StairMaster vs Treadmill: Which Is Better?

by Сашка

Whether you love it or hate it, cardio is an important part of keeping fit and healthy. Step into any gym and you’ll see a multitude of cardio machines, from exercise bikes and rowers to cross trainers and ski ergs. This is great for helping people to find a type of cardio they enjoy, but if you’re not sure where to start, it can be overwhelming.

In this blog, we compare the StairMaster vs treadmill and share a workout format you can do on both.  

Treadmill vs StairMaster: Similarities

While using the StairMaster or treadmill can feel very different, there are some key similarities between the two machines:



  • Improves cardio health. One of the biggest benefits of both machines is that they provide an aerobic workout which can improve cardio health and reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes.

  • Burns calories. Both the treadmill and StairMaster can be a great way to burn calories, ideal for anyone who is looking to manage or lose weight.

  • Increases endurance. Both workouts can increase endurance and overall fitness, making day to day activities and sports activities feel less challenging.

  • Suitable for all levels. Treadmills and StairMasters have the ability to increase and decrease intensity, meaning everyone from beginners to athletes can use and benefit from these machines.

StairMaster vs Treadmill: How Are They Different?

While there are similarities between the two machines, there are plenty of differences too:



  • Movement. The StairMaster mimics the action of climbing stairs, while the treadmill mimics walking or running on a flat surface.

  • Muscles used. Both the treadmill and StairMaster engage multiple lower body muscles, but the StairMaster provides more resistance to the glutes, hamstrings, and quads while the treadmill engages the upper body more.

  • Intensity. Both cardio machines can have the intensity adjusted but the StairMaster is more challenging as it combines cardio and resistance training.

  • Impact. The StairMaster typically places less impact on the lower body joints when compared to running on the treadmill.

StairMaster: Pros & Cons

One of the biggest benefits of using the StairMaster is the boost it gives to your cardiovascular system, but there are plenty of other benefits too:



  • Burns a lot of calories. Climbing the StairMaster involves pushing your body against gravity with each step, which uses up a lot of energy and forces the heart to work harder to increase oxygen flow to the leg muscles. All of this equates to a high calorie burn, making the StairMaster a great choice if you are looking to increase your total daily energy expenditure to help with weight loss.

  • Strengthens the legs and glutes. Using the StairMaster puts the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves under a lot of resistance that can help to build lower body strength and power. While it’s unlikely to build as much strength as dedicated strength training, it’s a good way to get an added boost of strength while training the cardio system.

  • Improves bone density. Climbing the stairs is a weight bearing exercise which places stress on the bones. Contrary to what it sounds like, this is beneficial as it stimulates new bone growth to increase bone density.

  • Works the core. Using the StairMaster without holding onto the handles challenges the core and can improve balance and stability.

  • Low impact. Stair climbing is fairly low impact, making it a joint friendly exercise. It can actually help to improve joint health by strengthening the muscles supporting them, too!

While there are many benefits to using the StairMaster, there are a few considerations too:



  • Limited upper body engagement. While the StairMaster is great for lower body engagement, it doesn’t really work the upper body muscles.

  • Challenging. The StairMaster is physically very challenging, and people often find they are unable to workout on this machine for as long as others. This can be built up, but it is often slower to increase endurance on a StairMaster.

  • No variety. Using the StairMaster can be quite monotonous and many people find it boring to use for long periods of time. Unlike treadmills where the speed and incline can be adjusted to alter the feel of workouts, the StairMaster feels repetitive even when speed is adjusted.

  • Range of motion. Compared to running, the range of motion used in the StairMaster is quite short.

Read also:
Yoga & Stretching for Cyclists | Benefits & Best Poses

Treadmill: Pros & Cons

Like the StairMaster, the treadmill has multiple benefits in addition to improving cardio health:



  • Varied workouts. Both the speed and incline can be adjusted on the treadmill which means workouts can be varied depending on your mood, energy levels, or preference. From incline walking to sprint intervals, there’s many ways to use a treadmill.

  • Can burn a lot of calories. Running on a treadmill engages multiple muscle groups through the body while raising the heart rate, making it a good way to burn calories.

  • Easy to use. Treadmills are easy to use and are suitable for all fitness levels. Unlike the StairMaster which can require concentration for some people to use, walking on the treadmill is an easy task that can be done without much thought.

  • Weight bearing. Like the StairMaster, walking and running on a treadmill is weight bearing which makes it beneficial for bone health.



  • High impact. Running on the treadmill, while lower impact than running outside on concrete, is a high impact activity and may not be suitable for those with knee, ankle, or hip injuries.

  • Can be a low calorie burner. While running, HIIT, and incline walking on a treadmill can put away plenty of calories, simply walking on the treadmill burns a lot less calories than walking on the StairMaster.

  • Doesn’t build significant strength. The treadmill is great for engaging multiple muscles throughout the body but will not build significant strength, especially compared to a StairMaster.

Which Is Best For Weight Loss: StairMaster Or Treadmill?

If weight loss is one of your top motivations for working out, the StairMaster is likely a better choice as it naturally burns more calories than walking and running. It is possible to burn more calories on the treadmill, especially if you compared the StairMaster vs incline treadmill running, but it will be more difficult to match or beat the calories burnt due to the intensity of a StairMaster workout.

Remember, a calorie deficit is the key to losing weight and this is best done through your diet rather than exercise alone. Choosing a workout you will stay consistent with is the best way to boost your calorie burn, so if you hate stair climbing but enjoy the treadmill then that will be a better option.

Is StairMaster Better Than Treadmill For Building Strength?

While the treadmill engages more muscles throughout the body, the StairMaster is more effective at building lower body strength as gravity provides greater resistance when using this machine.

While this is a nice bonus, we’d recommend strength training for building strength, rather than relying on the StairMaster alone. This leg workout routine for beginners is a great place to start.

Should You Choose The Treadmill Or StairMaster For Overall Fitness

Both the treadmill and StairMaster are great options if you want to improve your overall health and fitness. If this is your goal, choose the one you prefer or combine both in your workouts.

StairMaster And Treadmill Workout To Try

Here’s a HIIT workout you can try on both the StairMaster and treadmill. If doing this on the treadmill, set your incline to 4%.



  • Warm up

    3-5 minutes at moderate intensity (5-6/10 effort) on your chosen machine

  • 30 seconds high intensity (8-9/10 effort)

    • Choose a speed you can only just keep up for 30-35 seconds

    30 seconds low intensity (3-4/10 effort)

    • Drop the speed and use this time to recover

    Repeat this 10 times

  • Cool down

    3-5 minutes, starting at moderate intensity and gradually reducing until your heart rate is back to normal

    30 seconds per stretch each side: wall calf stretch, standing quad stretch, lying hamstring stretch, pigeon pose

Ready to give both cardio machines a go? Find your nearest gym here to start. You can find more cardio workout plans here, or check out our workout hub for more exercise routines to follow.

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