Best StairMaster Workout (12-Min Pro Routines)

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: February 1, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Christiana Mikesch, CPT
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Beyond simply walking forward on the StairMaster machine, there are numerous exercises you can incorporate to maximize your time and enhance the intensity and enjoyment of your workout.

After several hours of research, I have compiled a selection of the most effective StairMaster workouts suitable for most levels.

Additionally, I will walk you through the benefits of using a StairMaster and provide tips on maximizing its benefits.

Quick Summary

  • The best StairMaster exercises include side steps, low squat steps, and skip steps. The intensity of these exercises is enhanced by alternating between high and low-intensity intervals, where you increase the level to maximize your heart rate.
  • The benefits of StairMaster workouts include enhanced heart and lung health, strengthened core muscles, improved overall functionality, lowered metabolic syndrome risk, increased bone strength, and promoted weight loss.
  • Health Harvard states that a 30-minute StairMaster session can burn calories comparable to swimming, ranging from 180 to 252 kcal, offering an efficient and convenient way to burn calories.
  • In my opinion, getting the most out of your StairMaster workout entails adding a weighted vest, including a recovery day, tracking your workouts, and incorporating intervals.

12-Minute StairMaster HIIT Workout

A person at the gym doing HIIT workouts at a stairmaster
  1. Warm-up - Set the StairMaster to level 7 and climb steadily for one minute to get your blood flowing.
  2. Side steps - Perform a side step for thirty seconds on each side.
  3. Squat walk - Get into a squat without holding onto the handrails. Maintain this squat as you step up for one minute at level 7.
  4. Normal steps - Shift to a standard step pattern for one minute at level 10. Keep your core engaged and your torso forward.
  5. Skip step - Climb while skipping a step for one minute.
  6. Normal steps (level 12) - Gradually increase the intensity to level 12 and perform standard steps for one minute.
  7. Normal steps (level 7) - Decrease the intensity to level 7 and continue with typical steps for one minute.
  8. Side steps - Switch back to side steps for thirty seconds on each side.
  9. Squat walk - Climb while being in a squat position for one minute.
  10. Skip step - Add another round of skip steps for one minute at level 10.
  11. Normal steps (level 15) - Raise the intensity to level 15 for one final minute of regular steps.
  12. Normal steps (level 7) - Decrease the intensity to level 7 and continue taking typical steps for one minute.

“Try skipping every other step once you've worked out how the StairMaster works. Your hamstrings will become stronger as a result, and you'll get better cardio exercise. If you're having problems skipping stairs at first, don't push yourself too hard; start out slowly. This exercise will also target your upper thighs and glutes.”

- Divya Sharma, Health Editor

What are the Benefits of Using a StairMaster?

A person working out on a stairmaster

As a trainer, I've seen my clients experience improved cardiovascular fitness, increased core strength, enhanced functional fitness, reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, increased bone density, improved mental health, and significant weight loss through regular use of the StairMaster.

Additionally, many users have found that the StairMaster helps to burn fat effectively, making it a top choice for those aiming for a leaner physique.

Here are the benefits:

  • Improved cardiorespiratory fitness - Studies from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) indicate that climbing stairs can enhance your maximum heart rate and be an effective alternative to running [1][2].
  • Increased muscle growth - StairMaster workouts target all your lower body muscles (quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes) and core, promoting muscle growth while getting a cardio workout at the same time.
  • Improved functional strength - Regular StairMaster workouts help build strength and endurance in the muscles used to climb stairs and walk uphill, translating into improved functional fitness.
  • Increased core strength - Engaging in StairMaster exercises challenges your body's balance, activating your core muscles and strengthening and toning your abdominal muscles.

“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 can evaluate your fitness level and your medical history and let you know if this workout is right for you.”

- Jennifer Purdie, Personal Trainer

  • Increased bone density - Research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) has proven stair-climbing can increase bone mineral density, particularly in middle-aged women [3]. This can help improve bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Reduced metabolic syndrome risk - Researchers from NLM have found that daily stair climbing may be protective against metabolic syndrome, a combination of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes [4].
  • Enhanced fat loss - Like most other cardio machines, StairMaster can help you burn calories, especially using high-intensity interval training (HIIT) methods. As you lift your body weight step after step on a non-flat surface, you can get rid of stubborn fat as long as you stay in a caloric deficit.
  • Improved mental health - Engaging in StairMaster exercises prompt the release of endorphins, natural chemicals in the body that uplift mood and alleviate stress, leading to improved mental health.
  • Variety - Similar to treadmills, the StairMaster provides a range of customizable settings, allowing you to vary your workout routines. You have the flexibility to program the duration of your exercise session, enabling you to switch up your workouts and keep them engaging.
  • Time-efficiency - According to Health Harvard, a thirty-minute session on the StairMaster can burn the same number of calories as activities such as swimming (180kcal to 252kcal), making it a time-saving and practical choice for calorie burning [5].
  • Promoted flexibility and balance - Regular stair-climbing exercises enhance your balance and flexibility. This improvement proves advantageous in activities that demand swift changes in direction, allowing you to navigate such movements with greater ease and efficiency.

“If you're feeling off-balance, lightly grasping the sides will help you get steady. But don't rely on them to hold you up. That reduces the load of your body on the stairs and reduces the effectiveness of your StairMaster workout. Ultimately, you want to build your abilities to not hold on at all.”
- Moira Lawler, Fitness Editor

How to Maximize the Benefits of the StairMaster Workout?

A person working out on a stairmaster

I've helped my clients optimize their StairMaster workouts, increase their effectiveness, and achieve their fitness goals more efficiently by following these tips:

  • Add equipment - Upp the intensity of your workout by mixing the stair stepper exercises above with strength training. You may use a pair of dumbbells, wrist weights, a weighted vest, or a resistance band to challenge your body further, prevent plateaus, and help build strength.
  • Keep proper form - Keep your core engaged and your chest lifted when using the StairMaster. Avoid slouching or leaning too far forward, as this can strain your lower back. It's normal to lean slightly into the steps, but aim to maintain good posture throughout your workout.
  • Maintain proper foot placement - Ensure your entire foot is in contact with the step. Distribute your weight evenly by driving through your heel, avoiding the tendency to place only the balls of your feet on the step. This balanced weight distribution prevents excessive strain on your calves and hamstrings, preventing early fatigue and exhaustion.

“If you do a lot of stair climbing on your toes, you might find yourself with some pretty tight calf muscles. This type of movement pattern can also contribute to plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.”

- Maura Blackstone, Physical Therapist

  • Avoid gripping the handrails - Resist the temptation to hold onto the handrails tightly. Doing so can reduce the effectiveness of the StairMaster workout and hinder your ability to stay upright. If you find it challenging to perform the exercises without holding on, keep your grip light and gradually decrease reliance on the handrails.
  • Incorporate intervals - Instead of maintaining a steady pace for the entire duration of your workout, incorporate intervals of higher intensity followed by short periods of rest. This will help increase calorie burn, improve endurance, and make your training more dynamic and challenging.
  • Track your workouts - Keep a record of critical metrics such as heart rate, distance covered, and resistance levels used during your StairMaster sessions. This will allow you to track your progress over time and stay motivated. You may also consider keeping a food journal to monitor how different meals impact your performance and energy levels.
  • Warm-up and cool-down - Always start at a slow pace, as demonstrated in the workout above. Warming up helps minimize muscle soreness and reduces the chances of injury. After your training, engage in a cool-down period to allow for a gradual return of your pre-exercise blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Include a recovery day - It is crucial to include at least one day of rest between each StairMaster session. Giving your muscles time to recover is essential, as repetitive use of the same muscle groups without proper rest can lead to overtraining. Overtraining can result in prolonged recovery periods and potentially diminish the gains you've worked hard to achieve.

Related Articles:


Why Is the StairMaster So Effective?

The StairMaster is so effective due to its ability to engage multiple leg muscles and flexibility to adjust the resistance levels. Additionally, the StairMaster provides a low-impact workout, minimizing joint stress and reducing the risk of injury.

How Often Should I Use a StairMaster?

You should use a StairMaster twice a week to lose body fat and enhance aerobic strength. You may also integrate a StairMaster session into your leg day as a time-efficient workout solution.

The StairMaster's high intensity and comprehensive engagement of the entire lower body muscles allow individuals to attain significant outcomes within a short time frame.

What Does Going Backwards on the StairMaster Do?

Going backwards on the StairMaster can effectively focus on your quads (upper thighs) and has been established as a beneficial approach for treating knee osteoarthritis.

If you experience knee pain, this movement can be a great alternative, enabling you to utilize the StairMaster while minimizing strain on your knees.

Include a Pre-Workout to Stay Motivated Throughout Your StairMaster Workout

If you want to add extra cardio to your workout routine, consider the StairMaster routines outlined in this guide.

These routines offer an efficient way to improve cardiovascular fitness while building functional strength in your lower body.

By maintaining proper form throughout the exercises, you'll also strengthen your core muscles.

For those seeking an intense finish to their StairMaster workouts, I often recommend incorporating one of the pre-workout supplements listed below:

As our test indicates, these supplements can boost energy levels, enhance alertness during workouts, and facilitate a quicker recovery. If you end up giving this workout a try, let me know about your experience.


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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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