I have been given a “stepper”, the giver thinking it would help me get stronger and be able to climb stairs more easily. I know that at first after exercising one feels muscle ache, but I am worried in case it is doing more harm than good to my knees and hips.
Stair-climbing is not only one of the basic activities of everyday life, but also an excellent “free” chunk of exercise, helping to keep muscles and bones strong, knee joints protected, and heart and lungs healthy. The more stairs you climb, the more you will be able to climb with minimum effort. But you are far from alone in struggling with the stairs: half of all women over 55 years old lack sufficient leg strength to climb stairs without using a hand rail.
It sounds as though you have a “mini stepper”, rather than the full-sized kind found in gyms. The stepper mimics the action of stair climbing, so you can build muscle strength on the spot. I would suggest this equipment will be most useful if the following apply:
• you have reasonable heart and lung fitness (eg, you can comfortably walk three miles)
• you are not very overweight
• you do not have low back pain
• you do not have a heart condition or high blood pressure
• you do not have weakness on one side of your body
• your balance is good
As you say, you should expect some muscle aches over the 48 hours after you go on the stepper, but this should really only happen the first couple of times. If you regularly get pain after exercising, especially from your joints or back, the stepper may not be the right tool for you.
Unless you suffer from arthritis, back pain or other medical conditions affecting your hips and knees, there is no reason why the stepper should be harmful, as long as you are using good step technique (see below) and not overdoing things. By middle age, creaky or achy knees are a common concern, but often this is directly related to having neglected our muscles so they no longer protect or support the joints properly.
These tips are important to ensure that your stepper workout is effective:
• stand tall at all times, not leaning forwards or pushing your bottom back
• don’t rock from side to side as you step: try to keep hips level throughout
• keep your feet pointing forwards and check that your knees follow the same line as your big and second toes
• try to work towards slower, deeper steps with control rather than fast, shallow steps
As with all unfamiliar exercise, start cautiously and build your workout gradually. Keep a log and increase your step times by eg 1 minute each week.
There are many alternative ways of improving your stair-climbing strength. Just practising stepping up on to the first stair and backwards down in a steady continuous rhythm for several minutes a day (again, increasing the time gradually) can be pretty effective.