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What is a VersaClimber? The cardio machine that tones your arms, legs and core

It may look like a torture device (and feel like it sometimes), but the machine burns more calories than the treadmill and rower.
An instructor demonstrating an exercise on a VersaClimber machine during a class at Rise Nation.
An instructor demonstrating an exercise on a VersaClimber machine during a class at Rise Nation.Rise Nation

If you take a stroll around your local gym, you’ll see plenty of fitness machines that seem intuitive and approachable.

Judging the VersaClimber by its appearance, it likely isn’t one of them.

This tall, skinny machine featuring foot straps and handlebars can be intimidating at first — especially if you’re unsure how it works. But when used properly and consistently, the VersaClimber delivers not only an impactful cardio workout, but has great full-body toning benefits as well. 

Originally launched in the 1980s, The VersaClimber has recently gained popularity, thanks to celebrity fans like Jennifer Aniston and LeBron James. Rise Nation, a VersaClimber fitness boutique with locations across the U.S., has harnessed the power of this machine to deliver an effective 30-minute workout to its members.

“The VersaClimber has been proven to be one of the most effective and efficient ways to burn calories,” said Rise Nation lead trainer Tyler White.

Ready to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know about the VersaClimber.

What is a VersaClimber?

“The VersaClimber is a vertical climbing machine that provides a zero impact, high intensity, cardio and resistance training workout,” White explains. It features two handles and two foot pedals with straps to secure your feet. While the VersaClimber is considered a cardio machine, it’s also great for low-impact resistance training, which you can set to your liking on the machine.

As White explains, the machine uses a contra-lateral movement pattern — when your right arm goes up, your left leg moves down and vice versa. “This movement replicates a natural primitive pattern similar to crawling, which we all had to do to build the strength to eventually walk and run,” White says. This movement engages your entire body, which makes for a powerful workout.


The VersaClimber is a vertical climbing machine that provides a zero impact, high intensity workout.
The VersaClimber is a vertical climbing machine that provides a zero impact, high intensity workout.Rise Nation

Who is the VersaClimber workout good for?

“Everyone from fitness beginners to professional athletes can find a great workout on a climber,” says White. This workout is extremely versatile thanks to the ability to increase or decrease resistance on the machine — which helps keep things challenging as you become stronger and more familiar with the workout. In his experience teaching at Rise Nation, White says he’s had everyone from teenagers to clients in their 70s enjoy the VersaClimber workout. 

How to use a VersaClimber

Your first step in using a VersaClimber should be to make the proper adjustments for your height. To do this, step on one pedal and move the handles to the height of your shoulders. Do this on both sides.

Next, determine the level of tension you want to use. The higher the number, the more resistance you’ll be working with. If it’s your first time, consider starting on the lower end to get the hang of the movements. You can always adjust the resistance as the workout progresses!

Then, step into the pedals and strap in. Grab both handles, start moving by stretching your left leg and right arm up, and do the reverse on the other side.

“When climbing with proper form, you will have a safe, athletic stance with your shoulders and chest over your knees and toes and keeping an aligned spine,” White explains. “This positioning helps strengthen proper movement patterns and can help correct postural imbalances.”

The benefits of using a VersaClimber

Studies show that the VersaClimber burns more calories after class than running on a treadmill or using a rowing machine.

Studies show that the VersaClimber burns more calories after class than running on a treadmill or using a rowing machine.

If you’re looking for a low-impact workout, the VersaClimber is easy on the joints while still delivering an effective calorie burn in a short amount of time. In fact, Rise Nation claims their workout can burn around 800 calories in just half an hour. Studies show that the VersaClimber burns more calories after class than running on a treadmill or using a rowing machine.

The VersaClimber also engages more muscle groups than any of its gym equipment competitors. The climber activates the glutes, transverse abdominals, obliques, lats, delts, triceps, biceps, quads, calves and many more,” says White. 

White states that the upright climbing position also promotes healthy spinal alignment and a balanced physique — which is important to maintain as we age.

The "middle bar squat" requires climbers to drive their knees up and down in a squat position.
The "middle bar squat" requires climbers to drive their knees up and down in a squat position.Rise Nation

How to incorporate the VersaClimber into your workout routine

For beginners, VersaClimber recommends keeping a gentle pace for around 15 or 20 minutes, stepping around four to six inches of distance per stride. The VersaClimber machine can be used for a full-body workout or to isolate arm, shoulder and chest movements by standing on the floor rather than strapping into the pedals. It can also be used for a lower-body workout by gripping the machine’s stationary handles. 

At Rise Nation, White leads class members through a series of foundational VersaClimber movements, including: 

  • Mid range: Climbers move between six to twelve inches vertically, keeping a bend in the elbows and knees.
  • Long range: Climbers fully extend one side of the body while the opposite elbow and knee move in toward each other.
  • Middle bar squat: Climbers grip the stationary handles and bend their knees into a squat position, keeping their backs flat as they drive their knees up and down.

Tips for beginners

If you’re trying the VersaClimber for the first time, White explains there’s an adjustment period you’ll need to work through. “Just like trying any workout for the first time, you may have a few interesting sensations that plague you as your body is acclimating to the equipment and movement pattern,” he explains. Hands and feet can start to tingle, cramp or go numb during an initial climb — which White says is due to improper blood circulation due to having too tight a grip on the handles or shoes being tied too tight. “To help this, keep a soft grip on the handles, loosen shoes (or even climb barefoot!), regularly wiggle those fingers and toes, and take breaks,” White recommends. 

Bottom line

Though it may take some getting used to, the VersaClimber is a worthwhile piece of equipment to consider trying. If you really want to maximize your workout time — and are looking for a low impact, but high intensity workout — there’s no better option than going for a climb.