Fitness Equipment Reviews

Stair Steppers: What is the Best Brand and Model?

If you are after the most intense cardiovascular workout possible, while also working the muscles of your quads, glutes and hamstrings and toning your entire body you need go no further than the step stepper. The simple up and down stepping motion that this machine provides gives you a better minute for minute calorie burn than any other type of cardio machine. So, which brand and model should you buy?
In this article, we shine the spotlight on six of the most popular commercial stair steppers to help you decide which one deserves to take pride of place at your place.

Precor 776i

The Precor 776i is a popular commercial stepper that features a unique self power six phase generator system to deliver less friction and smoother stepping action. Rather than the chain drive that many machines incorporate, the 776i is fitted with a belt drive. This minimizes maintenance. Another great feature of this stepper is the extra large footplates which allow for a range of foot positions.
There are 14 workout programs built into the console of this stepper to provide a variety of training plans to cater to all fitness abilities. The U shaped handlebars are ergonomically designed to allow for proper biomechanical alignment of the upper body.
  • Very smooth stepper operation
  • Variety of workout programs
  • Max user weight 350 lbs
  • Ergonomic U shaped handrails
  • Low maintenance belt drive

Life Fitness 9500HR Next Gen Stair Stepper

The Life Fitness 9500HR Next Gen stands out for its use of an IsoTrack Climbing system to deliver a smooth, comfortable workout experience. It also features wide footplates and the ergonomic bullhorn handles provide an upright body position. This stepper provides nearly twice as many workout programs compared to the Precor 776i, with 23 programs. These include some pretty advanced zone training options for advanced athletes as well as beginner and intermediate workouts. You also get 20 resistance levels and 13 stepper speeds.
  • IsoTrack Climbing system for smooth action
  • Wide foot plates
  • 350 lb max user weight
  • 20 resistance levels
  • 13 stepper speeds

Stairmaster SC5

The Stairmaster SC5 is a light commercial grade stepper that features a 10 inch touchscreen LCD console. It comes with ergonomic side handrails and a speed range of between 26 and 174 steps per minute. You get 10 integrated workout programs with this machine for all fitness levels. You also get two fitness tests, including the multi stage CPAT Fire Fit Test. This machine provides one piece soft step pedals to deliver a very comfortable, natural stepping experience. An electronically controlled alternator with chain drive provides an impressively smooth stepping action. Independent pedal geometry with four bar linkage ensures a level pedal height for improved biomechanics.
The SC5 comes in a lightweight, compact design that makes it great for use in compact settings, including homes, apartments and small light commercial fitness centers.
  • 10 workout programs
  • 10 inch screen
  • One piece soft pedals
  • 2 fitness tests
  • Quiet, smooth step design

Star Trac E-ST

A unique feature of the Star Trac E-ST is the aero bar which runs in a curve between the handles. This provides you with more hand placement options during your workout. A patented soft track absorption system reduces joint impact and enhances the smoothness of the stepping action. The stepping height is adjustable to a maximum of 16 inches. This is higher than many competitors, with the Life Fitness 9500 HD having a max step height of 13.5 inches. You can also adjust the stepping speed of the Star Trac E-ST between 20 and 150 steps per minute.
The Star Trac E-ST comes with 8 built-in workout programs. The maximum user weight of this machine is 350 lbs.
  • 16 inch max stepping height
  • Stepping speeds between 20 and 150 steps per minute
  • Max user weight 350 lbs
  • 8 inbuilt workout programs
  • Aero bar provides more hand rest options

Matrix S5X

The Matrix S5X features a belt drive to deliver a smooth, low maintenance operation. The pedals on this machine are large and non-slip to allow for a secure footing and room for movement. The maximum step height is 12.2 inches in height, which is not as high as on most competitors. The angled independent stepping action provides you with a natural stepping motion.
The 5X console is a highlight feature of this unit. It provides you with a selection of consoles to provide complete workout feedback and intuitive navigation. Among the workout programs built into the console is the Sprint 8 HIIT program to provide a max intensity workout.
  • Selection of consoles
  • Sprint 8 HIIT program
  • Angled independent step action
  • Large non-slip foot pads

Technogym Excite 700E

The Technogym Excite 700E comes with an Activ Wellness TV, which can be customized to deliver a range of training programs. There are 25 levels of resistance and the maximum speed is 200 steps per minute, which is one of the highest we have come across. The ergonomic pedals provide extra comfort large pedals for ease of movement. The display is goal oriented for maximum motivation.
The Technogym Excite 700E is available in both electric and cordless versions. The maximum user weight on this machine is an impressive 400 pounds, which speaks to the solid frame design. The console features 14 quick start programs. Just like the Star Trac ES-T, this unit features fully connected handles to provide better upper body support.
  • Active Wellness TV
  • 25 resistance levels
  • Max speed 200 steps
  • Max user weight 400 lbs
  • 14 inbuilt workout programs

So, Which is Best?

As we have seen, each brand and model has its own standout features and benefits. They all feature their own mechanisms to provide a smooth, low maintenance operation, wide foot plates and a biomechanically sound, ergonomic movement. In terms of upper body support and hand placement options, the Star Trac EST and the Technogym Excite 700E are the best options. When it comes to maximum stepper speed and user weight, the Technogym also performs well.
When it comes to my experience with these various brands, I have found that chain driven steppers, such as the Stairmaster, are considerably noisier than belt driven units. I have found Precor, Life Fitness and Matrix to be the most reliable performers. I really like the Life Fitness 9500HR, with its IsoTrack Climbing system for smooth action, 350 lb max user weight and wide range of resistance levels and stepper speeds.

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