30-Minute Stairmaster Workout

woman working out on stairmaster stair-climber machine

M_a_y_a / Getty Images

During the cold and dark nights of winter and high heat of summer, taking your cardio indoors to a gym can become necessary for your health and safety. Walkers and runners often turn to the treadmill, and those who prefer a tough hamstring and glute workout often choose the Stairmaster. This machine can make you work hard for a calorie burn and cause you to start sweating within a mere minute or two of stepping.

Cardio enthusiasts looking for an optimal Stairmaster workout, will find that stepping at a tempo pace and adding intervals is key. To get you started, several certified personal trainers offer up some intense workouts and fun strategies to incorporate into your time on this machine.

Benefits of the Stairmaster

The Stairmaster offers more than a good cardio workout and calorie burn. Research demonstrates that this cardio workout may provide more benefit than just giving you an aerobic workout. Here is how you may benefit from using the Stairmaster.

Impacts Bone Mineral Density

In one study, researchers found that climbing stairs has a large impact on bone mineral density. The researchers note that not all forms of exercise have equal positive outcomes on bone mineral density, but weight-bearing aerobic exercise, such as stair climbing, could increase the resistance and thickness bone mass.

Walking alone does not necessarily improve bone mass—you need an exercise like stair climbing because of its intensity when you strike the ground, so opting for a Stairmaster workout may be the key to strong bones.

Increases Fitness Level Fast

If you want to get in shape quickly, researchers found that climbing stairs could work—without adding much extra workout time in your day. A February 2017 study from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise had 31 women climb stairs each week for a few minutes. Results showed that they increased their fitness level by 10% in a little more than 40 days.

30-Minute Stairmaster Workouts

You will use your glutes, thighs, and calves when stepping on a Stairmaster, and the uninitiated should start out at a slow pace. You risk injury and a lactic acid build up if you start out too fast. Always begin with a short warmup (about five minutes) to ensure your muscles are prepared for a more moderate pace, as well.

30-Minute Workout

This 30-minute workout is designed in four parts: warm up, building endurance, moderate pace, and cooldown. Beginners can keep the second part (building endurance) at a moderate pace as they get comfortable with a 30-minute stepping session. If you feel out of breath at any time, be sure to slow down right away.

Here is a 30-minute Stairmaster workout, which is recommended by Ryan Ernsbarger, CPT, SNS, of Zenmaster Wellness. It involves turning steady stepping into a tempo stair climb.

  1. Start with a 5-minute warm up at an easy level.
  2. Increase the intensity, aiming for 5 minutes at a moderate level.
  3. Ramp up your workout with 10 minutes at a vigorous pace.
  4. Transition into 5 minutes at a moderate pace.
  5. End with a 5-minute cooldown at an easy level.

Alternative 30-Minute Workouts

Once you get comfortable with the above workout, you will want to switch it up. Not only will a new workout invigorate your body, but it also can help build your endurance level, and get you in even better shape. You can try doing alternative 30-minute workouts once or twice a week.

Brett Durney, CPT, founder of fitnesslab.fit, says planning intervals keeps you focused. Here is a simple, yet effective interval workout.

  1. Start with a 5-minute warmup.
  2. Progress to 1 minute fast stair climbing.
  3. Switch to 1 minute slow stair climbing.
  4. Keep alternating every minute until you hit 30 minutes.

To add some variety and intensity, do a 5-minute warmup and then perform 4 minutes of high resistance followed by a 2-minute recovery. Repeat this four times with a 1-minute cooldown.

Resistance Workout

If time is a commodity and you only can squeeze in a 15- to 20-minute Stairmaster workout, Kerri Howell, NASM-CPT, NASM-CNC, PN1-NC, suggests the following resistance-focused workout. You should note that you are not focusing on speed here, rather you are making the climbing harder.

This is an especially helpful workout for anyone who enjoys hiking, trail running, or mountaineering. The added resistance prepares you for the elements you face outside when you cannot work out at a steady state.

  1. Warm up at a lower resistance and speed for 2 minutes.
  2. Choose a mid-range resistance and speed for 3 minutes.
  3. Skip a step for 1 minute.
  4. Take normal steps for 2 minutes.
  5. Side step (left) for 1 minute.
  6. Take normal steps for 2 minutes.
  7. Side step (right) for 1 minute.
  8. Take normal steps for 2 minutes.
  9. Take backward steps for 1 minute
  10. Take normal steps for 2 minutes.
  11. Skip a step for 1 minute.
  12. Cool down at lower resistance and speed for 2 minutes.

Endurance-Focused Workout

If your goal is to build endurance without a lot of time, you can try incorporating this cardio Stairmaster routine into your workout regime once a week. This is designed to shock your body by varying the intensity every minute. Once your heart rate begins to fall, you shoot it right back up, which helps you gain endurance strength. Here is how to do this workout.

  1. Warm up at a lower resistance and speed for 2 minutes.
  2. Choose a high speed and high resistance for 1 minute.
  3. Transition to a medium speed and low resistance.
  4. Go back to a high speed and high resistance for 1 minute.
  5. Transition to a medium speed and low resistance.
  6. Repeat this cycle until you have amassed 14 minutes of repetitions.
  7. End with a 1-minute cooldown.

Ways to Make the Stairmaster Fun 

If the thought of stepping over and over without going anywhere sounds a bit monotonous—do not worry. You can spice up a Stairmaster workout using these six creative techniques.

Incorporate Intervals

Rather than stepping at the same pace for 30 minutes straight, you can speed up and slow down, like in the workouts above. He also recommends alternating between maximum effort for 30 seconds to recovering at an easy pace for one minute.

“This will not only help increase calorie burn, but improve cardiovascular endurance,” says Nathan Lloyd, CPT, MSc, of Blink Fitness.

Use Specific Music

Lloyd also suggests using music as a motivator, choosing songs with a beat per minute (BPM) at approximately 145 to 160. This matches a decent, cardiovascular pace on the machine and keeps you at the right intensity level. For an example, the songs “Marry You” by Bruno Mars, “Toxic” by Britney Spears, and “Don’t You Want to Stay” by Jason Aldean are 145 bpm.

Add Equipment

Once you get comfortable on the Stairmaster, you can begin upping the intensity of your workouts by incorporating equipment like resistance bands to burn more calories.

“If you are physically able, add a resistance band to increase the difficulty of taking each step,” says John Adams, CPT, of Blink Fitness.

For this technique, wrap a band around your thighs and try not to let it fall as you step. This breaks down your muscles and causes them to fatigue faster.

Take a Partner

You do not always have to work out alone. Having a partner can help you stay motivated. But if you decide to use Stairmasters next to each other, try not to hold onto the handrail while you step. While it is tempting to do this while you chat, this derails your intensity and may keep you from staying upright.

“Having someone with you is an awesome opportunity to help motivate you to do more and to not get bored,” says Adams.

Take Two Steps at a Time

You can try taking two steps instead of one to make your workout more mentally—and physically challenging, suggests Kevin Harris, CPT, founder and CEO of NANBF.org. Of course, you must make sure this is safe.

"[By using the Stairmaster this way,] you are creating more work for your legs and thus giving your glutes and upper quads more of a workout," he says.

Track Your Workouts

Durney advises keeping track of various benchmarks in your Stairmaster workouts because this can serve as an effective way to maintain a high motivation level. These can include your heart rate.

For instance, pay attention to how it changes in morning versus evening workouts. You also can track distance traveled and resistance achieved as well as keep track of what you ate before your workout (and documenting if anything particular food helped you work out better). Finally, note your overall feeling once you are finished.

A Word From Verywell

The Stairmaster is a fund way to get in some cardio and offers a workout that can have an immediate impact. If you are someone who gets bored easily, you can try out simple techniques, such as bringing along a friend, changing up how you step, or keep a diary that brings a laser-focus appeal to your workouts.

And, if you are new to working out, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider to determine if this type of workout is right for you. They an evaluate your fitness level and your medical history and let you know if this workout is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is the Stairmaster better than walking?

    The Stairmaster can be better than walking because of the ground force intensity. You hit the ground harder with each step when compared with walking. You also must use extra force and more leg muscles to step compared with the relatively easier cardio choice of walking.

  • Why is the Stairmaster so effective?

    The Stairmaster is effective because it allows you to work a number of leg muscles: glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps, and change the resistance anytime. The lifting of the leg requires more work than walking and also more ground force, allowing you to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

  • What does going backwards on the Stairmaster do?

    Reverse movement can help improve your quadricep muscles on your upper thighs, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis. This review also showed that going backward is an effective treatment for knee osteoarthritis. If you have knee pain, this action could be a suitable alternative for you and still allow you to use the Stairmaster.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Benedetti MG, Furlini G, Zati A, Letizia Mauro G. The effectiveness of physical exercise on bone density in osteoporotic patientsBiomed Res Int. 2018;2018:4840531. doi:10.1155/2018/4840531

  2. Allison MK, Baglole JH, Martin BJ, Macinnis MJ, Gurd BJ, Gibala MJ. Brief intense stair climbing improves cardiorespiratory fitnessMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2017;49(2):298-307. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001188

  3. Balasukumaran T, Olivier B, Ntsiea MV. The effectiveness of backward walking as a treatment for people with gait impairments: A systematic review and meta-analysisClin Rehabil.2019;33(2):171-182. doi:10.1177/0269215518801430

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."