Xiser Mini Stairmaster

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High intensity interval trainer

I’m really, really bad at exercising regularly, despite the fact that I’m a health professional and well acquainted with the many benefits. My mind is endlessly creative at coming up with reasons to evade any unwonted elevation of my heart rate… but it’s having more difficulty with its rationalizations since I started using the Xiser a year ago — and my energy, stamina, and resting heart rate have notably improved.

It’s a pretty simple, adjustable mini-stepper that’s built like a tank, so the chief complaint with other steppers (having them break while in use) is unlikely to apply. It’s made from aircraft aluminum and can hold up to 400 pounds, but only weighs 14 pounds and breaks down for storage or travel very easily. It takes up very little space, even when it’s ready for use.

It’s designed for sprint training and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which means that you can get a basic cardio workout in 8 minutes: 4 one-minute all out sprints as fast as you can go, and one minute of rest between them, or 4 one minute sprints spaced throughout the day. Even I have a hard time persuading myself that I don’t have 4 minutes of exercise time a day, 3 times a week with the result that I’m finally exercising long enough to feel the benefits of it.

It took me awhile to get over my natural skepticism — how could anyone get a decent cardio workout in 4 minutes? But after checking out some research (largely positive), I pondered a bit. When you think about it, our bodies were designed to be the bodies of hunter-gatherers, so what was healthy for them is probably — by evolutionary design — healthy for us. How would hunter-gatherers get exercise through their typical day? Mostly by walking at a normal pace — with brief periods of all-out effort as they forded a river, climbed a tree, chased down a mastodon, or attempted to evade a mountain lion: Pleistocene Sprint Training! It’s quite plausible, from an evolutionary standpoint.

It’s quiet and easy to use: all you need is a flat surface. In the beginning, have something nearby to grab in case you lose your balance, but you’ll soon get the knack: bend your knees slightly, then step as fast as you can, keeping your head at about the same level throughout. You should be nearly tapped out and breathless by the end of 60 seconds; if not, adjust your speed or the resistance accordingly.

Once you reach the point where that’s easy, you can add arm exercises with hand-weights… so it’s simple to increase the difficulty to any level that’s required. You could also use it more slowly, while watching TV or such, but it’s a lot more efficient to do burst training.

It’s easier to keep balance if it’s placed on a hard surface, but with a little practice I have no trouble using it on my padded carpeting. Unlike some steppers or mini-ellipticals, it is not intended to be used while seated, but from a standing position only… and if you have difficulty stepping rapidly with your feet about 2 1/2 inches apart, this probably won’t work well for you.

It’s a bit pricey, but if you keep your eye out on eBay, you can grab a refurbished one on occasion at a deep discount (my unit cost $226). You can sometimes find used ones there as well, but be sure they include working hydraulic cylinders: they’re not cheap to replace, and the manufacturer might not stock cylinders for the older models. If you’ve been avoiding exercise as assiduously as I used to, consider giving this a try. While the best results are gleaned from a combination of different exercises, and not just HIIT alone…in the end, the best exercise is the one you actually DO.

-- Barbara Dace 06/12/17