In today's article, we're going to be helping you decide between two legendary workout machines: ellipticals and stair steppers.

You might recognize both of them from your time in the gym and may have used them at one time or another. Don't worry if you're not familiar with either machine; we'll cover the pros and cons of each and compare how they perform in various fitness categories.

Whether you're looking to increase your cardiovascular performance, enhance your strength and endurance, or lose some weight and cut calories, then either machine is a great option. However, each one has specific benefits and drawbacks.

Before you hop on one or the other, keep reading to understand which machine is best for you.

Elliptical Pros

  • Full-body workout hits more muscle groups
  • The low-impact workout is better for injuries or sensitive joints
  • Programmable settings can help you reach your goals
  • Burns more calories

Elliptical Cons

  • Not suitable for small spaces
  • Easy to fall into a low resistance rhythm

Stepper Pros

  • Works your lower body harder
  • Better for trimming fat and building muscle in your legs
  • Intense cardio workout
  • Jacob's Ladders give an intense full-body workout

Stepper Cons

  • More expensive than ellipticals
  • Workout is based on the effort put into each step
  • Higher impact on knees and joints
  • Very large machines
Elliptical Vs Stepper

Stair Steppers Vs Ellipticals: Key Differences

Without further ado, here is how stair steppers and elliptical machines stack up in key categories of fitness. Consider which matters the most to you to ensure you make a well-informed decision.

Calories Burned

Burning calories is probably the main goal you might have when you're using either exercise machine. While both burn calories at a higher pace than other machines, there is a clear winner in this category.

Stair steppers engage your lower body at the expense of your upper body. The resistance is entirely based on how hard you go, so the exact amount of calories burnt will vary depending on the user.

However, you can be sure that ellipticals burn more calories than stair steppers. Ellipticals engage all the same muscles as steppers, but the handles also work the arms and shoulders. With more of your body engaged in the activity, you're inevitably burning more calories.

Also, the heavier you are, the more calories you burn on either machine. Stair steppers are more complicated for overweight people to master, while ellipticals are easier. In this way, a heavier person can potentially burn far more calories using an elliptical over a stepper.

Winner - Ellipticals engage more muscles, leading you to burn more calories. 

Weight Loss

Weight loss comes down to more than just burning more calories than you eat. When you maintain a healthy diet, a regular sleep schedule, and drink enough water, you're sure to see results.

For ellipticals and stair steppers, the amount of weight you can lose will depend on the calories you burn and which muscle groups you engage. While ellipticals burn more calories in general and engage the upper body in the workout, stair steppers target lower body muscles to a greater extent.

If you want to lose weight specifically from your butt, calves, or thighs, then the stair stepper might be the better option. Still, if you want to lose weight from your whole body, then an elliptical could be the right choice for you.

However, Jacob's Ladder stair steppers, which engage your upper body along with your lower body, intensify the overall workout and muscle groups engaged. These types of machines are better for weight loss than either type of machine.

Winner - Ellipticals have a greater potential for general weight loss, while stair steppers are better for targeting fat on your lower body. However, Jacob's Ladder machines can intensify the workout, making them better than typical steppers or ellipticals.

Cardio Training

There's no doubt that both ellipticals and stair steppers are fantastic machines for cardiovascular training. They're both well known for getting your heart rate pumping by the end of the workout, and for good reason.

Ellipticals give you a low-impact workout that will gradually increase your heart rate throughout the course of the workout. Despite this, many users cannot reach their ideal heart rate because they aren't putting enough effort into the exercise.

Stair steppers, on the other hand, force your heart rate up much faster. You get a higher-impact workout than ellipticals, upping the exertion level to make it so that your heart needs to keep up with the pace.

However, it's important to keep in mind that stair steppers don't have heart rate monitors incorporated into the design, while many ellipticals do. If you want to keep track, you'll have to download an app on your phone or have a Fitbit or smartwatch track it for you.

Winner - Stair steppers give you a better cardio workout if you're willing to put in the effort. Jacob's Ladder steppers provide the best cardio workout.

Strength And Endurance

If your exercising goals aren't just to burn fat and calories or increase your cardiovascular performance but to increase your strength and endurance, you should be using a stair stepper.

While ellipticals do help improve your muscle strength, the low-impact workout means you won't increase your endurance in any significant way. You exert far less energy on an elliptical, so you don't have to stretch the limits of your body to keep up.

Stair steppers require far more effort to get a good workout in. When you consistently use a stair stepper, you'll notice that reaching milestones becomes easier the more you do it. This is the effect a stair stepper can have on your endurance.

Also, by focusing more intensely on the lower body, a stair stepper can build muscle faster than an elliptical. Although ellipticals do help you tone your muscles through the full-body workout, they don't have as intense of an effect on building your overall strength.

Jacob's Ladder machines take this up a notch, engaging your core, back, shoulders, and arms throughout the workout. If you stick with a Jacob's Ladder consistently, you'll see a massive boost to your overall strength and endurance.

Winner - Stair steppers are better for increasing your lower body strength and endurance.

Key Things To Remember For Weight Loss

The machine you workout with isn't the only thing that will affect how much weight you lose. Keep the following points in mind if you're trying to lose weight.

  • Burn more, eat less 
    No matter how many calories you burn, if you're consuming more food than you can work off, you're never going to lose weight. You have to calculate how many calories you consume per day and burn more than that amount as you workout. The best way to do this is by sticking to a healthy diet with low-calorie foods that fill you up but don't slow you down.
  • H20 
    Drinking water is arguably the most important thing you can do to prepare for and recover from your workout routine. Not only do you need water to continue living, but your muscles need water to repair the wear and tear they experience throughout the course of your workout. Also, your metabolism needs regular water to keep running smoothly, helping your body process the calories you eat and burn.
  • Take a rest  
    Continuously working out might seem like the only way to get your desired results, but the truth is that your body needs a break now and then. Your muscles and ligaments need time to recover from the strain of a workout. Take a rest day and maintain a healthy sleep cycle to build muscle and burn calories in a healthy way.
Stair Stepper Vs Elliptical

Alternative Machines Great For Weight Loss

If you're not super into ellipticals or stair steppers, consider the following alternatives that can also provide great low-impact workouts.

Rowing Machine

If you're looking for a workout machine that focuses on your upper body more than your lower, then it could be that a rowing machine is a better option for you. It mimics the motion of roaring oars on a boat, so you engage your back and shoulders more than any other muscle group.

Rowing machines offer a similar low-impact workout that ellipticals do, but are significantly less of a strain on your body than stair steppers. It could be the perfect alternative machine for people recovering from lower-body injuries or sensitive joints.

However, you don't burn as many calories using a rowing machine as you do an elliptical or stair stepper. There aren't as many workout programs to choose from, so you're fairly limited in how you want to conduct your resistance training.

Despite that, many people opt for a rowing machine over an elliptical or stair stepper. The reason? It's usually a far cheaper option than either of the other machines. There are fewer moving parts with a rowing machine, meaning you won't have to conduct maintenance as often, and replacements are cheaper to come by.


A staple of any respectable gym, treadmills are among the most commonly used workout machines around the world. If you enjoy running over a smooth surface as opposed to outside, then a treadmill might be the perfect machine for you.

Treadmills burn more calories than ellipticals or stair steppers, hitting more muscle groups than steppers and providing a more intense workout than ellipticals. They typically have more settings than many steppers and ellipticals, so you can customize your training to fit your preference and routine to hit the muscles you want.

However, treadmills are much more expensive than ellipticals or stair steppers in most cases. If you're looking for a home workout machine and are on a budget, then it might not be the best option. Also, treadmills are not ideal for people in recovery from injuries or who have sensitive joints or knee pain.

Related Article - Best Under Desk Treadmills

Mini Elliptical Vs. Mini Stepper

If you don't have the room for a large stair stepper or elliptical machine in your home, or if you're often on the move and want something easier to transport, then a compact elliptical or mini stepper could be right for you.

While many of the benefits of these mini machines are similar to those of their larger counterparts, there are a few things to keep in mind before you buy one.

Mini ellipticals aren't going to give you the full-body workout that standard ellipticals provide. They primarily focus on the lower body and often are small enough to fit under your desk so you can work out at your job.

Mini steppers also don't give as intense a workout as the standard size steppers or Jacob's Ladders. You can still get a ripping workout for your lower body, but there won't be as much resistance to push back against as the larger machines.

In terms of which one you should choose, we recommend whichever one you're most comfortable with. While steppers often trim the fat off the lower body faster than ellipticals, mini ellipticals are easier to use, especially on the go or under your desk.


By now, you should have a better idea of which workout machines fit your needs more than the other. While stair steppers are a better lower body workout, ellipticals burn more calories in a shorter period. Further, an elliptical might not be right for you if you're on a strict budget or have limited space for a new machine.

Both machines are well worth the money you'll spend, and we're sure you'll start seeing results if you stick to your routine and a healthy diet. After taking all of the above information into consideration, you should be in a good position to choose whether you hop on an elliptical or a stair stepper your next gym day, or maybe even both!

Last Updated on April 16, 2024

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Andrew White

Andrew White is the co-founder of Garage Gym Pro. As an expert fitness professional (gym building nerd) with over 10 years of industry experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern fitness & the newest market innovations for garage gyms. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually out surfing or playing basketball.