Of all the cardio machines, the VersaClimber—that tall, skinny machine with handholds and footholds—might be the one that looks most like a Medieval torture device.
But I promise this machine, which has been popping up everywhere from mainstream gyms to boutique options like Rise Nation in Los Angeles (where celebs like Jennifer Aniston and Alison Brie use it to get fit AF).
When used correctly, the VersaClimber is a great tool for building cardio and total-body strength. If it's your first time giving this machine a go, the best thing you can do is talk to a trainer to help you get set up with the device. Getting on the machine can sometimes be a challenge, and the repetitive, alternating movements can feel awkward at first, says Julie Wandzilak, certified personal trainer at Equinox in New York City.
That said, if you don't have a trainer around to help you out, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Before you get started, set the handles to the correct setting for your height: Stand on the foot pedals, and position the hand grips so they're at shoulder height.
- Adjust the tension on the screen to your preference—you can do this by using the number pad.
- Step on the pedals, and tighten the straps over your feet.
- Begin climbing, stretching your right arm and left leg up, then repeat on the opposite side.
- Like any other piece of cardio equipment, there are different levels of resistance and speeds that can be adjusted to give your body a variety of benefits. But if it's your first time, starting at medium resistance is usually a good bet. The lower the resistance, the more of a cardio challenge you’ll get because you need to keep your arms and legs continuously moving; crank up that resistance and it becomes more of a strength workout.
Unless you do a lot of climbing in your usual workout routine, the VersaClimber helps tap into muscles that are otherwise not usually targeted, explains Wandzilak. Considering we spend so much time moving in linear or lateral patterns, moving vertically challenges new muscle groups.
Plus, “it requires the body to work its contralateral extremities," says Wandzilak. "Meaning, your right arm and left leg need to work in conjunction with one another to be able to get through the drill.”
The VersaClimber actually burns more calories, increases your heart rate, and heightens oxygen consumption when compared to rowing and treadmill running,shows. That increase in VO2 max, or the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during exercise, results in even more calories burned after your workout, too, according to the research.
How should you use the VersaClimber in a workout?
A few ideas, courtesy of Wandzilak:
- Hop on the Versaclimber for a 10- to 20-second sprint for a cardio finish at the end of your workout
- Climb away for 20 minutes or more for a steady-state cardio workout (rather than spending time on a treadmill or elliptical)
- Use the VersaClimber for interval training, alternating between a high-resistance sprint and some low-resistance recovery
Just remember: “Take it slow," says Wandzilak. "There’s no need to hop on the VersaClimber expecting to climb Mount Everest. Focus on getting comfortable with how it feels; then, you can play around with steps per minute and resistance.”
No matter how proficient you get, though, know that it will still probably feel like you’re on a torture device; but now you know just how worth it that torture will be!