Stairmaster vs. Elliptical: The Similarities and Differences

Home fitness machines have become immensely popular in the US. This is due to increased awareness of the importance of keeping fit and the convenience of working out in the privacy of one’s home. Advances in kinesiology and technology have produced some mean home fitness machines to keep you healthy in today’s sedentary lifestyle.

Today, you have a variety of fitness machines to exercise at home. All of them help burn calories, provide aerobic conditioning, shed weight, improve cardiovascular health, and help strengthen your muscles and bones. But the plethora of options available in the market has led to some confusion on making the right choice.

It is common to feel at sea when it comes to a choice between the Stairmaster and elliptical. This is because both seem to be similar. This article will delve into the classic case of the Stairmaster vs. elliptical machine to help you make the right decision.

How a Stairmaster works

Put your best foot forward with a Stairmaster

This low-impact fitness machine mimics the stair-climbing motion. It has rotating steps which you can use for climbing action. It gives you a good cardio workout while toning your lower body. You can easily adjust the speed and duration according to your fitness goals.

How Ellipticals work

How Ellipticals work

From pedals to resistance: A visual explanation of how ellipticals work

Ellipticals use mimics running motion on moving pedals. The pedals move in such a manner that your feet are constantly in contact with it. It also has handles to pump your arms simultaneously while pedaling.

This motion burns calories while strengthening the lower and upper body. You can adjust the resistance levels according to your fitness goals.

Similarities between Stairmaster and Elliptical

Low-impact workout

Both the Stairmaster and elliptical provide a low-impact workout. These home fitness machines are suitable for the elderly, people with joint problems, those with arthritis, and those looking to vary their usual exercise routine with low-impact workouts.

Adjustable resistance levels

From the Olympic-level athlete to the convalescing elderly, these machines are suitable for all. All that is required is to tweak the resistance level to suit your comfort levels. Both these home fitness machines come with variable resistance settings to help you change the levels easily. Once you become stronger and fitter, you can go to more challenging levels.

Cardiovascular and aerobic conditioning

Though they work differently, both these machines are effective in improving cardiovascular health and aerobic conditioning.


When it comes to the costs, both these fitness machines start at around the same price range.

Differences between Stairmaster and Elliptical

Now that we’ve seen what’s common between the two, the following section will focus on the key differences.

Burning calories

Both these machines are effective when it comes to burning calories when appropriately used. However, the Harvard Medical School study in 2004 found that elliptical machines helped burn roughly 50 percent more calories than Stairmasters.

If your goal is to burn excess calories and lose weight, an elliptical is a better choice. Even a budget elliptical involves more muscle groups during a workout when compared to a stair stepper. More muscles being engaged means more calories burned.

For building leg muscles

A Stairmaster is very effective when it comes to toning thighs and gluteal muscles. Its motion focuses almost entirely on the lower body. If you notch up the resistance to a high level, you need to exert tremendous force with your leg muscles to operate the pedals.

On the other hand, an elliptical for home use helps build the lower body, but the inertia of the pedal stroke reduces the effectiveness of the workout. If your goal is to strengthen and develop your leg muscles, a stair stepper is a better option.

Full body workout

In a stair stepper, you only move your legs. It is excellent for building and toning your lower body. An elliptical, on the other hand, engages your arms and legs. A proper workout on an elliptical will tone and build your hamstrings, glutes, quads, biceps, triceps, and abdominal muscles. If you aim for complete body conditioning, ellipticals are the way to go.

Core muscles

For strengthening your core, a Stairmaster is a better option than an elliptical. Every time you climb and pump your legs on a stair stepper, you need to maintain your body balance. This engages and strengthens the core muscles.

Your core muscles are further engaged when you don’t use the handrails during the workout for support. A strong core gives you better balance, improves posture, and prevents lower back pain.

The comfort factor

Unlike a stair stepper, a hybrid elliptical allows you to work out either sitting or standing. This lets you target different muscle groups and will enable you to work out for more extended periods.

But one drawback of an elliptical is that it gets uncomfortable if the stride is too short. This can be offset if you invest in the best elliptical machine you can afford. Good elliptical machines allow you to adjust the stride according to your preference.

Workout time

Since the stair stepper targets your lower body primarily, the leg muscles tire quickly. On the other hand, an elliptical provides whole body work out and is comparatively less tiring while burning more calories. This will let you have extended workout sessions and burn more calories.

To sum up

The above write-up will go a long way to help you choose the best option between Stairmaster and ellipticals. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Once you identify your workout goals, it’ll become much easier for you to make the right decision.

Once you have zeroed upon your choice of a home fitness machine, buy the best you can afford. Good quality fitness machines last a long time and make less noise (vital in a home). Moreover, a sizeable investment helps to keep you motivated to work out regularly. 

For the success of any exercise regimen, perseverance is the key. Many people give up after a brief stint at fitness. It takes time for the results to show. Once results become palpable, your workout regimen will become instilled as a habit. The results will provide more than enough motivation to keep you going. 

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