll about do it.
To answer our original question again – the number of calories you can burn on a stair climber depends on your age, weight, biological sex, and stepping rate, but most folks can expect to burn somewhere between 6 – 12 calories/min.
But you can certainly burn calories faster than that with higher step rates.
When compared to other cardio machines and their calorie burning capabilities, I’d say the stair climber scores highly.
At a moderate stepping rate (60 – 70 steps/min), using a stair climber is comparable to jogging on a treadmill at around a 5 – 6 mph pace.
And again, those muscles in your legs are gonna know you’ve done something.
Personally, I’m a 200 lb dude in his 40’s and I usually burn around 350 calories in 30 minutes using my STEPR+.
And I do find the stair climber quite a bit lower impact than my treadmill.
Anyway you look at it, I think it’s fair to say stair climbers are effective calorie burning machines.