PureGym Oxford Central

Day 27: Stair Stepper

As many other people, I have a gym membership. As many other people, I tend to go to the gym infrequently, but I — as many other people — am trying to change that now. (The trick is to not overdo it in the first couple of days, effectively overexerting yourself and losing any kind of joy there is to be got from exercise. Also, joy of exercise, haha, don’t be ridiculous.)

In my attempts to be more adventurous, I decided to try out a new piece of gym equipment. Frankly, I could not find many options satisfying that criterion, as my love-meh relationship with gyms has lasted some ten years now and a lot has been tested. Treadmills, and rowing machines, and spin bikes, oh my! Given the limited choice, I had to finally address that elusive unicorn of gym equipment: stair stepper.

Stair stepper, also known as treadclimber or stepmill, is the most ridiculously-looking object one might find at a gym. It is a slice of an escalator with handles, a ‘rotating staircase’, and a pessimistic metaphor for life: you are forever climbing the stairs to only stay in one place. That is the nature of the exercise.

Stair Stepper
STAIR STEPPER. JUNE 27, 2017, 20:13. KOTTONEN / CHANCE & PHYSICS

It was invented in 1983, which explains its relative obscurity — treadmill, for instance, has been around since 1913. Stair stepper was designed by Lanny Potts and Jim Walker, who had been previously involved in the oil industry in Oklahoma. The oil industry was going through a crisis, and so they decided to make money elsewhere. Fitness business must have seemed like the next best plastic thing, and thus the StairMaster company was born.

Stair stepper is ingenious as it is simple: you just keep climbing, with the machine constantly nudging you forward as its steps rotate. It works so well that in the 1980s the invention got nicknamed ‘buttmaster’, alluding to the effect the exercise has on one’s posterior.

My trial run of the stair stepper (if you have better alternatives for the word ‘run’, given the context, pls PM) lasted 10 minutes. In that course I managed to take 473 steps, which equals to 29 floors. It largely reminded me of the mornings when I would be late for school and so would hurry up the escalators in St Petersburg metro. Curiously, that is a positive connotation, as that was my early experience of independence and purpose.

Another association I had was that with the Eiffel Tower. There are 704 steps between the ground level and the 2nd floor of the Paris landmark, and Sam and I climbed those steps last spring. (Then we took the lift to the very top and had champagne in tiny plastic glasses. I suppose that, too, is a positive connotation.)

Memories aside, walking on a stair stepper is a demanding physical endeavour, the kind that makes droplets of sweat appear on your wrists after a couple of minutes. It is less boring that running on a treadmill, as you have to continuously concentrate on the movement, à la Sysyphus. Altogether, I have no reason to doubt that stair steppers are effective, as torture normally has profound and lasting effect on one’s body.


Current album: Saint Etienne, Home Counties
Current book: Brian Lee O’Malley, Lost at Sea
Current TV series: Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Series 2 (1990)

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