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Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?
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Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on 2022 September 26
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11 min

Today’s goal will be to look closely at the nuances between two of the most popular cardio equipment: the treadmill and stairmaster workouts.

stairmaster vs treadmill

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Have you ever noticed the plethora of equipment in most well-equipped gyms? Among these numerous machines, some offer the same function, albeit in different formats, and sometimes knowing which of them to use can get very confusing.

The stairmaster and treadmill are two machines that stand out regarding cardio equipment. Most gym goers are familiar with the treadmill; you either walk or run on it, providing a straightforward, aerobic workout, standing as the foundation of endurance training.

On the other hand, a large number of people are unfamiliar with the stairmaster. The design of the stairmaster resembles that of a never-ending escalator. The machine works out the lower body to a great extent; however, its selling point turns around to be its pitfall.  

Thus, we shall be addressing the stairmaster vs. treadmill debate. What are the pros and cons associated with these cardio workouts? We will also answer several questions to help you ascertain the better cardio workout for your fitness journey. 

What Are the Differences Between Treadmill and Stairmaster?

When it comes to the differences between the treadmill and stairmaster, the treadmill offers more versatility, burns more calories, and is more beginner-friendly. For the stairmaster, it is a great weight-bearing workout, low-impact, and provides extensive muscle stimulation.

Still, some of these differences are quite subtle, so before we get into the specifics, let us start by looking at the pros and cons of each option.

Stairmaster Pros and Cons 

There are certainly upsides and downsides to any cardiovascular workout. Nevertheless, the entire group does perform well in seeing you through your fitness goal. So, let us take an in-depth look at the advantages and drawbacks when exercising with stairmaster machines.

Pros

#1 Low-impact

One thing that makes the stairmaster such a great cardio exercise is that it is a low-impact exercise; this is an essential aspect for people suffering from joint pain and other running-related injuries.

The stairmaster is so good that runners can get a good cardio workout during their scheduled rest day without over-stressing their knees and ankles. That means they have a largely lowered risk of overuse injury with the stairmaster than many other cardio machines.

#2 Weight-bearing

Another huge advantage of doing stairmaster workouts is that it serves as an excellent weight-bearing exercise.

Weight-bearing exercises are great for building a stronger and sturdier musculoskeletal system. These exercises increase bone mass, strength, and density and grow muscles capable of supporting the skeletal system.

Better bones are not the only benefit you get using the stairmaster. As a weight-bearing exercise, the stairmaster gradually increases your body coordination, balance, and flexibility, which helps tackle knee pain, arthritis, and other joint-related issues.

Overall, this cardio workout effectively halts osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases, especially as one ages and starts to experience natural bone loss.

#3 Extensive muscle stimulation

Like hill workouts, climbing stairs places more load on your lower body, making it an excellent means of training the different muscle groups in your lower extremities. As such, you are able to build and develop your leg muscles extensively.

Your glutes and hamstrings receive high levels of stimulation as you push through the stairmaster. Having strong thighs and gluteal muscles improve athletic performance, allowing you to break through your previous limits.

Conversely, the use of the stairmaster also engages your quadriceps and calves. The quad muscles help straighten the knee as you push off from one step to the other, and it also absorbs a good amount of shock when your heel strikes the ground. 

Cons

#1 The lower body focuses

As much as the stairmaster is great for building your lower body muscles, it fails to provide adequate upper body stimulation. If you are really good at using the machine, you will be able to work your abs and core muscles, but that is about it.

Your shoulders and arms do not get engaged whenever you exercise with the stairmaster, and this is a huge catch for people who are unwilling to compromise on their full-body cardio workout.

#2 Not beginner-friendly

Regardless of how effective the stairmaster is, it is not in any way a beginner-friendly cardio machine. In fact, compared to the treadmill or other cardio machines, most beginners will find it too taxing since they require a bit of skill to maneuver the weight shift of the stairmaster.

To carry out an effective cardio workout using the stairmaster, you need to undergo some serious leg strength training while having ample cardiovascular endurance.

#3 Injury risk

Although we regard the stairmaster as a low-impact activity that lowers your chances of joint injury, improper use of the machine can result in a host of musculoskeletal injuries.

For starters, beginners have a higher tendency to injure their back using the stairmaster than on a treadmill. That is primarily because most people tend to slouch when using a stair stepper, especially toward the end of their workout.

On top of that, improper climbing form and foot placement will result in muscle soreness and even injury. For example, climbing on your toes throughout your workout instead of your entire foot will place so much stress on your calf muscles.

Overloading the muscles will result in tightness and even alter your movement mechanics. Over time, this altered movement pattern could graduate and lead to plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis. 

To avoid this, gym goers must learn to perfect their weight shifting, foot placement, and climbing form. That is, they need to keep their backs straight and place more of their foot on the steps, driving with their heels instead of their toes.

#4 Monotonous

Unlike treadmill workouts, where you can alternate between running horizontally or on an incline, stair climbing is a monotonous workout routine.

That is because, in reality, the workout is somewhat of a one-size-fits-all type of workout program. Therefore, you cannot introduce any form of variation to your routine.

Treadmill Running Pros and Cons

The treadmill is one of the most interesting workout machines in any gym. Many people result to treadmill use as the foundation of their cardiovascular training. You can increase your walking, running, and interval training with this machine. 

In any case, let us take a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages of this cardiovascular workout.

Pros

#1 Versatility

The treadmill is one of the most convenient and versatile machines you will find in any gym. It is great for walking, jogging, running, and high-intensity interval training while giving you ample room to multitask.

You can easily incorporate different workout plans and programs using the treadmill, whether it revolves around horizontal or incline treadmill workouts. Thus, it is effective for boosting stamina, weight loss, and cardiovascular health. 

To some extent, the treadmill machine allows you to mimic certain race conditions to improve your training efficiency. 

Similarly, you can register a more intense workout with the treadmill as opposed to the stairmaster. That means you get more calories burned using the treadmill at high intensities than the stairmaster.

#2 Low-impact

Both the treadmill and stairmaster workouts are low-impact, making them suitable options for people battling underlying injuries or sensitive joints. Treadmill running is also of a lower impact compared to outside running, which is another reason why it is so popular.

As such, you can avoid many running-related injuries with this workout method. Still, you need to be cautious when exercising with any machine. You can still sustain serious injuries if you exercise wrongly, even though treadmill running is generally low impact.

#3 Beginner-friendly

Unlike the stairmaster, beginners can freely incorporate the treadmill into their routine with little stress; they do not require as much expertise when using it.

As such, beginners are less likely to throw their backs when running on a treadmill.

Furthermore, these machines also come with a safety turn-off feature that helps shut down the machine to prevent accidents.

Cons

#1 Cost

Not to say that joining a gym or purchasing your own treadmill is a bad idea. However, you can achieve the same benefits for free by running outside, making spending such money unnecessary.

If you choose to go to the gym, you must factor in training frequency, membership fee, and cost of gym accessories. For example, if you want to own a treadmill, you should be looking to spend about $1,000. 

#2 Boring

At some point, running on a treadmill will become boring, and that could significantly hinder your workout progress. Although there are ways to run around this, such as alternating between exercise types, sole use of the treadmill leads to a monotonous exercise routine.

Burned Calories

The number of calories burned using either machine will vary across individuals, and it typically depends on your weight, age, type of exercise, inclines used, and exercise intensity.

If your focus is on fat burning as opposed to muscle build, running on a treadmill provides a better calorie burn than the stairmaster. That is because you can introduce variations and even add weights. 

On average, treadmill workouts allow you to burn more calories (up to 700 calories) at high intensity, unlike the stairmaster, which accounts for 400 calories.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, a 125-pound person exercising for 30 minutes on the treadmill (running at 7.5mph) will burn 375 calories. On the other hand, if the same person were to switch to the stairmaster, they would burn 180 calories in 30 minutes.

If you want to stick to a low-intensity workout, the stairmaster is your go-to option since it combines cardio and resistance training into a well-polished package.

Still, you can take things further by enlisting the help of Joggo and their all-in-one app. The app allows users to surpass their limits as it offers key features that boost training performance. 

The Joggo app has a personalized training plan with treadmill mode, meal prep, and expert tips for beginners and pros. It also keeps track of your weekly progress and provides adjustments based on the feedback.

In addition, you gain unlimited access to their specialists who are tasked with answering any question on fitness and nutrition. All you have to do to gain access to these amazing features is complete the quiz. 

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Muscle Gain Comparison

Not many people actually consider engaging in either exercise for muscle gain. Still, cardiovascular training is extremely important when it comes to building muscles.

When it comes to building muscle mass and strength in your lower half, the stairmaster reigns supreme. It works out your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes more than the treadmill, resulting in a stronger and more toned butt and legs. 

Also, you need a certain level of balance for climbing stairs, and this activates your core muscles.

However, both exercises barely develop the muscles in your upper body sufficiently. To compensate for that, you need to pick up body weight and weight training. Nevertheless, these exercises are great for pushing your muscles to hypertrophy, which, in turn, results in significant gains. 

Price Comparison 

There is an obvious gym registration to get access to both machines. In general, gym registration fees are not fixed as it depends on the area and equipment present, but most gyms try to maintain a reasonable fee.

However, if you want to own either machine, the model and brand will factor into how expensive they get. Generally speaking, treadmills are cheaper than stairmasters, whether that is brand new or second-hand.

Getting brand new cardio machines is typically the best option as they come with the necessary warranty, protection features, and other accessories. However, if you are on a budget and decide to go the second-hand route, you should be particular about the brand you go for and carry out a proper inspection before payment.

The issue with many second-hand machines is that they do not guarantee the same level of protection for your joints, which can be a big issue going forward.

Impact on Knees

If you are looking for a low-impact cardio machine, both the stairmaster and treadmill are great options, especially when compared to running outside. However, if you have any underlying joint problems, like knee and ankle sensitivity, you should opt for the treadmill.

Because it is the more versatile option, you can adjust the incline and speed to match your fitness level. Unfortunately, the stairmaster only allows you to change the speed; as a result, it is more taxing on your hips, knees, and ankles.

Weight Loss

Regarding your weight loss goals, it really does not matter which machine you choose, as both will help you achieve this goal.

The bottom line is to choose the machine that fits squarely in your workout regimen, one you can stick with for a more extended period since the bulk of your training will be about consistency.

After all, losing weight does not just happen overnight. Still, you may want to factor in the treadmill’s versatility against the high resistance of the stairmaster when making your decision. 

FAQs

Does the stairmaster burn fat?

Yes, the stairmaster is great for fat loss.

Is stairmaster good cardio?

Yes, the stairmaster is an excellent cardio workout, good for both HIIT and steady-state cardio.

How many calories does a stairmaster burn?

You can burn up to 250 calories in 30 minutes using the stairmaster.

A Word From Our Coach

From a professional standpoint, the stairmaster vs. treadmill debate is negligible as both machines offer amazing cardiovascular benefits. You can burn calories, lose body weight, improve cardiovascular fitness, and boost overall health.

However, it would be wise to factor in the pros and cons listed earlier when picking your routine. Better still, you can alternate between either option to get the best of both worlds.

Lastly, there is no compromise regarding eating a healthy diet. It provides you with the fuel needed for working out while keeping your body healthy.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it is evident that both options are excellent, each having its pros and cons. There are no right or wrong answers regarding which aerobic exercise to choose. The decision is undoubtedly subjective, depending on the path you carve for yourself. 

If you want something that will build more muscles and doubles down as an excellent high-intensity interval training, then the stairmaster is for you. 

On the other hand, if you want to burn more calories and build cardiovascular fitness, you should go for treadmill running.

At the very least, you should have fun with your exercise. So eat healthily, exercise, and stay fit!

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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