How To Get Started Using a StairMaster

Today’s post tackles a question from a reader! A friend of mine named Judy (not her real name, but I just watched “Judge Judy”) asked me this:

“Stairs are my biggest fear and nemesis and I am determined to conquer them this year. Do you have any tips on how to start stair climbing and maybe what worked for you when you started out? I am doing stairs at work when I can, but my max is 2 floors. I am back to the gym next week and thought I would try StairMaster too, even if it is only 30 seconds at first, just to get started.”

Great question, Judy, and before I answer let me remind everyone that I’m not a personal trainer or physician or a certified anything – just a dude with a blog that likes climbing stairs.

And I can certainly relate to Judy’s state of mind. I know the feeling exactly – stairs used to scare the crap out of me as well. That fear is exactly why I started doing StairMaster, so I could try to overcome it.

First, the basics. Know that there are two types of StairMasters: stepmills, which look like little escalators, and the other kind, which have two pedals that move up and down. Don’t bother with the latter kind. Using it doesn’t feel like you’re doing stairs. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and just bizarre. I’ve tried it a few times, and it always infuriates me.


You’re smart to set small goals at the beginning, Judy. When I first started using a StairMaster a few years ago, I think I tried going for 5 minutes, and, after doing that a few times, upped it to 6 and then 8. I think 30 seconds might be a tad short, as you will have literally just found a rhythm as you reach your stopping point. Maybe try for a minute initially? Listen to your body, of course, and don’t let me push you into something you don’t think you can do!

Stepmills, like treadmills, have speed settings. Start low and slow. You’ll want to find a speed that’s right for you, so you’re not pausing to wait for the next step to emerge or feeling like you can’t keep up and will fall off the end.

I recommend, once you start, covering the display with a towel or magazine. The seconds go by slowly – watched pots never boil!

Stepmills have handrails – take advantage of them. Ultimately, going hands-free is a great workout for your balance and your core, but it’s hard. When I’m pushing myself during my 10-minute warm-ups or 91-floor time trials, I’m using the handrails most of the time.

Keep doing the stairs at work as well, Judy. Know that the big difference between stepmills and actual stairs is that you’re not actually lifting your entire body weight on a stepmill (although it feels that way), and that the stepmill is dictating your pace.

Lastly, know that stairs are hard. Really hard. I’m guessing you know this and it’s where your fear stems from – it’s where my fear stemmed from. And they’re not really that fun, either. While practice makes them easier, and makes you better at them, they don’t get any less fun. But they are an amazing workout, and you can burn a lot of calories in a little bit of time. I basically had to trick myself into continuing to use the StairMaster, and the trick I came up with ended up being much more fun than the exercise itself.

Here’s what I did: I started a Skyscraper collection. It was a virtual collection, and every time I finished a session on the StairMaster, I noted the number of floors I climbed and found an equivalent building somewhere in the world. Seeing photos of what I just accomplished was a huge source of pride, and it was a huge motivator to go for more. It also provided a ton of blog content, and you can check out my Skyscraper Collection here.

I admit that now, even though I have five stair climb races under my belt (and another one coming up), I don’t love climbing stairs. The races are brutal. The training is repetitive. It’s taxing on the body. What I love is that I can actually do it. I’m so proud that I tackled something I feared, and turned it into something I excel at.  The time that I spend in a skyscraper stairwell is often miserable. But the feeling of accomplishment, when I’m on a roof of a building a thousand feet up, taking in a spectacular view… that simply can’t be beat. And even though the act of climbing stairs can kinda suck, that feeling at the top is so enormous and overwhelmingly powerful that I can’t wait until I can feel it again.

That’s why I climb stairs and use the StairMaster!

Keep it up, David!

If you have a question, let me know! Leave it as a comment, or email it to me at if you don’t want to make it public (I can change your name if I answer it in a post, like I did here with Judy).

This post is part of my StairMaster sponsorship.


2 Responses to How To Get Started Using a StairMaster

  1. Deb says:

    I’ve never seen these before! Makes me wonder if I could manage using one as the other type makes me feel like my patellas are being violently twisted with every step. Just painful.

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