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Elliptical vs. StairMaster: Which Is Better?
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Elliptical vs. StairMaster: Which Is Better?

|May 20, 2024

There are an incredible number of ways to get fit and stay healthy. If gym equipment is the route you choose to follow, it helps to know the differences between popular machines and the benefits they offer. Picking the best option for your body and goals could make your workout life infinitely better and more effective.

Today, let’s look at two seemingly similar pieces of workout equipment: the StairMaster and the elliptical machine. In this elliptical machine vs. stair stepper comparison, we explore the pros, cons, practicalities, and purposes of both of these machines - and aim to answer once and for all which one is best.

We will discuss elliptical vs. StairMaster performance through key exercise markers to find which comes out on top, as well as look into reasons why one or the other may be preferable for you.

Let’s get started!

What Is a StairMaster?

A StairMaster is a brand-name stair climber machine. It is essentially a treadmill that integrates stairs - rather than a flat surface. The stairs move on a belt, simulating the experience of climbing a never-ending set of stairs. You can adjust the speed and resistance to increase or decrease the intensity.

StairMasters work lower body muscles - predominantly quads, glutes, and thighs. They don’t do anything for your upper body. Although they are technically classed as cardio machines, they teeter into the weight resistance category because of how effectively they build muscle on the higher resistance settings.

What Is a StairMaster?

What Is an Elliptical?

Elliptical machines, sometimes called cross trainers, replicate the motion of skiing. You stand on two platforms that move in tandem with two hand bars to help you control the flow of movement. They make you feel like you are floating, but the higher you set the resistance, the more power you need to power the machine’s motion.

Although you are using your arms to control the bars, the primary function of an elliptical machine is to provide a cardio-based lower-body workout. However, having that connection does engage your core, shoulders, and biceps during use.

What Is an Elliptical?

Elliptical and StairMaster Comparison

Burning Calories

Number of calories burned is one of the core indicators of many workouts. It is one of the first things people ask about any piece of gym equipment. Understanding active calories vs. total calories can help you better plan your workouts from a calorie point of view. In simple terms, active calories are those you burn intentionally through exercise, while total calories include your resting calorie burn as you use energy throughout the day.

Both elliptical machines and StairMasters burn active calories - but ellipticals burn more. Based on several studies, you could actually burn twice as many calories while using an elliptical because you are using more muscles - especially if you keep up the intensity for an hour.

StairMasters also burn calories, but it is not the predominant goal of this particular machine.

StairMaster vs. Elliptical Calories Winner: If calories are important to you, the elliptical should be your winner.

Burning Calories - elliptical vs stairmaster

Losing Weight

Calories are closely tied to weight. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. Weight loss is a bit more complicated than that, of course, and you need to take several things into account. From an exercise point of view, you want a machine that will burn optimal calories if you want to lose weight.

That said, the elliptical has the edge.

StairMaster vs. Elliptical for Weight Loss Winner: Based on the fact that burning calories is essential for weight loss and the elliptical machine burns more than the StairMaster, elliptical machines take the win again.

Losing Weight - elliptical vs stairmaster

Building Muscle

If your goal is to build and strengthen your muscles, you need equipment that offers high resistance. Although the elliptical machine works out more muscles, it is designed for low impact and low intensity. In comparison, a stair-stepper machine is specifically designed to work the lower body and train it for strength and stamina.

Anybody who wants stronger legs and more defined lower body muscles is definitely best choosing a StairMaster. It is a tough form of cardio that can really put your muscles to the test. If you are comparing an elliptical or StairMaster for glutes, there really is no competition.

StairMaster vs. Elliptical for Building Muscle Winner: StairMasters work your muscles a lot harder and put them up against higher weight resistance. Therefore, the StairMaster is the winner in this category.

Building Muscle - elliptical vs stairmaster

Cardio Benefits

Both of these machines come under the cardio category, and both offer excellent benefits for people hoping to up their heart rate and boost blood circulation. Either one will help get your pulse pumping and the blood flowing - improving your general health and fitness.

It is quite tough to pick a winner because they both do such a great job. That said, the advancements in modern elliptical machines mean they are fully optimized to help people achieve peak cardio performance through full body movement. StairMasters, however, provide a harder workout, in theory, which can boost cardio stamina and performance with prolonged use.

StairMaster vs. Elliptical for Cardio Winner: If we were really to split hairs here, we would have to say that elliptical machines have a marginal edge over StairMasters for cardio benefits - purely because they provide a more complete approach.

StairMaster Pros and Cons


One of the standout benefits of using a StairMaster is how well it trains and prepares your lower body for real-life physical challenges such as mountain climbing or trekking. It is also great for people who climb a lot of stairs.

There is also evidence that shows using a StairMaster can improve your posture over time by strengthening lower core muscles and training your back to support itself well. 

It is also a great way to tone your legs and bum - so if these are the areas you want to focus on, a StairMaster could be the best choice.


The simple and repetitive movements involved in StairMaster workouts can get a little boring, and it can feel like you are only working out one part of your body.

StairMaster Pros and Cons

Elliptical Machines Pros and Cons


Elliptical machines are super easy on your joints and won’t lead to any long-term aches and pains. This is ideal for older people trying to keep up their fitness levels or for those recovering from an injury.

Another advantage of using an elliptical machine is the effective high-calorie-burning full-body workout it provides. If you want a machine that works your whole body in one go - without putting your knees under much strain - then this is a perfect solution.


Some people find the flowing skiing motion required to operate an elliptical quite tricky to master. It can feel awkward, uncomfortable, and hard to control until you work out the technique.

Elliptical Machines Pros and Cons

StairMaster vs. Elliptical: What One to Use and When?

So - taking all the above information into account - let’s explore various scenarios where we would recommend either an elliptical machine or a StairMaster. We have already taken a pretty good look at the specific benefits of each, but this guide can help you better determine which one might be the best fit for you - and when to use each one for optimal results.


As we said, ellipticals burn more calories, are better set up to aid weight loss, and have less of an impact on joints. People who are most likely to benefit from an elliptical machine include:

  • Those who suffer from painful, stiff, or weak joints
  • People recovering from an injury
  • Anyone who enjoys running but doesn’t want to put a strain on their knees
  • Somebody who wants to work out their whole body

Whether you are looking to ease yourself into a fitness routine but don’t have great stamina at the moment or want to enhance your current workout with an unrivaled cardio experience, elliptical machines are a great choice.


Stair-stepping machines are fairly niche and do not hold an obvious place in everybody’s workout regime. Unless you are particularly interested in strengthening your legs and toning your lower body, they may not be something you really need.

That said, there are many situations where StairMasters make the perfect addition to a routine. Amongst those who would benefit from this type of gym equipment are:

  • People who are training for an expedition that involves walking or climbing
  • Those focused on toning and strengthening their legs, glutes, and other lower body muscles
  • Anybody who values weigh-resistance training
  • Someone who has problems with posture that they want to rectify

It may not be the obvious choice, but a StairMaster can really make a significant difference to your endurance, power, strength, and shape. Your upper body will be left out, but you can combine this type of equipment with other fitness tools to get the complete package.

StairMaster vs. Elliptical: What One to Use and When?

Integrating Fitness Equipment in Your Home and Workplace

If you are looking into the best gym machines to use, you may also be considering buying a machine to use at home or in your office. Being able to work in your workout with the rest of your busy life is game-changing, as it makes it easier to maintain a routine and balance.

Desk exercise equipment is increasingly popular. Those with private offices or home workspaces are bringing fitness to them - using innovative designs to seamlessly switch between their work responsibilities and their workout dedication. Under-desk treadmills and stair steppers combined with standing desks offer excellent versatility.

You can also find a lot of great garage gym ideas that incorporate multiple pieces of equipment. The same applies if you are considering building a basement gym.

Integrating Fitness Equipment in Your Home and Workplace

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an elliptical or StairMaster better?

The answer depends on what you are looking for. Ellipticals are better at working all your muscles and burning a lot of calories without the need for high-impact exercise. StairMasters are better for building lower body strength and toning leg and bum muscles. 

What burns more calories - elliptical or StairMaster?

Elliptical machines burn more calories overall - by quite a margin. If calorie burning is your priority, an elliptical machine wins over a StairMaster.

How does StairMaster compare to a treadmill?

In the StairMaster VS treadmill debate, the pros and cons of each are much more similar than in the comparison between a StairMaster and an elliptical. Both offer great lower-body workouts and practical training - but in slightly different ways.

A StairMaster offers a generally more intense workout for targeted muscle groups - and does so with better shock absorption, meaning less strain on your joints. Treadmills burn more calories but are a bit rougher on the joints - and tend to tone muscles more than build or strengthen them. 

If you are specifically considering a StairMaster or treadmill for belly fat loss, then a treadmill comes out on top. Neither are specifically designed for targeting extra weight in your midsection, but the cardio benefits of treadmills offer better overall weight loss potential.

Are treadmills better than elliptical machines or exercise bikes?

Picking a winner in the treadmill vs. elliptical vs. bike battle all comes down to personal goals, requirements, and preferences. Treadmills are the most popular choice for general low-intensity cardio workouts to boost overall fitness and stamina - but bikes are more popular for those looking to seriously sweat and burn a lot of calories. Ellipticals beat both of them for minimal joint impact and full-body workouts.

Are treadmills better than elliptical machines or exercise bikes


There isn’t really a definitive answer to what is best when comparing an elliptical machine vs. StairMaster. If you want to train your legs and lower body muscles for strength and stamina, you should choose a stair-style machine. On the other hand - someone looking for an effective full-body workout that is easy on the joints should sway toward an elliptical.

To sum things up, StairMasters and elliptical machines both offer excellent cardio benefits for burning calories, toning muscles, and staying healthy - and make perfect additions to any home gym. Think about what is best for your body and what you want to achieve before deciding which one is right for you.

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