Its easy to get in an intensive workout on a stair-climbing machine because you're carrying your own weight and you can work your arms, too.
Most home models do not simulate real stair-climbing as the larger gym models do. The home versions instead have pedals that work against your weight as you step on them. Since you're not taking real steps, there's less knee strain.
But there are two types of pedal models available. The interlinked type, where one pedal goes up automatically as you press the other one down, means you're not working half the time and makes this a less effective fat burner than the "independent step" system where the pedals don't influence each other as you simulate that stair-climbing motion. Most stair-climbers work your calf muscles more than real stair-climbing does.
When You Buy
Make sure the pedals are large enough for you to stand
upon and balance yourself comfortably.
The stepping action should be smooth; reject a model that wobbles as you step rapidly.
The resistance should be easily adjustable.
The machine should have comfortable handlebars or rails
for balance. Some models have moving hand grips which
can work your upper body in addition to the legs.
When You Use
Put your entire foot not just the ball of the foot on the pedal: you should be flat-footed on the steps.
Start with short steps and a slow pace. Do not overexert; blood pressure and heart rate can rise very quickly on these machines.
Don't go all the way down in your step but stop just a few inches short of that.
Whichever type you buy, maximise your workout by selecting the "manual control" setting and then picking a level you can maintain for 30 to 45 minutes.
Don't lean on the rails or front monitor since that reduces your energy expenditure. Your body should be upright at all times.
But be careful not to lose your balance. Use the handrails until you get into your stride. To burn even more calories once you get going, don't hold on to the rails. Swing your arms as if you were power-walking.
Even if your machine gives you the option, avoid fun-type programmes with rapid changes; you'll be spending most of your time trying to maintain your balance.
Stair-climbing can aggravate some knee problems.