Hitting the bleachers or the stepping machine will add variation to your cardio routine.
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Hitting the steps can add valuable resistance to your cardio workouts, but you don't always have to perform the same routine. Most gyms provide stair-stepping machines that allow for safe and easily adjustable stair workouts. But you also have the option to head out to the local football stadium and tackle the bleachers. The metal steps of bleachers come with added risk for injury, but they'll allow you to add variation -- and a little fresh air never hurt anybody.
Both bleacher running and stair stepping work the same muscles on the way up, but bleachers also include a descent portion. During a stepping workout, your quads and glutes are required to push against gravity, which leads to greater muscle soreness than regular running. The hip flexors, hamstrings and calves are also worked. When running on a stair stepper, avoid the urge to hold handles or rails, which takes the emphasis off your lower-body muscles, according to Jessica Matthews for the American Council on Exercise. The goal should be to gradually increase the intensity of your workout. On bleachers, you can do this by taking two steps at a time on the way up, speeding up your leg movements or driving your legs higher with each step. On the way down, be extremely careful not to tumble forward; bleacher metal is not forgiving. Either walk or jog down at a very slow pace, keeping your weight back and absorbing the impact in your glutes. If you have knee issues, walk down slowly.
Stair Stepper Benefits
The most obvious benefit of a stair stepper is that you never reach the top. The endless range allows you to complete longer steady-state cardio sessions. The consistency allows for a more easily measured calorie burn. A 155-pound person will burn approximately 316 calories in a half-hour workout on a stair stepper at a moderate intensity. These machines also allow you to manually adjust resistance and program workouts, and most gym-quality machines have heart-rate monitoring.
Hitting the bleachers, like those at Houston High School, provides its own set of benefits. Although you can only head up the bleachers for so long without changing direction, you can easily adjust your speed and stride length throughout your workout without fumbling over buttons. The cardio is be less consistent and it is more difficult to estimate the burn, but you can more easily perform interval training on bleachers, as there is a built-in range. This type of workout varies shorter periods of high-intensity exercise with longer periods of recovery. High-intensity interval training provides the most efficient calorie burn, boosts your metabolism for hours afterward and helps increases aerobic capacity, according to MayoClinic.com.
At the end of the day, the choice between running bleachers or climbing a stair stepper comes down to your goals and personal preferences. The stair stepper provides more variability and easier tracking of your performance, but the bleachers allow you to vary your workouts without pressing buttons, learning how to use a machine or waiting for other exercisers at the gym. Whatever your choice, stair-stepping session are most effective when used in a total-body conditioning program that includes at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week, the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and two resistance-training session per week.