The greater the calorie deficit you manage, the faster you will be able to lose weight and meet your goals. You need to maintain a deficit of around 500 calories per day for every 1 lb (0.5 kg) you want to lose per week, which can be done through a mixture of diet (eating less) and exercise (working more or harder).
Stepper machines are a potent tool in this regard. You can torch calories on them, burning off potentially three hundred calories in a half hour training bout, depending on your biometrics. Couple this with 200 calories taken from your daily diet and you will lose the weight you want to in no time.
Even if you’re not looking to lose weight, the best stepper machines are a fantastic addition to anybody’s fitness arsenal. They are built around one of the most functional movements going – stepping.
Functional movements like this offer a great many benefits, including improved posture, gait and stability, alongside an improvement to muscle memory and increased bone density. The cardiovascular benefits that this kind of solid, fast-paced workout steppers can provide are equally profound. Pairing cardiovascular and resistance workouts together, which is essentially what they manage, gives you the best of both worlds.
From cheap, beginner options that will set you back about the same amount as a month or two’s gym membership, to serious pieces of kit that will cost half a year’s rent or more, today’s market has an option for everyone.
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The Different Types of Stepper Machines
There are a few different types of stepper machine available, with different models providing different benefits in terms of functionality, aim and economy. The main styles include the following:
Stair Stepper Machines
Stair steppers are particularly good for maintaining low impact workloads whilst still providing the required up and down stepping motion. Using one will recruit plenty of muscle fibres through the lower body, especially the quads and glutes. Stability for long term use makes stair steppers particularly worthwhile.
Mini steppers are brilliant. They give you the practical engagement needed through the lower legs, are easy to store and put away, and are usually a lot cheaper than other options (10% of the price or even lower, often). You will likely be able to find stair, twist and side-stepping options across many ranges, as well as resistance bands for the upper body.
They are rarely as well-made or durable as their bigger cousins, but for the price, and the convenience, mini steppers are very decent.
Twist Stepper Machines
As might be expected, twist stepper machines give you a twisting motion. This can make them a poor choice for those with any kind of chronic knee pain or injury, but a fantastic choice for everyone else. The twisting motion will bring the obliques and transverse abdominus into play alongside the legs. Twist stepping machines also often come with resistance band options for use with your upper body, enabling you to perform a full body workout.
Elliptical Stepper Machines
These steppers give a fluid, rounded motion. You usually get some kind of pedalling system with an elliptical stepper to make engagement through your full body easy and practical In fact, they are even often called elliptical cross trainers, as they generate motion across your entire body. They are large and often expensive, but give a very good, very low-impact workout if you have the space and spare cash.
Why Use A Stepper Machine?
Simply put, stepper machines give you a great cardiovascular workout, burn through a great many calories, work at least the muscles of your legs and core, whilst often also bringing your upper body into the equation, and are very low impact. Using one is an accessible process for most people, as they take no special training and can be used safely, without much stress being placed on the joints.
As well as being safer than something like a treadmill, which puts a lot of stress into the ankles, knees and hips, they can also be a lot more challenging. The uphill motion, performed fluidly, is an incredibly potent tool for burning energy and bringing your heart rate up, whilst also being fantastic for engagement through the glutes and quadriceps.
Intensity can of course be varied, as you can choose your own speed and most machines will have changeable resistance levels (it’s probably worth starting with shorter, less intense workouts, gradually increasing the time spent on the stepper alongside the resistance and speed).
If you want something that will build up your cardiovascular health, help you to maintain or lose weight, condition the lower body and core, without damaging yourself (especially your joints!) in the process, a stepper will represent a very good investment.
Top 10 Stepper Machines
So, now you are well versed in the benefits and various types of stepper machines the UK has to offer, let’s take a look at our best 9 picks.
ProForm HIIT L6 Elliptical
The ProForm HIIT L6 is a bit of hybrid between a conventional stepper machine you might find in a gym and a cross trainer that you might use in your home. This actually means that not only do you get enhanced functionality out of the L6 but you also get something that is more compact and much more budget friendly than most of the other steppers we reviewed – more than half the price of some!
Available from ProForm (a sister company of Fitness Brain favourite NordicTrack), the L6 offers a step based workout that is easy on the joints but also affords a light upper body workout at the same time (although you can just use it as a stepper if you wish). Unlike a traditional stepper, the L6 works more like a cross trainer – in as much as your feet don’t actually leave the step to move to the next – but for some users this is going to be a much better way of using a stepper when it comes to long term joint health.
The L6 offers all the advantages that the rest of the steppers we reviewed provide, but also has some extra benefits that are particularly useful to home users – and the biggest advantage of all is the connectivity which comes in the form of an included iFit subscription. If you didn’t know, iFit is one of the market leading interactive coaching apps and is used widely on NordicTrack and ProForm Fitness models as well as others. Anyone can subscribe to iFit (and it comes bundled with the L6 for 1 year) but it works best with machines that have been specifically designed for it – and the L6 has.
The modern looking 6 inch screen is perfect for following along with the iFit workouts (with live and pre-recorded sessions available) and the machine itself is almost silent in operation meaning you never miss an instruction. The stride length on the L6 is 10 inches in the vertical plane (and 5 inches horizontal) which is more than you will get from most other step machines and the 14kg flywheel means you get a really smooth step each and every time.
The magnetic resistance levels on the L6 mean you can get a really challenging workout in but it also allows for beginners to access a good entry level workout at the lower end of the resistance. The maximum user weight is 147KG which means it will be accessible for almost anyone and it comes with a 2 year parts and labour warranty which is better than the standard 1 year given with most products.
Everything about the L6 works well. The screen and programming is easy to navigate and is intuitive, the connectivity is great (with wi-fi and bluetooth) and all the touch points are incredibly comfortable – not least the oversized foot plates and the multi-grip handles.
Of all the models we tested, the ProForm L6 stands out a long way and is about as budget friendly as these machines get. Top marks ProForm Fitness!
StairMaster StepMill 3
The StairMaster StepMill 3 is geared towards quite advanced athletes – skip it if you’re a beginner. However, if you want to build up your stamina, strength and muscular endurance, it may be exactly what you need. It provides high impact to the lungs and heart, with low impact to the joints, whilst taxing your legs immensely.
It is essentially a combination of staircase and treadmill. Static, it looks like an odd, plastic set of steps. These begin to revolve when you switch it on, like an escalator, with a range of speed variation between 26 – 162 steps per minute (162 steps per minute is intense, in case you were wondering!)
You basically climb and climb, your legs burning and your lungs gasping throughout.
The machine itself is well-built and secure, with a maximum user weight capacity of 275 lbs (roughly 125 kg). Though it’s expensive, you nevertheless get good value for money with the StepMill 3. Everything included is designed towards safety and longevity. The handrails have been designed ergonomically to be able to serve all users, for example, with pulse sensors built into them. There is a safety stop sensor at the base’s rear that means the machine automatically switches off if you fall, meaning that it really is low impact for high reward and incredibly safe to use.
You get an LCD display situated at eye level so you can see clearly, with various data available, like heart rate, steps taken, speed, time, calories burned and so forth – all the usual suspects. The monitor system has got pre-installed programs such as Quick Start, Manual, Steady, Mystery Challenge, Build, Bell Shaped, Calorie Burner, Fat Burner, Heart Rate Zone Trainer and Heart Rate Intervals, all of which will take you easily through whatever style of workout you need.
It’s a gruelling slog, as all machines like it should be, but actually using the StepMill 3 is a simple pleasure. It does everything you want it to, well, with great quality.
It’s on the large size, however – as with some of the other offerings on this list, you will need quite a large amount of space set aside for it – but it will be hard to find a better all rounder when it comes to home cardio at low impact.
StairMaster Gauntlet Stepmill
The Gauntlet Stepmill is another large, expensive, fantastic piece of kit from StairMaster. It comes with all the bells and whistles, everything you could ever want from it, and, at its heart, is a well-built machine that will give your cardiovascular system and lower body the workout from hell (in the best possible way, of course!)
The Gauntlet Stepmill is pricier than some of StairMaster’s other machines, like the StepMill 3, though it does a similar job from a purely biomechanical point of view. The extra money goes into details like the 10-inch touch screen console that supports iPod video playback and audio control while charging it at the same time. The console is also fitted with a nationally recognised multi-stage fitness test that gauges your individual progress, as well as a custom firefighter test (CPAT) that measures your cardiopulmonary endurance and muscular strength. The Gauntlet Stepmill is better looking than its cheaper cousins, and even perhaps slightly more sturdily built.
However, the guts of the thing remain the same. You still get steps rising to 8 inches, a speed range of 26 to 162 steps per minute, and a broad range of pre-set programmes. If you want to spend the extra money, you will get a lot for it – you won’t be disappointed. However, if you want to get the same workout for less, you would be better off looking to some of their more modest machines.
HOMCOM Mini Elliptical Stepper
It’s very lightweight. Where the stair climbers are permanent features wherever they go, products like this are incredibly portable. It would take 2-3 people to wiggle a stair climber across the room. You could carry the HOMCOM Mini Manual Elliptical Bike with one hand, throw it into the boot of your car and take it wherever, or simply tuck it away beneath your bed or at the back of a cupboard.
You get a good workout from it, nevertheless. Small steppers don’t often give the same kind of workout as a stair climber – it’s a different league. Your legs won’t burn as much and your lungs won’t struggle so much. However, you get a decent cardiovascular workout, a good calorie burn and a great deal of leg and core work.
The HOMCOM Mini Manual Elliptical Bike has large pedals, making it usable for everybody, and the elliptical movement is super smooth. It’s also around 5% of the price of products like the StepMill 3.
You don’t get a good display – it’s tiny and not very useful. The peddles can begin to squeak after a while. Assembly of the machine is also a little tricky, with rubbish instructions. However, it’s a decent mini elliptical for the price. It will do exactly what you want from a small machine, helping you to lose weight and improve your fitness admirably.
Ultrasport Swing Stepper
The Ultrasport Swing Stepper has a fantastic sideways motion to its steps that will engage all parts of your lower body including feet, thighs, hips and buttocks as it ably simulates stair climbing, whilst remaining on a par, pricewise, with the other compact steppers on this list. This motion forces your muscles to brace against, and stabilise you through, each movement, bringing in greater elements of the outer legs and hips, as well as the obliques.
As well as this added motion, you also get a set of elastic ropes with the Ultrasport Swing Stepper. This is quite common with machines of its type, though these ones seem to be particularly good. They will allow you to bring your shoulders, arms and upper back into the workout, whilst keeping things interesting with a wide range of different possible upper body movements at your disposal.
Machine build quality is left a little wanting with this – it isn’t the best made on our list. It isn’t the worst, though, and the UltraSport Swing Stepper does include a battery powered LCD display which counts your steps, time and calories burned.
As long as you adjust your expectations downwards with compact steppers, you will be delighted. They will never deliver as much as large stair climbers or ellipticals. Their price is also measured in two to three figures, not four, so this is fair enough. However, the UltraSport Swing Stepper gives you a good workout in a convenient machine, for very little money at all.
Sunny Health & Fitness Stair Stepper Machine
Now we’re going to take the idea of the economical mini stepper to the extreme, with the Sunny Health & Fitness Stair Stepper Machine. You can get one of these for around what a mid-level gym membership would cost you for a month or two – compare this to the stair climbers on this list, which will all set you back the equivalent of a few month’s rent or mortgage!
This is perhaps the cheapest stepper on the market. For this low, low price tag, you get a multipurpose workout machine that helps you do aerobic and resistance workouts for the upper and lower body. It’s not rocket science, there is nothing fancy, but you get something good for not a lot.
You get a stepper with a decent enough motion, that will definitely give your glutes and quads a run for their money, whilst chewing through calories pretty quickly, too. The Sunny Health & Fitness Stair Stepper Machine comes with resistance bands for the upper body, so you can bring in a full body workout, working on the arms and shoulders and increasing energy output. You can vary resistance, which is surprising given its price, matching intensity to your needs at any given time.
It does everything it says it will do, pretty well (it actually has a fair few online reviews from customers, all averaging high, high scores), for a fraction of the cost of some of the other machines on this list. It isn’t the best in absolute terms, not by a long shot, but it is far and away the best value for money.
No, we’re not talking about the actual ladder to heaven (though you may see a few stars when using it!) Jacob’s Ladder is one of the most famous, most efficient, and generally best exercises for serious athletes looking to raise their conditioning game.
This is not for the faint hearted. If you’re a beginner, Jacob’s Ladder may be too much. Approach with caution!
Jacob’s Ladder is a patented climber. Rather than the escalator style steps of stair climbers, it uses a ladder, with full rungs on a treadmill-style rotation, so that you are on your hands and knees at a forty-degree angle. It is a low impact, high range of motion exercise that will help to condition your full body whilst giving you a very significant cardiovascular workout.
It is also completely self-paced, so the faster you go, the faster it goes, the slower, the slower (so if you’re a beginner and want to give it a go, you can, I guess).
To give you an idea of how profound the conditioning workout is when you use Jacob’s Ladder, pro-American football teams and various military services use it. Top universities use them on their teams to improve their strength and conditioning programs.
It is far safer and more secure than you might imagine, whilst delivering a wealth of handy data. You get a safety belt with the ladder, there is a braking device to ensure that the ladder stops when the exerciser reaches the lower rungs or stops climbing altogether, and you get digital feedback across a few metrics like how many feet were climbed, rate of speed, what level of effort was put out, and how many calories were used in any given workout.
Other than this, Jacob’s Ladder is deceptively simple. There isn’t much more to it than a forever-ladder. However, this simplicity belies its profundity and the scale of benefits it offers. You will be stronger and fitter for using it.
It is expensive, and it takes up a lot of space, but you really can’t do too much better.
Star Trac E-SM E Series Stairmill
The Star Trac E-SM E Series Stairmill has an adjustable resistance system so that the difficulty of the workout can be easily adjusted over 20 different levels to achieve the result you wish. You should begin slow and work your way up gradually – don’t worry, by the time you’re in the mid-teens, even after just a few minutes, your lungs will be in rags, your heart will be trying to pound its way out of your chest, and your glutes will be on fire.
This variation is achieved via a very smart, easy to use LED screen console. It has a very good quality, tactile response keypad, so you can change away without having to worry about interrupting your workout.
You also get all the usual training data you would want from this kind of console – calories burned, distance climbed, time spent and so forth. It also has some really good in-built training programs for you to choose from. Rather than the vague variations some cardio machines offer, these programmes feel more akin to having your own personal trainer, zeroing in on whatever you want to work on (the Thigh and Glute Sculptor program does exactly what it says on the tin – you will be limping away from it!)
It’s massive, as all stair climbers are, and it’s expensive, even compared to its immediate competitors. I’m not sure that you get all that much extra for your money. The programs are fantastic, as is the built quality, and the high-spec screen is nice. It’s absolutely worth every penny. However, some of our cheaper options may suffice, while coming in at a third of the price.
Vinteky Up-Down Stepper
The Vinteky Up-Down Stepper is another small stepper with what appears to be a robust metal frame and a set of silent, high quality shock absorbers. For a reasonable price, you get a set of elastic bands for upper body training, a console with various automatically switchable indications with the usual data, such as training time, number of steps per minute and calorie consumption, and a customisable level of resistance.
I say robust seeming, as it can actually be a little fragile. This isn’t too bad in such an inexpensive model, especially if you’re just starting out – use it for a year or two as you decide if steppers are for you, and then upgrade as it wears out. You will be able to train your legs, core, arms and shoulders very well using it. However, more experienced users, or those expecting to use it daily for a good while, may want to look elsewhere.
There are some points of note in the (good) quality of its manufacture, however. It uses a high-quality hydraulic cylinder for resistance, and has large, non-slip footplates that will make you feel very safe as you train.
It won’t win many prizes, but if you’re looking for a reasonably priced model to get you started, this may well be the one for you.
HOMCOM Stepper With Handle Grips
If you’re looking for a discrete, reasonably priced stepper but don’t like the hands-free options that many smaller machines offer, the HOMCOM Stepper with Handle Grips might be for you. It’s about twice the price of smaller steppers, though this still isn’t much, and it gives you a firm set of handlebars to hold onto as you blast your legs.
The steel frame is very stable for such a slight looking machine. It is solid steel with a maximum user capacity of 110kg, which should suffice for most people. It is sturdy as you use it and it also gives an adjustable height on the handlebars for added comfort. Combined with its large, non-slip footplates, you should feel very safe using the HOMCOM Stepper with Handle Grips.
There is no adjustable resistance, however, which means that progression may become hard after a little while and things might get boring. I wouldn’t advise intermediate athletes get the HOMCOM Stepper with Handle Grips. However, intermediate athletes will often be more confident in their training, so may want to go for a hands-free option that will give a bit more of a challenge.
The HOMCOM Stepper with Handle Grips is a reliable, sturdy machine that will keep you safe, and keep you feeling safe as you use it. If you’re just starting out, it will give enough resistance to tax you, and it won’t break the bank as you search for a way to improve your fitness from home.
If you’re new to steppers and want something a little more stable, give the HOMCOM Stepper with Handle Grips some serious thought.
There we have it – some of the best steppers on today’s UK market. There is a wide variation in available quality, matched by a wide variation in price. You can spend fifty quid or eight grand. You will end up with two very different machines that are nevertheless distant cousins, from high-end, overtly taxing stair climbers to cheaper, more discrete stepper (via Jacob’s Ladder, which is just epic). Whatever your requirements, and whatever price range you’re looking at, there should be something in this list for you.