Athlete Students

The StairMaster: a humbling experience

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

Photo by Marisa Valdez

I’m afraid I may have come off a little confident in my 12-3-30-ing abilities last week, and may have made it sound like I’m an exercise fiend, a master at it, even. 

Well, I’ve been trumped, that imaginary title stolen from me by a different sort of master — the StairMaster (dun, dun dun). 

Before a few weeks ago, I’d had only one encounter with the Master of Stairs before. I was a fledgling teenager, probably still a pretween, and was taking a trip down to my neighborhood’s clubhouse — don’t get it twisted, it wasn’t as fancy as it sounds.

The clubhouse in question was a cross between a mini town hall, event space and preschool (class of ‘06, baby) and in the basement there was a billiards table, pool and even an itty bitty workout room that no one ever used. 

As a homeowners association nepo baby, I had free access to all the amenities, not that I used them too often. We’d reserve the pool for birthday parties or pretend to swim laps when Mom put “exercise” on the summer chore chart, but I never used the gym. 

There was a reason for that. 

No bigger than a walk-in freezer, the gym was a linoleum box, taller than it was wide, and smelled perpetually of musty old men. The foam mats strewn about the floor proved to be more tripping hazards than anything else and most likely harbored the source of the next pandemic somewhere in their foamy layers. 

For some unknown reason, I poked my head in there that day and saw the place was abandoned — or in perpetual quarantine, I don’t know — and I saw it as an opportunity. I huddled my things in the corner and evaluated my options. 

Weights littered the floor and random bars poked out from the walls. There were various workout machines, some I recognized, like the elliptical, and others I didn’t, like the tall, black box-looking contraption in the corner. Curious, I approached it. 

The machine seemed to absorb the fluorescent light in the room and resembled what I thought the climb to Mount Doom would look like in metal form. The words “StairMaster” could be faintly made out through the dust and overall decay of the thing. 

Somehow I wasn’t scared away yet, and I hoisted myself onto it. 

I had never used a StairMaster before and had very little exposure to them. For some reason, I associated them with old lady workouts (I couldn’t tell you why) and physical therapy. Surely a spry 12-year-old could figure it out. I pressed what must have been “go” and the beast roared to life. 

I was terrified. 

First of all, it was so loud. It chugged like a freight train and, second, I swear black smoke billowed out from somewhere within it. I thought it might have caught fire based on the burning rubber smell, and how it clunked and shook. I thought it’d cave in on itself at any moment. 

I hopped off after no more than two steps and never used that gym ever again. 

Fast forward 10 years and here I am trying it again, this time at Planet Fitness. These machines are much nicer, considering they were made within the last century, and don’t feel like they’ll keel over at any minute. I could, though. Keel over, that is. 

The StairMaster is hard. 

Forget watching Netflix, my eyes are glued to my feet the entire time I’m up there. My first go at it, I had to clutch the handles to make sure I didn’t trip and fall to my death. After just two minutes, sweat was dripping (and I mean drip-ping) off my nose, eyelashes — my everything. 

The longest I’ve ever gone on the StairMaster was for 10 minutes at seven speed and I am so very proud of myself. I thought I would throw up after — I didn’t, yay — but I, surprisingly, wasn’t sore at all. 

That’s the thing with the StairMaster. It’s more of a calorie-burner than a muscle-builder, which I suppose makes perfect sense, but I’m a gym newbie and have no idea what I’m doing. 

If you’re looking for a quick, but hard workout that will leave your legs all noodley but not sore, I suggest you try out the StairMaster. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected].