For an effective home-exercise machine that will not take up much space, stair steppers could be the answer.
I have found what I consider to be the best stair steppers and mini stepper machines available. What’s more, I’ve included some useful buying tips and explored the benefits of these useful trainers.
What Are Stair Steppers and Mini Stepper Machines?
Both of these products are designed to increase fitness and muscle tone. They are distinctive in that they replicate the action of walking up and down stairs.
Stair steppers and mini steppers have foot plates on which the user stands. While on these plates, a “stepping motion” can be replicated, with one foot going up while the other comes down. Resistance is provided through a system of hydraulics.
Are Air Walkers the Same as Steppers?
No, although they both work some of the same muscles and often share a common name.
The confusion arises in that air walkers are sometimes called steppers, step machines or freestyle steppers. The reason for this is that in effect they do achieving a stepping motion, but a different type to “actual” steppers.
Stair steppers (including the minis) as I mentioned, replicate the feeling of walking up stairs. Air walkers are more similar to the actual stepping movement involved in walking. Hence, these involve a large horizontal movement with the legs being propelled forwards instead of upwards.
What Is the Difference Between Stair Steppers and Mini Stepper Machines?
Although fulfilling the same “stepping” action, these machines do have some important differences.
As the name suggests, mini steppers are scaled-down versions of their larger relatives. While they retain the same distinctive foot plates, the vertical hand grip bars are absent. Furthermore, they have a smaller floor area footprint.
As they are smaller, mini steppers are lighter than standard stair stepping machines.
Due to their construction, mini steppers do not have such a wide range of vertical movement as the larger machines.
Stair Steppers vs. Mini Steppers: Pros and Cons
Both stair steppers and mini steppers have the benefits of:
- Little to go wrong—with most machines comprising nothing more than two hydraulic systems, there are no chains, gears, belts etc. to wear out.
- Occupy a small area—as the movement is vertical, these machines do not have to either be wide or long.
- Lightweight—they are not complicated machines, even the full-size steppers can be easily moved.
However, the differences in these machines means there are pros and cons between them—depending on your requirements.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, stair steppers are one of the smallest home exercise machines. However, even these full-size versions could be too large for the smaller home.
As mini-steppers are on average around 17-inches high, they can be concealed in cupboards, under tables or just pushed to the corner of the room. What’s more, weighing only about 15 pounds they are transportable. They can be taken to the office or even traveling.
Furthermore, mini steppers can be used while seated at a desk. While this use will not work the thighs or glutes as when standing, it can still provide a calf and cardio workout.
Providing a Workout
There is no doubt that using either version of stepper will provide a good workout on the legs, glutes and core. However, the larger version does edge slightly ahead. This is because the size of the machine allows for a greater range of leg movement.
On a standard stepper, the feet-plates are placed at the end of long arms which attach to a pivot—on mini machines these plates are directly attached. The more motion, the more work the body is pushed to do.
Furthermore, in using a mini stepper, the arms are free to move—the same swinging motion when you walk up the stairs. With a full-size machine you have the ability to grip the bars with your hands.
This results in the standard stair stepper creating resistance in the arms and chest area, giving those muscle groups a workout. Conversely, the mini stepper requires more balance (due to the lack of grips). This uses the back stabilizer muscles to remain balanced, strengthening them.
Larger machines have upright handles. Hence you can stabilize yourself by gripping these bars. Mini steppers do not have these, so you either require good balance or need to use another method of support (wall or tall table for example).
This can make mini steppers unsuitable for people who are a little unstable on their feet. I personally would not consider them ideal for seniors or those who are very overweight.
However, the absence of these upright bars does mean that mini steppers are unobtrusive, and will not be an eyesore in your room.
Nowadays, virtually all steppers, full or mini, come with an LCD screen. This enables you to track your progress while working out.
In full size stair steppers these are usually placed around chest height between the hand grips. However, as mini steppers do not have these grips, they are located above the pedals.
This can lead to difficulty in viewing them while on the machine. Which could prove a problem for those who cannot read adequately from a distance.
What Are the Health Benefits of Using Stair Steppers and Mini Stepper Machines?
We all know that walking up stairs works the muscles. If you are like me and live in apartment block where the elevator is somewhat temperamental, you understand perfectly.
In my case, climbing four flights of stairs doesn’t sound too bad. But five minutes later, when I reach my front door, I feel like I have completed a full workout.
This makes sense, as the body (through gravity) is using itself as resistance—one on each leg, many times over. This was appreciated by Gin Miller in the 1980s, who pioneered the idea of step-aerobics.(1)
Using a stair stepper is a great way to work out in the home. You do not have to use the actual stairs—although it is good to take them from time to time.
Here are the health benefits of using a stair stepper.
Pushes All the Major Leg Muscles
Using a stair stepper involves the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and the glutes. This leads to tight legs and butt.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
A recent study exposed previously sedentary women to bouts of stair stepping exercise. Over seven weeks, it showed that HDL (good) cholesterol rose and heart rate decreased. This lead to the conclusion that “stepping” has considerable benefits for the heart. (2)
As we age, our bones become weaker and can lead to osteoporosis. Trials have indicated that exercise, including stepping, increases bone density. This makes them stronger and less liable to fracture of break. (3)
The Harvard Medical School has shown that using a stepping machine can burn over 500 calories per hour. This amount of energy expenditure could prove attractive to people looking to reduce the pounds. (4)
Here is a short video which provides tips on the correct usage of a stair stepper.
What to Look for in a Stair Stepper and Mini Stepper
I have put together a few key elements to look for when choosing your stair and mini stepper. This should make your choice more satisfying and relevant to your needs.
Size of the Stepper
Whether full-size or mini, size does matter. Consider how much room you have in your home. Although standard machines are small compared to other exercise machines, they still take up room.
Some machines have a folding capacity (standard not mini). This could prove handy in saving space or for storage.
This is important if you are looking to move the machine. The full-size stair stepper isn’t designed to be fully transportable, although moving into storage or from room-to-room is an option. The heavier the machine, the harder it is to move.
In the case of mini steppers, consider whether you will be transporting it often. For example, from home to office. If this is the case, I would suggest the lighter the machine the better. In general, though, all the mini machines are light enough to be easily placed in cupboards or under a table.
There would be nothing more annoying than unpacking your new stepper to find you are too heavy to use it. Generally, most machines (standard and mini) can accommodate at least 220 pounds. However, I have detailed the exact capacity on each product below—so you can be sure it is suitable for you.
If you want the ability to make your workouts harder, look for a machine with numerous levels of resistance.
Perhaps there are other factors that may be applicable. Some standard and mini stair steppers sometimes come with a “twist” function to work out more muscles. Mini steppers may come with resistance bands to exercise the arms while on the machine.
If any of the machines reviewed below have anything unusual, I have made a point of mentioning it.
The Best Stair Steppers and Mini Stepper Machines Reviewed (Our Choices)
Here are my favorite steppers available. I have broken them down into two sections, just in case you already know which size you prefer.
Mini Stair Steppers
Sunny Health & Fitness NO. 059 Twist Stepper
This stair stepper measures 19 inches by 17 inches by 48 inches. It has both the smallest footprint and lowest height of all the machines reviewed here. If you are looking to save space and have something that does not tower to the ceiling, I believe this machine could be a good choice.
If, despite the small size, you still consider it appears too large in your living room, it can easily be transported to another room or cupboard as it weighs a light 22 pounds. This makes it the lightest machine in this review.
The machine has a “twist” ability. This means that the foot plates can be used in a side-to-side manner as well as up and down. Twisting places more stress on the buttocks—hence if you are trying to trim this area up, it could be of interest to you.
Both step height and resistance levels can be adjusted. However, you will need to dismount to make this change. For people looking to really push their workouts, I would suggest this is an attractive feature.
The LCD screen has a large, single-button operation which displays number of steps, time and calories burnt. An oversized button may make this appealing for those with little dexterity or large fingers.
The Sunny Health 059 Stair Stepper has a weight capacity of 220 pounds.
- Lightweight, small footprint and easily movable.
- LCD placed clearly within eye-view.
- Heavy duty steel construction.
- Simple and fast assembly.
- LCD calorie counter does not take into account increased resistance levels.
Stamina Space Saving Folding Steppers
Although not as small as the Sunny Health 059 (it measures 30.2 inches by 16.2 inches by 54.5 inches) it does have one nice feature. The Stamina Stair Stepper can be folded. This is done by simply removing one pin.
Once folded, it is only 12 inches in height. This makes it possible to slide it underneath most beds. This aspect would make it appealing to those either short on space, or not wishing to have a tall piece of equipment in the room.
However, it is slightly on the heavy side weighing 40 pounds. This could make it a little difficult for strength-challenged people to move.
Yet, this increase in bulk means it can accommodate more weight than the Sunny Health. The Stamina Stepper can take 250 pounds. This, combined with the larger footprint for stability, may make it attractive for larger fitness enthusiasts.
Available in both pewter and black colors, it can be selected to your personal aesthetic style. The LCD screen is clear, although does have two small buttons. For men or women with large hands this may cause an issue.
The resistance levels can be adjusted, although it appears that step height cannot.
The feet “ends” are all individually adjustable for height. I would suggest this is a good feature if you have uneven floors in your home. It will increase overall stability.
- Foldable for easy storage.
- Has a large 250-pound weight capacity.
- Stable—heavy, large footprint and has adjustable feet.
- “Sliding” the rubber hand grips on the bars is difficult, even when using a lubricant.
Gazelle Freestyle Step Machines
Although not a traditional stair stepper, I have included this for those who want something a little different.
In essence, this machine is an air walker or strider, as discussed earlier in this article. I would suggest that this makes it more appealing for those people who want a closer experience to walking or running. In addition, it may be suitable for those who want to place more stress on the upper body too.
The Gazelle Freestyle measure 44 inches by 33.5 inches by 53.5 inches. This is one of the largest machines here and does not fold easily. Therefore, I would say it is more suitable for exercisers who have a lot of space in their home.
Weighing a hefty 51.9 pounds, it would not be suitable for people who lack strength (if they wish to move it). However, it is manufactured to take up to 300 pounds in weight. I feel this would suit the larger person.
Resistance cannot be increased, so this may not be ideal for those who constantly want to present themselves with a new challenge.
The Gazelle Freestyle does come with some nice extra features. It is the only machine in this review with a heart monitor—useful if you want to check your cardio activity. Furthermore, the package includes two workout DVDs and water bottle (the machine has an included holder for this).
The LCD monitor provides information on speed, calories burned and time spent exercising.
- Offers a running/walking experience.
- Suitable for people up to 300 pounds in weight.
- Numerous extras.
- Large and heavy—maybe not suitable for the smaller home.
- Resistance cannot be increased.
Mini Stepper Machines Reviews
Sunny Health & Fitness Mini Stepper Resistance Bands
We have already discussed that mini steppers may be attractive for their small size. This stepper is the smallest one in this review.
It measures 16.5 inches by 12.2 inches by 8 inches and weighs 14.55 pounds. This tiny size and lightweight construction means it could be attractive for home fitness enthusiasts looking for something compact.
Not only can it be stored in small areas, I would suggest that it is a very good option for those wanting to take their exercise machine on the move. It could easily be transported in a backpack.
Resistance cannot be increased on this machine. However, step height can be—meaning you can choose from sharp stepping bursts through to long drawn out steps. This may be appealing for men and women looking for a little variety in their machine.
You may recall I mentioned earlier mini steppers do not provide much of an upper body workout. This Sunny Health model addresses this by including resistance bands with handles.
While stepping, you can exercise the chest and arm muscles. If you are looking for all-over muscle increasing action, it could be a bonus.
It has a large LCD display. As it is located a long distance from the head, this could be useful if you have any visual impairments.
This mini stepper has a weight capacity of 220 pounds.
- Lightweight and compact for easy storage.
- Includes bands to work out the upper body too.
- Large LCD display for easy reading.
- Some machines have developed “squeaks”.
Sunny Health & Fitness NO. 045 Twister Stepper
This mini stepper tries to be as close to a full-size stair stepper as possible. Firstly, it includes resistance bands to give the upper body a workout. Secondly, it has a “twist” function to push the anterior thigh muscles and glutes hard—typically only seen on larger machines.
If you would prefer the effects of a full-size machine, but simply do not have the room, this may prove appealing. However, twisting without support bars may prove difficult for people who are a little unsteady on their feet.
Despite its numerous strength building functions, it is still relatively small. It measures 18 inches by 19 inches by 9 inches and weighs 20 pounds.
The Sunny Health and Fitness is also versatile. Both step height and resistance can be adjusted. This could prove appealing if you really want to “step-up” your workouts.
The feet plates are, like most steppers, textured to prevent slippage. In addition, they include front, rear and side guards to ensure the feet remain firmly planted to the machine. The LCD monitor is large and clear.
A feature I like in this machine is the weight capacity. Even though a “mini”, it can take the weight of a person weighing 250 pounds—30 pounds more than the other Sunny Fitness in this review. If you are a larger person who wants a small machine, I would say this would suit you.
- Small and lightweight but with a capacity of 250 pounds.
- Resistance bands and twist function work the whole body.
- Limited to 15 minutes of use due to friction causing heat.
In the standard size stair steppers, I have to say my favorite is the Sunny Health & Fitness 059. It is the smallest and lightest, yet still has the capacity to work the body hard with its twist function. Furthermore, I do like the large-single button control. I don’t think you want to be “fiddling” when you are concentrating on your workout.
Having said that, I like the folding aspect of the Stamina and the alternative workout of the Gazelle. But for me the Sunny Health and Fitness has the all-round edge.
For mini steppers, my clear choice is the Sunny Health & Fitness 045. It comes very close to the function of a larger machine—resistance and twist functions providing an all-over workout.
It may not be fair to choose an overall favorite, as these machines are different in size for a reason. However, for its ability to mimic its larger relative on performance, yet still remain compact, my personal choice is the Sunny Health & Fitness 045 mini stepper.