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Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: Which Is Better for Your Workout?
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Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: Which Is Better for Your Workout?

|May 1, 2024

If you’re debating stairmaster vs. treadmill workouts, you’ll have to consider how you plan to use the machine in the first place .

The stairmaster will offer a better cardio workout compared to walking on the treadmill. A great aerobic workout that is also quite taxing on the heart and lungs is stair climbing. 

However, the treadmill wins the aerobic battle between stair climbers and mini treadmills if you want to run. The treadmill allows for faster movement and has a cardio focus, whereas the stairmaster workout combines resistance and cardio. 

Carry on reading to see the winner of the stair climber vs. treadmill battle. 

Comparison of StairMaster vs. Treadmill

Here is a summarized table comparing stairmaster and treadmill:

Workout TypeSimulates climbing stairsSimulates walking, jogging, or running
Muscles TargetedGlutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calvesLegs, glutes, core (varies with incline)
Impact on JointsLow impactVaries (higher impact when running, low when walking)
Calorie BurnHigh calorie burn due to constant step motionVariable (higher burn with running and incline)
CardiovascularExcellent for cardiovascular enduranceExcellent for cardiovascular endurance
Weight LossEffective for weight lossEffective for weight loss
VersatilityLimited versatility (mainly stair climbing)Highly versatile (walk, jog, run, incline options)
Space RequirementTypically larger and tallerGenerally more compact, requires less vertical space
Ease of UseCan be challenging for beginnersUser-friendly, adjustable to various fitness levels
Noise LevelGenerally quieterCan be noisier, especially when running
CostOften more expensiveWide range of prices, generally more affordable
MaintenanceCan require more maintenanceGenerally easier to maintain

This comparison should help you decide which machine might be better suited for your fitness goals and space constraints.

Key Differences

1. Workout Type

    • StairMaster: This machine simulates the action of climbing stairs. It involves a continuous step motion that engages your legs in a unique way compared to other cardio equipment.
    • Treadmill: A treadmill allows you to walk, jog, or run on a moving belt. You can adjust the speed and incline to vary the intensity and type of workout.

2. Muscles Targeted

    • StairMaster: Primarily targets the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. The stepping motion emphasizes lower body strength and endurance.
    • Treadmill: Engages the legs, glutes, and core muscles. The specific muscles worked can vary depending on the incline and speed settings.

3. Impact on Joints

    • StairMaster: Provides a low-impact workout that is gentle on the joints, making it a suitable option for those with joint concerns.
    • Treadmill: The impact on joints varies; walking has a lower impact, while running can be more strenuous on the knees and ankles.

4. Calorie Burn

    • StairMaster: Generally offers a high calorie burn due to the constant and intense step motion.
    • Treadmill: Calorie burn is variable and depends on the intensity, speed, and incline of the workout. Running and steep inclines can result in high calorie expenditure.

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5. Versatility

    • StairMaster: Primarily used for stair climbing exercises, with limited versatility in workout options.
    • Treadmill: Highly versatile, allowing users to walk, jog, run, and simulate hill climbing with adjustable incline settings.

6. Space Requirement

    • StairMaster: Typically larger and taller, requiring more vertical space.
    • Treadmill: Generally more compact, although it requires a significant amount of floor space.

7. Noise Level

    • StairMaster: Generally quieter due to the smooth stepping motion.
    • Treadmill: Can be noisier, especially when running at high speeds.

8. Cost and Maintenance

    • StairMaster: Often more expensive and may require more maintenance due to its mechanical complexity.
    • Treadmill: Available in a wide range of prices and generally easier to maintain.

Key Similarities

Cardiovascular Benefits: Both the stairmaster and treadmill provide excellent cardiovascular workouts. They help improve heart health, increase stamina, and enhance overall cardiovascular endurance.

Weight Loss: Both machines are effective tools for weight loss. Regular use, combined with a healthy diet, can help users burn calories and shed excess weight.

User-Friendly: Modern stairmasters and treadmills come with user-friendly interfaces and various pre-set workout programs to guide users through their exercise routines.

Indoor Convenience: Both machines offer the convenience of indoor workouts, allowing users to exercise regardless of weather conditions or time of day.

Fitness Level Accommodation: Both the stairmaster and treadmill can accommodate different fitness levels. They allow users to adjust the intensity of their workouts to match their fitness goals and capabilities.

Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: Pros and Cons

The muscles that are primarily used in stair climbing are the glutes, calves, and quadriceps. Because you are only climbing stairs, your posterior chain muscles will gain a lot of strength. 

This makes the stairmaster a particularly effective exercise for your calves and glutes. You can also get a great upper body and core exercise akin to running if you don't hang onto the handrails. However, if you hold onto the handrails the entire time, your upper body won't be used. 

Walking and running engage every muscle in your lower body as well as your core and arms if you don’t hold onto the handrails. Increasing the incline targets the glutes, calves, and hamstrings even more. 

Pros and Cons of Stairmaster Machines

All cardio machines have advantages and disadvantages, but the majority are effective when improving cardiovascular fitness. As for those wishing to compare different pieces of home gym equipment, let's take a closer look at some of the benefits and cons of stairmaster machines. 

If you are unfamiliar, these are the cardio machines that are effectively a never-ending escalator that work your glutes, thighs, and hamstrings like magic. You can find these at most gyms. These machines offer several advantages, such as helping to enhance muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness, low impact on joint health, simple heart rate monitoring, and the ability to be used with interval training. 

Unfortunately, stairmaster machines usually only allow you to work out your lower body, and the incline position can be a hassle for people with back problems. Since there are limitations on the types of exercises you can perform on stairmaster machines, they can end up being more tedious than other cardio equipment.

Pros and Cons of Stairmaster Machines

Pros and Cons of Treadmills

The treadmill is an all-star performer found at any and every gym. It is perfect for individuals who want to add more jogging, interval training, sprinting, or any other type of physical activity. 

Essentially, the beauty of using a treadmill is that it has a lower impact on your back compared to walking or jogging on the uneven or bumpy ground outside. Of course, walking or jogging outside in the fresh air and sunshine is free, but buying a treadmill or joining a gym will cost you money. 

As for people who don't have the time or feel unsafe leaving the house to work out, treadmills can be incredibly convenient. They provide a range of incline options to make your workout more challenging and mimic elevation to raise your heart rate to the ideal level, which you can simply monitor on your screen. 

Treadmills, like the stairmaster, focus more on the lower body than the upper body. The exercises you can perform while on a treadmill are, however, more varied than those on a stairmaster. 

Since using a stairmaster demands more balance, it can be challenging to include upper body exercises without the risk of falling or getting hurt. You can simply incorporate arm exercises during your walk or run thanks to a treadmill's strong design and stability.

Pros and Cons of Treadmills

Best Treadmills

1. WalkingPad Foldable Walking Treadmill C2

If you're looking for a foldable under-desk walkable treadmill to pop out at home or at work, you'll be happy to know that the WalkingPad C2 does the job. Similar to how you would open a book, the treadmill unfolds and (rather unnervingly) clicks into place. This office treadmill under the desk is sleek and fashionable, with a little screen at the front that shows your live metrics. We appreciated the simplicity of the design. 

2. WalkingPad Double-Fold Walk-Run Treadmill X21

The WalkingPad X21 is most suited for people with limited space, who live upstairs, and who live in a house with shared walls, such as an apartment or condo. Additionally, it is appealing if you want a curved treadmill that can be tucked away in a closet or a room corner out of sight.

To allow human-treadmill interaction, it can be connected through NFC on a cell phone. Furthermore, it has a concealed LED display with an integrated panel design, and once the machine is running, the numbers on the screen are clearly visible. 

3. WalkingPad Foldable Walking Treadmill A1 PRO

Using a WalkingPad A1 Pro may be your best option if you often find yourself too tired to exercise after a long workday and have a standing desk that you haven't been using. This will make sure that you get some daily exercise in. 

Even if it takes a while to adjust your workflow to walking while working, you'll get used to it quickly. The treadmill is simple to set up. Before you realize it, most of your workday will be spent on foot. 

The Five Best Stairmasters | Treadmill vs. Stairmaster

You shouldn't be too surprised to find a stairmaster workout for weight loss on this list; after all, these guys invented the class and continue to produce top-notch exercise equipment. 

Furthermore, you have to commend them for the brand name, which says it all. There is no denying the fame of stairmaster and its stair-climbing equipment, but previously, it was exclusively available in commercial gyms. 

These designs simply haven't been a good option for most home gyms because of their size and price. 

1. Stairmaster StepMill 3

Well, the StepMill 3 (SM3) changes all of that. It is a smaller, significantly more affordable model designed specifically for home use. 

The SM3 is among the most compact stair climbers available, taking up just 46′′ L x 29′′ W of floor space.

Stairmaster StepMill 3 - stairmaster vs treadmill

2. Spirit XS895

Spirit is a great company in general because it offers strong products and then backs them up with fantastic warranties (they’re also quite reasonably priced). 

Although you can modify the incline angle on this machine anywhere between 43° and 60° to change the step height between 10′′ and 14′′, the stepping pattern is still mainly vertical. 

You can also exercise using your arms on the XS895, much like an elliptical. With its 23 lb. flywheel, this stepper can provide a smooth yet challenging complete body workout. Moreover, it has 20 different degrees of resistance, giving you complete control over how difficult your fun treadmill workouts are.

Spirit XS895

3. Jacobs Ladder GTL

The Jacobs Ladder brand is most known for its climbing systems, but with the Stairway GTL, it has stepped into the world of traditional stair climbing. Another rotating stair system that simulates climbing a real flight of stairs is this GTL. It is a clear winner in the stairmaster vs. treadmill debate. 

Additionally, the steps and frame of the GTL are both made of heavy-duty, powder-coated steel, allowing it to support users weighing up to 350 lb. The steps on the GTL are 8′′ high and 9′′ deep, closely resembling the stairs you can find in your own home.

In contrast to the original Stairway by Jacobs Ladder, which automatically adjusts your speed based on your position on the stairs and your waist belt, the GTL can be controlled by the console’s up and down buttons.

Jacobs Ladder GTL

4. Bowflex Max Total 16

The Max Total 16 and the H14 are quite similar in many ways, although the Max Total 16 is slightly more expensive and has a significantly shorter warranty. This machine would have ranked much higher on this list if Bowflex had provided a better warranty. 

Nevertheless, depending on your needs, we believe this HIIT trainer still has a lot to offer. 

Performance-wise, the Max Trainer 16 has a dual-rail design for increased stability, huge, multi-grip grips, and 20 magnetic resistance levels.

Bowflex Max Total 16

5. Spirit CS800

Spirit's CS800 is a more traditional stepper; it lacks the movable grips and customizable incline angles of the XS895. However, in order to guarantee smooth stair-climbing operation, the CS800 also makes use of the same 23 lb. flywheel. 

With a maximum step height of 16 inches on this model, you can, if you'd like, mimic ascending stairs two at a time. The 20 levels of resistance included with the CS800 allow users of all fitness levels to be challenged. In fact, every aspect of this stepper is top-notch. 

Given that this machine weighs only about 175 pounds, 450 lbs weight capacity of the powder-coated steel frame is all the more remarkable.

Spirit CS800


Is a StairMaster better than a treadmill?

The answer to this question depends on your fitness goals. The StairMaster is excellent for building lower body strength and endurance with a low-impact workout that’s gentle on the joints. It specifically targets the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. On the other hand, a treadmill offers versatility with options to walk, jog, or run and allows for adjustable inclines to simulate hill climbing. It's great for overall cardiovascular fitness and can be tailored to suit a wide range of fitness levels.

StairMaster or treadmill for belly fat?

Both the StairMaster and treadmill can be effective tools for reducing belly fat as part of a comprehensive weight loss program that includes a healthy diet and overall body exercise. Cardiovascular exercises, in general, help burn calories, and reducing belly fat involves losing overall body fat. Consistency and intensity are key, regardless of which machine you use.

What burns more calories: treadmill or StairMaster?

Calorie burn can vary based on the intensity and duration of the workout. Generally, the StairMaster tends to burn more calories due to the continuous and intense stepping motion that keeps your heart rate elevated. However, running on a treadmill at high speeds or with a significant incline can also result in a high calorie burn. Personal preference and the ability to maintain intensity play significant roles in determining which machine will burn more calories for you.

StairMaster vs. incline treadmill for glutes?

Both the StairMaster and an incline treadmill can effectively target the glutes. The StairMaster's climbing motion provides a continuous workout for the glutes, making it highly effective for building and toning these muscles. An incline treadmill also targets the glutes, especially when walking or running at a steep incline. The choice depends on which motion you find more comfortable and sustainable over long workouts.

StairMaster or treadmill for abs?

Both machines can indirectly work the abs by engaging the core for stability and balance during the workout. The StairMaster requires significant core engagement to maintain posture and balance while stepping. Running or walking on a treadmill, especially with an incline, also engages the core to stabilize the body. For targeted abdominal exercises, complementing your cardio workouts with specific ab routines will be more effective.

Stairmaster vs. Treadmill - What Is Best for Fat Loss?

The treadmill can be your best option if you are comparing indoor fitness equipment to see what will work best for fat loss. Even though both can help in fat loss by raising your heart rate and burning calories, the treadmill is more adaptable and allows for more intensive exercise as well as the possibility for variations, including weights. 

Although it burns a lot of calories, the stairmaster is only available in a few variations and challenge levels, which puts it in second position. 

The treadmill is a better option for overall fat loss whether you want to lose weight in your thighs, midsection, or anywhere else. 

Unfortunately, as shown by research, we are unable to specifically target problem areas for fat reduction, such as stubborn belly fat, but we can notice an improvement in most places by increasing our general fat burn. 

The best technique to lose stubborn belly fat on the treadmill or stairmaster is to focus on the underlying muscle. You can perform exercises that target this area on either the stairmaster or treadmill.

Stairmaster vs. Treadmill - What Is Best for Fat Loss?

Treadmill vs. Stairmaster - Which One Should You Choose?

As you can see, there isn't a clear winner between the stairmaster and the treadmill; it really depends on your training objectives and the circumstances. 

The stairmaster is better for bodybuilders and some athletes, whilst the treadmill is better for fat loss and general interval training techniques. 

We suggest that you test both types of equipment at your desired intensity to decide whether the stairmaster or treadmill is more comfortable for you. This is because, just as with any other form of exercise, it is best to adjust the intensity of your workout to your current training level.

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