Stairmaster Vs Elliptical (Compared For Cardio & Fat Loss)

The Cleveland Clinic says that there are so many benefits that come along with a cardio workout, and that “not only can regular cardio exercise lead to an increase in your resting blood pressure and heart rate, but these basic changes can also mean your heart doesn’t have to work unnecessarily hard all of the time.”

Even if you’re more interested in strength training or zen meditation, cardio is still something you should be doing on the reg. But which type of cardio is right for you? There are so many forms to choose from, like walking outside, running on the treadmill, taking Zumba classes, using a rowing machine, or working out on a StairMaster or elliptical.

For now, let’s focus on the last two in this guide between the StairMaster vs elliptical and how each compares for cardio, weight loss, and calories burned.

Elliptical machines entered the fitness market in the 1990s, and ever since, they have been an important fixture in both commercial and residential gym spaces. The original elliptical was invented by the Precor company, but now there are dozens of reputable brands manufacturing them.

The basic premise behind an elliptical is that it provides a cardio workout similar to running, only without the impact or strain on the joints and muscles. This is achieved through a smooth motion that keeps the feet firmly planted on the foot pedals as they move backward and forward. 

elliptical machine

For most elliptical trainers, the foot pedals are connected to moving handlebars, meaning you can get both an upper and lower body workout while simultaneously improving cardiovascular health. All in all, this is an excellent choice for a low-impact cardio workout, but like most gym equipment, elliptical machines come with a few flaws as well.

If you've decided on an elliptical, make sure you visit our complete guide to the best ellipticals for small spaces to find one for your home gym!

What We Like 

  • Provides a low impact workout that’s easy on the joints 
  • Works both the lower and upper body 
  • With reverse stride and unique workout modes, you can target different muscle groups 
  • Great for calorie-burning and weight loss 

What We Don’t  

  • You won’t get the same muscle development as higher-impact forms of cardio 
  • The movement can feel unnatural at first 

StairMaster (How They Work + Pros & Cons) 

You know when you walk up a long flight of stairs and feel as if you just got the workout of your life? That’s exactly what a StairMaster is trying to simulate.

This type of cardio machine literally looks like a small flight of stairs, and it makes it possible to stair climb without running between your home’s upper and lower floors or visiting a local stadium. 

The StairMaster came into existence sometime in the 1980s, and its technology has steadily improved over the years. It’s designed with rotating steps so that users can climb stairs while remaining in one place, and they can easily alter their speed for more challenging workouts.  

This type of cardio machine has tons of benefits for both cardio health and muscle toning, but just like the elliptical, it’s not for everyone. Here are some of its pros and cons:  

stairmaster

What We Like 

  • Ability to burn a high number of calories in a short amount of time 
  • Great for lower body muscle toning 
  • Puts less stress on the joints than many other forms of cardio 
  • Over time, it can improve posture and reduce back pain 

What We Don’t  

  • Compared to an elliptical, there’s no option for an upper body workout  
  • Expensive cardio machine that doesn’t fit within every home gym's budget 
  • It can take time to get used to the stair-climbing movement 

StairMaster Vs Elliptical: Which Is Better? 

It’s time for the elliptical vs StairMaster showdown to determine which is best based on your fitness goals. Let's see which is better for fat loss, cardio health, muscle toning, and more.

For Cardio

The good majority of people choose either a StairMaster or elliptical for cardio workouts, which makes sense since they are both classified as cardio machines. In terms of getting your heart racing and your blood pumping, you’ll have more of an opportunity to do those things with an elliptical.

That doesn’t mean a StairMaster isn’t good for cardio; it just means that you have a greater ability with an elliptical to target your heart rate. Most elliptical machines these days come with cardio and heart rate programs, and many of them even have Bluetooth heart rate monitoring.

You can find most of these convenient features, such as heart rate monitoring, on high-end ellipticals. Read our guide to the best ellipticals under $1000!

For Fat Loss (Burning Calories)

Why do many people decide to buy a cardio machine for the home? To lose weight! Cardio is undoubtedly the best thing you can do for weight loss, and a big reason for that is its calorie-burning power.

Both the StairMaster and elliptical machine can serve as an amazing weight loss tool. But in terms of calories, expect to burn more with an elliptical, especially if you choose high-intensity settings. Depending on your weight, gender, and selected intensity, 30 minutes on a StairMaster will burn about 200 calories, while 30 minutes on the elliptical can burn 350+ calories.  

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For Developing Glutes & Toning Muscles

There's no question that a StairMaster will help you gain more muscle mass than an elliptical. The stepping motion is great for the glutes as well as the calves, hamstrings, and quads. Even your core will be activated- at least, it should be - while using a StairMaster machine.

You can still get toned with an elliptical, though. An elliptical trainer is especially good if you want to get both the upper and lower body moving. But in terms of strengthening and toning, the StairMaster is the clear winner.  

For Bodybuilding

Even bodybuilders need cardio in addition to heavy lifting and strength training. Because of a StairMaster’s greater ability to strengthen and tone, it’s the go-to choice for bodybuilders, especially those who are focusing on the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

bodybuilder wearing swim shorts

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is it bad to do the StairMaster every day? 

No, it’s completely fine to use a StairMaster every day as long as this doesn’t conflict with any health limitations that you have. Most sources say that you should be getting about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio each week, so to meet this goal, try doing five 30-minute sessions on the StairMaster.  

However, if you’re brand new to StairMaster cardio, it’s a good idea to get used to the machine by starting with short 10-minute sessions.

What burns more calories, an elliptical or StairMaster? 

Everyone burns calories at a different rate, so comparing the StairMaster vs elliptical for calories burned can be tricky. However, if you compare 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio on the elliptical vs the StairMaster, an elliptical will generally burn more calories.

But you also have to keep in mind that a StairMaster is more geared towards toning the glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings in addition to calorie burning.

Is a StairMaster better than a treadmill? 

In this case, "better" is entirely subjective. If you want a workout that’s lower in impact, then absolutely, a StairMaster is better. But if impact isn’t an issue, both machines are fantastic choices for at-home cardio. We covered this topic extensively in our StairMaster vs treadmill guide.

Is 30 minutes on the elliptical enough? 

Yes, as mentioned earlier, the recommendation from the American Heart Association is to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week. So five 30-minute elliptical workouts are perfect, or you can do 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio per week instead.


Conclusion

It’s possible to find cheap elliptical machines for the home that deliver low-impact cardio and don’t put too much stress on the knees and hips. StairMasters, on the other hand, are more expensive on average, but they’re great for muscle toning - although you won’t get an upper body workout like you will with an elliptical.  

Comparing the StairMaster vs elliptical for cardio is a challenging feat because both machines come with a lot of benefits. When it comes down to choosing between a StairMaster or elliptical, there are a few important things to consider, like the amount of stress you’re willing to put on your joints, whether or not muscle toning is a priority, and your budget.

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Paul J

Last Updated on September 5, 2022