StairMaster vs Elliptical – Which Should You Choose?

Although you might think using a StairMaster and working out on an elliptical are two similar exercises, they’re actually quite different. Each of these machines will help you get into shape, but how does each instrument impact your heart rate, burn calories, and tone your muscles?

Let’s take a closer look at how the StairMaster vs elliptical compare with one another in terms of functionality and health benefits.

What Is a StairMaster?

A StairMaster is a machine that simulates walking up and down stairs. It can be used in place of or alongside an elliptical, treadmill, or other cardio equipment.

The most common type of StairMaster has a moving platform that you stand on and manually control with your feet. There are also models that have a motorized treadmill underneath the platform that adjusts to your movement automatically.

These machines have been around since the ’70s and were initially designed to help people who had trouble with their knees while walking upstairs at home or work. They were also used by physical therapists to help patients get stronger after injury or surgery to their legs and ankles.

The way these machines work depends on which type you own and how it was designed by its manufacturer. For example, some models allow you to manually adjust the speed of the machine so that it feels more like real stairs than just standing still on an elevator floor level between floors all day long (like what would happen if you just left off work early today).

Other models have different settings such as incline levels in addition to speed settings so that you can simulate climbing stairs at different angles instead of just going straight up one side then back down again.

What Is StairMaster Good For? 

What are the different StairMaster benefits?

StairMasters give you a full-body workout, and they’re particularly effective at strengthening your leg muscles. They require the use of both legs and arms, so you get more from just one exercise session than you would with an elliptical machine or any other type of cardio equipment.

You can also adjust the intensity level on most StairMasters as needed, making them suitable for all fitness levels.

You might also wonder what does the StairMaster target when you work out, or what muscles does StairMaster work on. The StairMaster targets these major muscle groups when you work out: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps (front of thigh), and calves.

Because there are two different movements involved in each repetition on the StairMaster, both hip flexion (bending) and knee extension (straightening), you engage both muscle groups at once when you’re using the machine.

woman using a stepmill machine

This allows for greater muscle development overall compared with an elliptical machine because it works out both the front and back sides of your thighs simultaneously rather than alternating between them as with most other lower-body exercises.

One of the most popular questions around this machine would be: does the StairMaster burn belly fat? Well, the StairMaster is a good way to burn belly fat. It’s not a miracle machine that will melt away fat in one session, but it can help you achieve your goals if you use it regularly.

StairMasters are excellent for burning calories because they work every muscle in your body. The more muscles you use, the more calories you burn. You’ll also burn more calories than on an elliptical or other aerobic exercise machines because StairMasters require so much balance and stability—your body gets a full-body workout.

I would still recommend, though, that the best way to lose weight is by combining cardiovascular exercise with strength training at least three times per week.

What Is an Elliptical Machine?

An elliptical machine is a cross-trainer that is used to exercise your legs, arms, and core. It’s like a stationary bicycle, except it has moving pedals instead of wheels.

You stand on the pedals and move your feet in circles to simulate running or cycling. But because you’re standing still, there’s no impact on your joints like there would be if you were actually running or cycling, which is why it’s called an “elliptical”.

The resistance you feel from the pedals as they move up and down is what makes it challenging. The more resistance you set on the machine, the harder it will be for your muscles to move those pedals around—and that means more calories burned.

To use an elliptical machine, step onto its pedals and start moving them by pushing off with your back foot. Move both feet forward together until they meet at the center of the pedal arc; then push off again as if you were running while keeping both feet forward at all times. This is called “single leg” mode.

You can also do “double leg” mode where each foot moves independently of one another—this will give you an extra challenge and burn even more calories.

If you think an elliptical, given its pedals, is something similar to a bike, and wondering what burns more calories (elliptical or bike?), I have a separate post on that in this site, which you might want to check out in case you’re also into cycling.

What Is Elliptical Machine Good For?

The elliptical machine is a great cardio workout that works your lower body, upper body, and core. It’s also a convenient piece of equipment that you can use at home or at the gym.

The elliptical machine is great for people who want to burn calories and improve their cardiovascular health. It’s low impact, so it won’t put too much stress on your joints like running or jumping rope can. That makes it a good option if you’re not ready to take on high-impact training yet.

You’ll also get an effective upper body workout on the elliptical machine since it works your arms and chest muscles by pushing off of its handles with every stride.

The key here is to focus on form: keep your back straight, chest lifted up high, shoulders relaxed down away from your ears, arms bent at 90 degrees with elbows tucked in close to your body as if you were holding onto a handlebar on a bicycle or motorcycle (but without actually holding onto anything).

close up of a woman's legs working out on  an elliptical machine

This will help prevent injury while maximizing muscle activation throughout the upper body region.

Comparison Between StairMaster and Elliptical

Is the elliptical a StairMaster alternative?

What burns more calories, StairMaster or elliptical?

While 10 minutes on StairMaster calories might not be equivalent to 10 minutes on an elliptical, let’s examine the main differences between the two:

StairMaster Elliptical 
Calories BurnedAverage of 300 to 400 calories per hourAverage of 300 to 400 calories per hour
For CardioTypically used for high-intensity interval training (HIIT)Typically used for low-impact cardio workouts
Muscles WorkedWorks out your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and absWorks out your different muscle groups without too much stress on the joints
Workout TrackingUses an incline and decline system to track how many calories you burn during your workoutUses an accelerometer to track your time and distance
IntensityProvides more resistance than ellipticals, which means they’re better at building strength and muscle toneLow-impact that still provides an intense workout
Ease of useStepping up and down on stairsMoving step in front of the user that allows them to simulate walking or running
CostCosts about $300-500Costs anywhere from $500-$1,000

Calories Burned

Which one has an edge when it comes to calories burned? To find out, I took a look at the calorie-burning capabilities of each machine and consulted with fitness experts for their recommendations. Here’s what I found out:

  • Both machines can burn off about an average of 300 calories per hour. That’s about the same number as running on a treadmill for an hour.
  • The StairMaster burns more calories than the elliptical, but it also takes more effort—you have to work harder to get there. The elliptical is easier on your joints and doesn’t require as much upper body strength as the StairMaster does, so it’s a better option if you’re looking for something low impact that won’t hurt your joints or cause muscle fatigue after extended use (which may be why it burns fewer calories).

For Cardio

Another key to understanding the differences between StairMasters and ellipticals is in understanding what each machine is designed to do.

StairMasters are typically used for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves short bursts of intense activity followed by rest periods. This type of exercise is great for burning fat, increasing endurance, and improving cardiovascular health.

Ellipticals are used for low-impact cardio workouts that involve long periods of continuous movement—usually at a moderate intensity level. They can be used by anyone from beginners to athletes who want to improve their overall fitness with relatively low stress on their joints and body.

Muscles Worked

The StairMaster is a great option if you’re looking to get in shape and lose weight. It works out your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and abs—all while you’re moving up and down the steps. This machine allows you to work at an intensity level that’s right for your fitness level.

The downside is that it’s hard on your joints; if you have bad knees or ankles, this might not be the best choice for you. Another downside is that it can get boring after a while since there aren’t many options other than going up or down the steps.

The elliptical is another good option if you’re looking to get fit without putting too much stress on your joints—it has handles that allow for more variety in your workout routine by changing the angle of resistance between each foot placement so that each muscle group gets worked out differently throughout each workout session.

Workout Tracking

Both machines track your work out, but in different ways. The StairMaster uses an incline and decline system to track how many calories you burn during your workout, while the elliptical uses an accelerometer to track your time and distance.

The StairMaster will have a higher calorie count because it’s more intense than the elliptical, but if you’re looking for something low-impact and easy on your joints, then the elliptical might be a better choice for you.


StairMasters typically require more effort than ellipticals, which makes them great for people who want to work up a sweat while they exercise. StairMasters also provide more resistance than ellipticals, which means they’re better at building strength and muscle tone throughout your body.

If you’re looking for something low-impact that still provides an intense workout, then an elliptical might be better suited for you.

feet on an elliptical machine

Many ellipticals have built-in programs that automatically adjust the speed and resistance of your movement so that all types of users can find something challenging without having to manually adjust their machine every time they use it.

Ease of use

When it comes to working out, you want something that’s going to be easy on your body and give you the best results. Both StairMasters and ellipticals are great for that, but they have some key differences when it comes to ease of use.

With a StairMaster, you’re stepping up and down on stairs. This will help you burn more calories than just walking or jogging on an elliptical machine. The downside is that StairMasters are generally harder to use than ellipticals, so they’re not always good for those who are just starting out with their fitness routine.

The elliptical machine is designed with a moving step in front of the user that allows them to simulate walking or running without having to move their legs. This makes it easier for beginners because there’s less impact on the joints than with a StairMaster or treadmill.

However, ellipticals don’t provide as much calorie burn as StairMasters do—and they can be hard on your knees if done incorrectly.


The difference between StairMaster and the elliptical when it comes to price or cost is that the elliptical is more expensive than the StairMaster. The StairMaster costs about $300-500, whereas an elliptical can cost anywhere from $500-$1,000.

The reason for this is because of the motor in the machine. The elliptical uses a motor to power its motion, which costs more money than if it were not powered by a motor. An elliptical will last longer than a StairMaster as well because it has fewer moving parts and uses less electricity.

The elliptical also has many more features than a StairMaster, such as different programs and speeds to choose from, as well as heart rate monitors that measure how hard your heart is working during your workout session.

Step-by-step: Answering Your Frequently Asked Questions

Is StairMaster Better Than Elliptical?

It really depends on a lot of factors which include your own personal fitness goals. Using a StairMaster or elliptical machine can help you reach your fitness goals and keep your body healthy. Both machines offer a variety of benefits and can help you burn calories, strengthen muscles, and improve overall health.

StairMaster: This machine uses your body weight to simulate climbing stairs. The more weight you put on the machine, the harder it will work your muscles and lungs. The machine also measures how many calories you burn during each session so that you can track your progress over time.

Elliptical: An elliptical is similar to a stair climber because it uses your body weight as resistance while moving back and forth in a motion similar to walking or running (but without any impact). This type of machine also allows users to adjust their stride length and resistance level based on their fitness level and goals.

Is a Stair Climber Better Than an Elliptical?

A stair climber is one of the most effective cardio machines around. Because it’s so similar to climbing stairs, it challenges your heart, lungs, and muscle strength in ways that other cardio machines just can’t.

woman training legs on a stair climber machine at the gym

Plus, because you’re working your lower body in addition to your upper body (and potentially even your abs), stair climbing is a great way to get toned and lose weight.

But what about an elliptical? Well, an elliptical is also great for building strength and burning calories. And while it doesn’t challenge your muscles quite as much as a stair climber does (since it relies on gravity instead of your own body weight), it’s still a great way to work out all over—including your core.

So at the end of the day: which machine do I recommend? I would say that both machines are great choices. You can always try them both out at the gym, and see which one works better for you.

What’s Better for Weight Loss Elliptical or StairMaster?

The elliptical and StairMaster are both great cardio machines, but they are quite different. The elliptical is a machine that moves in a circular motion, while the StairMaster is a stair climbing machine. The elliptical will improve your cardiovascular fitness, while the StairMaster targets more muscle groups.

The elliptical burns more calories than the StairMaster because it works more muscle groups for longer periods of time. However, if you want to build muscle mass and tone up your legs, then the StairMaster is a better choice because it provides resistance from your body weight and from the machine itself as you’re climbing stairs.

In terms of weight loss, both machines can help you reach your goals by improving your cardiovascular fitness level so that you can burn more calories throughout the day—even when not working out on either machine.

Is the Elliptical Similar to StairMaster?

Yes. The elliptical and StairMaster are both low-impact cardio machines that allow you to burn calories, improve your cardiovascular fitness, and strengthen your lower body. Both machines work the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and abdominals.

The main difference is that the elliptical machine uses your arms to move the pedals and a StairMaster uses your legs to push up and down on a platform. In terms of space, they also come in compact elliptical or space-saving versions you can compare, like the mini stepper vs mini elliptical.


Both stair machines and elliptical cross trainers are excellent fitness tools that can aid you in your weight-loss efforts. If you’re looking to trim down your waistline and need some equipment to help you out, then you’re in luck as both machines are excellent for burning calories and increasing your overall physical fitness.

We shouldn’t look at these machines as direct opposites or competitors. They each have their own pros and cons, so try them both out and see which one works best for you. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

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