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Fitness experts say working out on a vertical climber is an excellent way to engage in effective full-body workouts and burn hundreds of calories per session. But what exactly is a vertical climber (after all, they’re not as common as ellipticals, exercise bikes, treadmills or other increasingly popular at-home fitness equipment)? The vertical climber is typically a seven-to-eight-foot-tall exercise machine equipped with foot pedals and height-adjustable handlebars that you pull up and down against measured resistance with the ultimate purpose of engaging your core, "as if you were climbing or scaling something," explained Kyle Gonzalez, CSCS, performance manager at personal training service Future. Gonzalez, a former Division-1 basketball player, told us that vertical climbers "offer a wealth of benefits" and are cost-, space- and time-efficient exercise machines — when used correctly.
SKIP AHEAD Best vertical climbers of 2021
Vertical climbers "reinforce primitive movement patterns'' that develop core strength and muscle coordination, explained Jason Walsh, NSCA-certified personal trainer and founder of vertical climbing studio Rise Nation. Walsh noted that because "you're fighting inertia," vertical climbing engages your major muscle groups. Since your feet are fixed into the climber’s pedals, "you should have zero impact" unless you hit the bottom of the climber, which isn't the norm. And Shayra Brown, an NASM-certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness, considers vertical climbers to be "one of the most versatile, easy-to-use full-body workout machines" because they are "designed for all levels of fitness" and "provide a quality workout experience at an affordable price."
Although you can find some vertical climbers for less than $135, like the Doufit vertical climber, there are plenty of higher-end machines that cost upwards of $2,000, like the residential VersaClimber. In fact, the brand's top-of-the-line commercial option will set you back nearly $6,000. Walsh, whose studios are equipped with commercial-grade VersaClimbers, doesn’t recommend overly-affordable vertical climbers because, generally speaking, he noted that “you get what you pay for."
You can find vertical climbers at Shopping reader-favorite retailers like Amazon and Walmart or directly through brands. To simplify your shopping experience, we rounded up six vertical climbers ranging from a buzzy model available for pre-order to a compact machine you can tuck away in a spare corner when not in use.
Best vertical climbers of 2021
Gonzalez noted Maxi Climber specializes in “easy-to-use, high-quality and durable vertical climbers.” Since the top-rated Maxi Climber is a self-powered, full-body device, he added, it is “very easy to use, the learning curve is smaller and you can get a lot done in a short period of time.” This model boasts non-stick handle grips and is ergonomically designed. It can also handle users as heavy as 240 pounds and has a step counter to track your metrics. Due to the combination of those features, Gonzalez considers the Maxi Climber the “best option for a beginner or someone looking to switch things up, but not break the bank.”
If you're willing to invest in a vertical climber, Gonzalez recommended the VersaClimber because it "allows you to create or prescribe specialized workouts." The residential VersaClimber boasts 16 preset programs and a screen that displays your metrics like distance and time. It is also height-adjustable and can accommodate users who are up to 6-foot-5-inches tall and who weigh up to 350 pounds. Even NBA star Lebron James, who jokingly called the VersaClimber his "girlfriend," utilizes the splurge-worthy machine.
CLMBR is the the new kid on the block in the vertical climber space and counts Jay-Z, Novak Djokovic and Pitbull as investors. Gonzalez called the CLMBR a "high-tech option" since it's equipped with a built-in touchscreen display and has a smartphone app you can access for on-demand classes. He also called the brand's home model "expensive" but noted the "unique design" and the access to instructor-led fitness classes gives it a Peloton-like appeal. The CLMBR can accommodate people who are up to 7 feet tall and has a max user weight of 350 pounds.
If you're looking for an affordable vertical climber that also has the ability to fold away, consider this option from Relife. Gonzalez called it a "very simple" and "cheaper option," but noted it "could still be useful with the right guidance." Despite a 4.2-star average rating from more than 800 reviews on Amazon, it doesn't have foot straps, which "could be a hazard," cautioned Gonzalez. Your safest bet is to start slowly and get comfortable with the machine before ramping up to the highest resistance levels. It can accommodate users as heavy as 260 pounds, according to the brand.
If you're looking for an exercise machine that's like a combination between a vertical climber and an elliptical, then consider Sole's option. It has a 4-star average rating from 11 reviews on Amazon and can support users as heavy as 400 pounds. The machine includes access to 10 fitness programs, including two custom programs. Gonzalez noted the adjustable resistance and handlebars help "to challenge different parts of the body." But, considers it "pretty big and clunky" and "for that price, it doesn't offer enough benefits over a cheaper model." If you're still interested in the CC81 climber, it also features a built-in tablet holder, allowing you to watch your shows and participate in online fitness classes while working out.
NASM-certified trainer Emilie Nasseh called this machine one of her "favorites” because "it's very user friendly and is more challenging than the traditional Jacob's Ladder." The Bluetooth-compatible Cascade is the only model on our list with a heart rate strap and wheels for easy storage. Beyond adjustable handgrips and footplates with velcro straps, it offers 16 magnetic resistance levels and six pre-set workout programs to follow.
How often should you use a vertical climber?
Walsh's vertical climber classes are only 30 minutes long and he recommended newbies start off with five to 10 minute long at-home sessions because it is a "demanding" full-body workout. He also advised starting with a lower-stroke and, to be "diligent and patient," allowing yourself time to progress and find success with the vertical climber.
Depending on your intensity, you can burn between 300 to 800 calories within 30 minutes, according to Brown, who recommended using the machine four to five times a week. "We can all benefit from 30 minutes of physical activity in order to increase and maintain a healthy lifestyle," she said.
Gonzalez likes to customize vertical climbing workouts for his clients, depending on their needs and adjust the machine's resistance and intensity levels, along with the duration and frequency of workouts. Some of his clients utilize their vertical climber for 15- to 45-minute sessions at steady low-to-moderate resistance and intensity levels. Others benefit from sprint or anaerobic-based workouts where the resistance and intensity levels are higher for a shorter time (three to 15 seconds) with longer recovery periods.
Overall, vertical climbers offer plenty of benefits, but they are "not a one-stop-shop for achieving all of your fitness goals." Rather Gonzalez advised Shopping readers to focus on creating a "well-rounded program" incorporating strength-training and cardio workouts, plus work on improving their flexibility and balance.