Maintain Your Posture
To put strain on the right parts of your body—the glutes and hamstrings instead of your back—slow down and get your posture right. "When you're hunched over, you're putting strain on your back and turning down your glutes," he says. It's OK to hinge forward at the hips—a move that'll engage the glutes even more—as long as your spine is straight, he says.
Don't Hold On
You know the move: a fellow gym goer is climbing up the cascading stairs, gripping the sides of the machine for dear life. "That's not helping your body work harder—it's cheating," Friedman says. 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 weakens your workout. Ultimately, you want to build your abilities to not hold on at all.
Do Two at a Time
Once you're ready to take your stair-climbing workout to the next level, try skipping a step. "By taking big, giant steps, you'll target the glutes and the upper thighs, where the mass of muscle is," Friedman says. "The more muscles you get involved, the more calories you burn." Start slowly and focus on methodically climbing up while keeping your balance, Friedman says.
Switch It Up
Going forward targets your glutes and hamstrings, but if you're looking to work your quads, turn around and climb backward. "It's a great move if you're looking to break up the workout for monotony's sake or if you want to tone your quads," Friedman says. Or, try crossover steps, where your body is turned to the right or left as you step up. This move will hit your abductors, stabilizers, and gluteus medius.
Feeling confident, steady, and comfortable? Grab a pair of dumbbells before you head over to the machine. As you step up, add a biceps curl, overhead press, or side raises. Multitasking like this works even more muscle groups and elevates your heart rate, Friedman says.
It's no secret that we're fans of interval training. You can take those benefits to the stairs too. For the ideal workout, shoot for 20 to 30 minutes on the machine. Start with a 10-minute warm-up to activate your heart and your muscles. Then, launch into 10 to 15 minutes of intervals. Start with a 1:1 ratio of high intensity to recovery—say 1 minute on, 1 minute off—followed by a 5- to 10-minute cool down, Friedman suggests.
Monitor Your Heart Rate
After you've added the StairMaster to your weekly cardio routine, begin taking note of how your body is reacting. Using a heart rate monitor, measure the time it takes for your heart rate to return to resting levels post-workout, Friedman suggests. As your body becomes more conditioned, that recovery time will become shorter and shorter. "It's all about getting your heart rate lower and your recovery time shorter," he says.