Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Is A Step Machine Better for Cardio?

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We all know that regular cardio is an essential part of any fitness regime. This is why the Stairmaster and the Treadmill are two of the most popular machines at the gym.

They both provide an excellent cardio workout.

But which is better?

When it comes to cardio, does the Stairmaster or the Treadmill reign supreme?

The truth is, running is unbeatable for a cardio workout. If you set the speed and incline at a high intensity, you’ll get a better workout on the treadmill than on the Stairmaster. While running will achieve better results than the Stairmaster, walking will not give you as intense a workout as climbing stairs would.

But it’s more complicated than that.

Comparing the Stairmaster vs Treadmill may appear simple, but each machine can be used in surprisingly flexible ways. Even if you reduce the comparison to a purely fitness objective, such as weight loss, there are plenty of arguments in favor either way.

Let’s take a closer look!


Does A Treadmill Provide a Better Cardiovascular Workout Than A Stairmaster?

Stairmaster vs Treadmill

Yep, it’s one of the questions we see a lot: “Is the Treadmill better than the Stairmaster for cardio?

While both machines are a great form of cardio exercise, the Treadmill can be used to train at a higher intensity than is possible using a Stairmaster.

An intense Treadmill workout – where you run at a fast pace – can burn as many as 700 calories in a typical session. A Stairmaster workout of the equivalent intensity will only burn around 400 calories.

It’s true what they say: … running is king for burning calories.

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12/04/2022 07:27 pm GMT
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12/04/2022 07:37 pm GMT

What Is The Stairmaster Good For?

If the simple answer is that the Treadmill is a better cardio workout than the Stairmaster, why isn’t everybody using it?

What does the Stairmaster do?

The Stairmaster provides a cardio workout in tandem with strength exercise for the legs, whereas treadmill running is purely cardio.

While the Stairmaster might not be as effective for calorie burning, it does have some advantages.

The main one being that it’s a low-impact workout. This is great news for people with joint problems or injuries, as there is no pounding on the joints like there is with running.

In fact, many dedicated runners use the Stairmaster on their ‘rest’ days to get a good workout without punishing their ankles and knees. You can use the machine to beat “More cardio!” in to those tired legs, without risking an overuse injury to the critical joints.

Another advantage of the Stairmaster is that it’s a weight-bearing exercise. This means that it helps to strengthen bones as well as muscles. Just 30 minutes on a Stairmaster can help to increase bone density.

When combined with a healthy diet, Stairmaster workouts are considered by many to be a more convenient and longer-term alternative for reducing weight than the treadmill.

Mainly because you are more likely to stick with a lower intensity cardio workout!

See more: What muscles does the Stairmaster work? [In Detail]

Cardio Stair Stepper Alternatives

So, while the Treadmill provides a more intense cardio workout, the Stairmaster has its own unique benefits which make it a great choice for achieving long-term fitness goals.

The downside is that you’re probably going to have to keep the gym membership if you want to use a Stairmaster regularly. The machines are expensive to buy… and yes, vastly more expensive than a treadmill.

One increasingly popular alternative is to invest in a cardio stair stepper that can be used with resistance bands. Like this setup below:

Cardio stair stepper
What is this mini stair machine good for? Convenience!

Now, granted, you’re not going to reap the same benefits as you would from an hour on your gym’s super expensive Stairmaster machine… but it’s still a surprisingly effective workout. And it packs away nicely to be used at home while you watch television, read a book, or wave to the confused neighbors!

And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a Stairmaster, too.

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12/04/2022 08:04 am GMT

Pros and Cons of Running on the Treadmill Compared to Climbing a Stairmaster

Treadmill or Stairmaster

You Need to Exercise Longer on a Stairmaster to Get the Same Workout Benefits

The treadmill provides you a more intense workout in the same amount of time, depending on how hard you push yourself and what your goals are. 

What Burns More Calories – Treadmill or Stairmaster?

If you are focused on burning fat, the treadmill targets calorie-burning better than the Stairmaster.

An average treadmill workout can burn up to 700 calories if you run at a high intensity. A similar intensity Stairmaster workout will burn closer to 400 calories. 

However, if you run or walk at a lower intensity, the Stairmaster is an excellent alternative since it combines cardio and resistance training. This allows you to increase lower-body strength and endurance while still getting in some cardio.

While it’s true that you may need to exercise longer on a Stairmaster to get the same calorie burning benefits, you’ll be much more likely to use it often given it can be used at a lower intensity of training.

The Stairmaster Targets Muscle Groups More Effectively Than the Treadmill

While running on the treadmill primarily targets the quadriceps and the hamstrings, you need to increase the gradient to strengthen the muscle groups in your lower extremity

Climbing stairs places a more significant load on your lower body, making it far more effective at strengthening the muscle groups. 

You activate your glutes and hamstrings when you push through your heel and move your foot onto the next stair. Strong buttock and thigh muscles boost athletic performance, making it easier to run, leap, and squat. To ramp up the intensity, try skipping a stair.

Climbing the Stairmaster puts the quadriceps, or the front, top section of your legs, to the test.

Skipping a stair raises the stakes for the quads. Walking, running, and squatting are all powered by the quads.

The Stairmaster also targets the calves located on the bottom, rear area of your legs. Shift your weight onto the balls of your feet to stress your calves throughout a portion of your workout.

The Treadmill is a More Beginner Friendly Workout Than the Stairmaster 

While both the Stairmaster and the treadmills are suitable for beginners, walking on a treadmill requires less expertise than the weight shift of the Stairmaster.

Furthermore, a low to moderate intensity treadmill workout is less impactful on the joints in the lower extremity than a Stairmaster workout.

Beginners are more likely to injure their back when starting out on the Stairmaster.

This is because individuals have a propensity to slump while using a stair stepper. They become so exhausted that they slouch as they try to complete their plan. This is generally a good sign that the workout should have ended 10 minutes ago!

Inexperience in foot placement on the Stairmaster can lead to tight muscles and injuries.

Staying on your toes keeps your calf muscles working the entire time, changing the mechanics of your movement. If you do a lot of stair climbing on your toes, you may develop some quite tight calf muscles. This movement pattern can also lead to plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis. 

The solution is to place more of your foot on the step and drive through the heel.

Pushing through the midfoot and heel will aid more effectively in engaging the glute muscles. The glutes were created to do heavy activities, such as ascending stairs, moving forward when walking, or simply getting up from a chair.

The hip abductors are a frequently overlooked area of focus in exercise, even though they play such an important role in pelvic stability, affecting mechanics at the knee.

Beginners with weakness in the hip are susceptible to altered movement patterns and additional strain on the knee and ankle farther down the leg. 

See more: running on a treadmill vs running outside – which is better?

Stairmaster vs Treadmill For Targeting Muscle Mass?

When you climb a Stairmaster, you improve muscle strength and lean mass. When you jog on a treadmill, you improve muscle endurance.

So, which is better for targeting muscle mass?

The answer will depend on your goals.

  • If you want to build muscle strength and size, then climbing a Stairmaster is a better option. This is because the Stairmaster works your muscles harder than a treadmill does. When your muscles work hard, they grow larger in order to meet the demands placed on them.
  • If your goal is to improve muscle endurance (the ability of your muscles to keep working over an extended period of time), then jogging on a treadmill is a better option.

Of course, we can always choose the middle ground!

If you want to target muscle mass, the best option may be to alternate between the two types of machines. This way, you can work on both muscle strength and endurance, and get the most benefit from both worlds.

Is a Treadmill or a Stairmaster More Likely to Cause Injury?

There is some debate around which exercise machine is less likely to cause injury.

While the repetitive impact of intensive running on the treadmill can cause shin splints, those with balance problems and joint pain will most likely prefer a less intense treadmill workout over the Stairmaster.

This is because the climbing motion of a stair stepper may place excessive load on the front of the knee, which can worsen any joint conditions.

Another factor is you are far more likely to injure yourself on a Stairmaster since you are moving vertically rather than horizontally – you will have to resist gravity more, which makes hurting yourself more likely. 

Regardless of which exercise machine you prefer, it’s best to slowly build up your fitness level to avoid overexerting yourself.

If your aim is to improve your running pace, begin with walk/run interval training or walking at a steep incline. 

Treadmill Workouts vs Stairmaster Workouts

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12/04/2022 07:57 am GMT

Types of Treadmill Workouts

  • 30 Second Interval Sprints. This exercise is guaranteed to leave you drenched in sweat. 
    • Adjust the treadmill at a 1% gradient. Begin at a leisurely pace for one minute, then ease into a light jog for 5 minutes. This enhances your circulation and prepares your muscles for a workout.
    • Increase the pace to an intense effort for 30 seconds. Recover with 90 seconds of light jogging.
    • Repeat these intervals nine more times.
    • Finish with a 4-minute cool-down with an easy jog or brisk walk.
  • Side Stepping Workout. This workout adds side shuffles to your run or walk, targeting your glutes and quads. 
    • Adjust the treadmill at a 1% gradient. Begin with a slow walk for one minute, then continue warming up with an easy jog for 4 minutes.
    • Slow back down to walking, then hold onto the side rail, turn your body sideways, drop into a low squat position, and then begin side-shuffling your feet. Continue side stepping for 30 seconds and then return to walking forward.
    • Pick up the pace to a light running pace for 2 minutes. Then slow the pace back down to walking for a 30-second interval of side shuffles on the other side.
    • Continue with interval side shuffles, alternating between sides, for 20 minutes.
    • Finish with a 5-minute cool-down at a light pace.
  • Alternating Incline Workout. This exercise is ideal if you wish to target your glutes.
    • Begin with a light jog or brisk walk to warm up for 5-minutes at a 1% gradient.
    • Increase the gradient to 2% and walk for 1 minute.
    • Decrease gradient to 1% and jog at a leisurely pace for 1 minute.
    • Repeat step 2 by Increasing the gradient by 1% each time, walking for one minute longer than the previous interval.
    • Repeat step 3 between each interval.
    • End with a 5-minute cool-down of easy jogging or brisk walking.

Types of Stairmaster Workouts

stairmaster benefits
  • Alternating Step Workout. Skipping every other step will strengthen your hamstrings and give you greater aerobic exercise. If you’re having problems skipping stairs at first, start slowly. This motion will also work on your glutes and upper thighs. Many individuals rely on handrails to support their bodies as they jump over unusual stairs, so be sure you can do it without them.
  • Sidestep Workout. Turn to the side to help your knee and lower back stabilizers by lifting your glutes from the side. Turn to the right and cross your right foot over your left to proceed. Repeat this action with the left behind the right, and so on. As you get the hang of this motion, use the handrail for balance, and remember not to go too fast until you’re ready.
  • Backward Climb. Because the movement isn’t prevalent in everyday life, you’ll probably need to practice a little. The main benefit of this exercise is that it will help you balance out your leg day routine. Walking backward activates the hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps more. Simply turn around and go up the steps with your heels leading rather than your toes.
  • Alternating Kickbacks. You may start with a single step-up, but it works much better when you skip steps. Take the step-up normally, then raise your back foot behind you until it’s nearly parallel with the floor. Take it slowly with this one to allow for the backlash. If you need more force and balance, lean your body forward slightly.
  • The Ultimate Abs and Glute Stairmaster Workout. You should aim to dedicate about thirty minutes to the Stairmaster. For high-intensity interval training, reduce the number of repetitions and increase the number of sets.
    • 25 x Single Step-Up
    • 10 x Sidesteps (right side)
    • 25 x Skip A Step
    • 10 x Side-Steps (left side)
    • 25 x Single Step-Up
    • 10 x Alternating Kickback
    • 25 x Backward Climb

Although the repetitions seem excessive, the continuous motion of the Stairmaster will help you reach a point where you can complete this routine in half an hour.

Our Verdict on Stairmaster vs Treadmill

A moderate to intense treadmill workout is a more effective and time-efficient way to burn fat and improve cardiovascular health than a Stairmaster workout. 

However, the treadmill’s superiority over the Stairmaster is dependent on the intensity of your workout. Walking is a far less effective exercise when compared to climbing stairs.

If you are in good health and want to improve your fitness while shedding some weight, you should combine both stair-stepper and treadmill training into your workout program. 

Cross-training on several kinds of cardio equipment decreases the likelihood of overuse injuries and boredom. It also keeps your body engaged, preventing you from reaching an exercise plateau.

12/04/2022 07:37 pm GMT
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Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

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