I Tried a New Stepmill Tonight …

… and I didn’t love it. I was thinking earlier today – as I was climbing the 900 escalator steps that now take me from the Metro to my new job in D.C. – that it’s been a while since I’ve been on the stepmill. It’s always been one of my favorite machines, because not only do you start sweating in about 30 seconds (I know, coming from me this doesn’t mean much), but that thing will kick your butt. So, knowing I had a leg workout ahead of me this evening, I figured what better way to warm those legs up than with my old friend the stepmill.

So imagine my surprise when, as I walked across the gym to the back corner that the stepmills hide (if you can say hide … unless it’s early Sunday morning, those things always have people waiting to get on them), I came across five or six brand new gargantuan machines alongside four of the old ones. Part of me got super excited. The other part of me looked at the handrails and decided they had too much going on. Another part still was wondering why I had never heard of the brand of fitness equipment – Matrix – before.

Being me, of course I looked to see if any of the old ones were available – just because I was kind of tired and not really down for having to figure out how to work a new machine. Only one was open, but the television was broken (I wondered later why I cared, though, since I tend to spend my entire time on the stepmill either watching the clock to change my direction or watching my feet to ensure I don’t go flying off the back of that thing), so I decided to try out the new beast.

Like I said … I didn’t love it. There wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it – I mean, it’s literally a moving set of stairs – but it was the little things that made a difference. First, it didn’t have as much variance in speed as the ones I had gotten used to at XSport (I will admit, though, the older version was level 1-20 versus steps per minute, the latter of which I prefer). I felt almost if I was going between working a little too hard, and not hard enough. Also – and this goes back to the whole stepmills make you sweat profusely thing – the handlebars were metal, which made them difficult to grip (this would be a good time for me to make a point about stepmills and handlebars: they are there for you to keep your balance, not to throw your body on top of. Keep upright, and if you do need the handlebars for your balance, grip lightly – your back will feel better, and your body will work harder). What did I like? Tiny fan on the top of the console. That will always win points with me.

Have you encountered any new equipment lately? And if so, what was your first impression … and did it eventually grow on you if you were not at first a fan?

Step(mill) It Up!

The stepmill tends to be one of the most utilized (yet least in number) machines in a gym. They are in pretty high demand … and for good reason. For the most part, the only times I’ve ever seen more than one of the seven we have at XSport in Alexandria are when it’s either early in the morning on the weekend, or when one is out of service.

So, why the appeal? Because it’s freaking hard.

I spent 30 minutes at the end of my workout tonight doing the routine I try to do on the rare occasion that I either 1. actually find one open, or 2. convince myself to hop up onto that beast. Which got me thinking … I found my topic for today.

The great thing about the stepmill is that you can get one heck of a great workout, and it really doesn’t take that long to start sweating buckets. Because of the sheer difficulty of extensive stair-climbing, your heart rate gets up quick and stays there (meaning major calorie burn) – and it’s great work for the lower body (you’ll feel those legs and glutes burning after just a few minutes).

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your time on the stepmill:

  • Stand up straight. One of the absolute worst things you can do on any machine, but especially the stepmill, is cling for dear life. Leaning on the machine will cut your calorie burn by as much as 40% (yikes!). Don’t be afraid to gently hold the bars – it will help you with stability (especially if you’re climbing doubles) – but make sure your body remains upright.
  • Vary your speed. Go fast, go slow … you can do some seriously tough intervals. You’ll find as you get stronger, you’ll be able to climb quicker … though you’ll find even if you’re moving slow, you’ll still be working harder than you expect!
  • Switch positions. Don’t just climb single stairs facing front. You can take doubles, or climb sideways (single or double stairs).  Mix things up, and you’ll hit different muscles in your thighs and butt – meaning greater toning opportunities.
  • Hours aren’t necessary. Trust me, you aren’t going to want to do more than 20 or 30 minutes on this baby. You’ll torch lots of calories, and it only takes a couple minutes to start dripping sweat.

Bottom line? The stepmill looks incredibly intimidating, but it’s absolutely a challenge worth taking on. So get climbing!