Stairmaster Vs Treadmill (Cardio & Fat Loss Compared)

When it comes to crafting that dream body, there is one task you will have to undertake that strikes fear into the heart of even the most experienced athletes...cardio.

In this head-to-head article, we will be comparing two of the most popular and most brutal cardio machines, the treadmill and the Stairmaster. These two machines demand a heavy toll in energy and sweat and are both excellent choices in any workout plan, but they work in fundamentally different ways.

Figuring out which machine is better for your goals will allow you to leverage what you enjoy and are capable of while avoiding machines that you are not suited to.

Stairmaster Pros

  • Incredibly tough but effective cardio workout.
  • Great range of intensity programs for both HIIT and steady-state cardio.
  • Strengthens bone density.
  • Good muscle-building potential.

Stairmaster Cons

  • Difficult to use at first.
  • No upper body stimulation.
  • One size fits all steps.

Treadmill Pros

  • Easier on joints than running outside.
  • They have safety shut-off features.
  • Varied workout plans and programs.

Treadmill Cons

  • Puts pressure on joints and the lower back.
  • Multitasking options are more limited.
  • Easier to miss your footing and cause an injury.
Stairmaster Vs Treadmill (Cardio & Fat Loss Compared)

Stairmaster Vs Treadmill: In-Depth Comparison

1. Cardio Workout

The first thing we are going to look at is which machine will give you a better overall cardio workout. This is the ability to get your heart pumping and your cardiovascular system exerting itself. This is how you grow in fitness level.

The Stairmaster is an excellent piece of cardio equipment, but we have found that it works best in shorter, high-intensity bursts. It is very hard to lose yourself in your workout in the same way you do on a treadmill.

On a treadmill, you are engaging in a process that your body learned to automate a long time ago. This means that your body doesn't need to think about what it is doing. For this reason, the treadmill is perhaps the best cardio machine on the planet for those that have a base level of fitness. There are only a few machines that are as easy to spend an hour on as the treadmill.

Winner: Treadmill

2. Calories Burnt

In terms of raw calories burnt, the treadmill is one of the most potent machines you can use. If you can keep up the intensity, it is possible to burn up to 700 calories an hour on a treadmill.

In comparison, the Stairmaster will only burn 400. However, it isn't as easy as that, as the level of energy needed to burn 700 calories on a treadmill is more than most people will be able to handle.

In fact, for the majority of people, cardio is completed in much shorter bursts of around 20-30 minutes. For these workouts, the Stairmaster will be a better tool. It is more of a HIIT cardio machine which means it has more potential in shorter bursts.

If you are pretty fit and have a decent amount of running experience, the treadmill will offer the ultimate level of calorie burn but for most of us, stick to the Stairmaster. Consider a manual treadmill to really burn calories fast.

Winner: Stairmaster

3. Impact Level (For Injuries/Joint Pain)

Unfortunately, as we get older, our joints and injuries start to catch up with us. This makes it harder for us to keep up with our younger counterparts. As an experienced gym user, the best way to counter this is to be smarter with our decisions.

One of the worst types of cardio for your joints and injuries is running. The worst form is out on the road as the impact exasperates things. The treadmill is better than running on the road, but it still places a tremendous amount of strain on your hips, knees, ankles, and shins.

For this reason, we advise against using the treadmill for long periods of time if you have injuries or joint pain. There are some good models for people with knee issues and we have explored those here.

The Stairmaster is hard on the knees, but you have a much higher level of control over your workout, and you should be able to tailor the program in an effective way that doesn't cause discomfort or pain. Doing other exercises is another great way to help the knees.

By turning up the gradient and difficulty but keeping the speed low, you can avoid the repetitive motions that damage the joints in your lower body. You also have the railings to hold onto, which allows you to support yourself better.

Winner: Stairmaster

4. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)

High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, has become massively popular over the last few years. Focusing on short 15-20 minute sessions is a much more suitable form of cardio for the average person with a busy life.

In a HIIT session, you will repeat bursts of high-intensity energy with short breaks. This pushes you a lot harder than steady-state cardio and will require a considerable level of anaerobic ability. This, in turn, creates a high level of strain but gives incredible results.

Both the treadmill and the Stairmaster come with the ability to choose interval programs. However, the treadmill is an absolute beast when it comes to interval training. The Stairmaster is good, but during your recovery periods, you will find it hard to rest without stopping. On the treadmill, you will simply reduce the speed and gradient to a walk whenever you want to slow down.

Winner: Treadmill

5. Fat Loss & Weight Control

If your goals are more aligned with body composition and fat loss rather than pure cardiovascular ability, then you will need to consider which machine is better suited to you individually.

A long-term body sculpting plan will require multiple periods of cardio throughout the year. This means you should pick the machine that you are most likely to stick to using. While the treadmill is the better machine on paper for weight loss and fat burning, it doesn't matter if you hate running or have joint problems.

Both machines will allow you to obtain that dream body, so work out which one you prefer to use, and you will do much better in the long run.

Winner: Choose your favorite machine.

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6. Bodybuilding

If you are looking to incorporate some cardio into your bodybuilding routine, you will want to consider your goals.

During a cut, you might decide to utilize the treadmill's pure calorie-burning potential. This will allow you to bring your total daily expenditure of energy (TDEE) down. This will allow you to control your calorie deficit without sacrificing as much food.

If you want to keep your cardio up during a bulk, you will be better off utilizing the Stairmaster due to its dual ability to burn calories while still providing you with a mass-building leg workout. You will be able to train your cardiovascular ability and get a great leg pump, all while keeping your calorie expenditure down. When you are eating to gain size, this works much better than the treadmill.

Winner for Cutting: Treadmill
Winning for Bulking: Stairmaster

7. Toning Legs and Bums

If your main goal in the gym is to build up your bum and legs so that they look more toned and sculpted, then you will need to make sure you balance your cardio with a good mass-building workout for your legs.

For this, you will be better off using the Stairmaster as the progressive overload on your quads and glutes will allow you to drop fat and fill your legs with muscle quicker.

Winner: Stairmaster

8. Burning Belly Fat

Unfortunately, there is no way to do location-specific fat burning. That means no amount of sit-ups will make you lose fat from your belly faster than any other form of exercise. Your body loses fat from multiple locations at once. 

This includes the fat that surrounds your important organs. Many gym-goers get stressed when they seem to stall with their weight loss, but this is natural; sometimes, we do not change visually, but our bodies are removing the excess fat.

This means that the best machine for burning belly fat will be the one that allows you to put the effort in consistently. If you are overweight, you may find using the Stairmaster particularly difficult to begin with. You might find the treadmill to be too hard on your joints.

Find the machine you comfortably do 10 minutes on, and then work on increasing that time throughout your workout program. Eventually, you should be looking at doing three periods of 20-30 minute cardio a week.

Winner: Choose your favorite machine.

9. Cost

If you are looking for a machine for your home gym, then the cost will be an important factor. When it comes to second-hand equipment, treadmills are generally less expensive, but you need to be wary of low-quality models. These models do not have the same level of protection for your joints.

Stairmasters are a little bit more expensive second-hand, but they are more consistent with quality as they do not require the same cushioning for your joints.

If you are buying brand new, then you will be able to find a mid-range treadmill with lots of cushioning and some great programs for around the same price as a good Stairmaster, so we advise you to pick the machine you like the most and buy as high quality as possible.

10. For Runners

If you are a runner and are looking for a machine that will improve your ability on the track or the road, you should consider getting a good treadmill.

The most significant benefit of a treadmill for runners is that you can reduce the amount of time you spend doing high-impact running. For runners that are starting to have problems with their joints or who are suffering from an injury, this is a great way to get back in the game.

The Stairmaster is also a great choice, especially for track runners and short distance runners who want to improve their power. As the Stairmaster builds muscle as well as cardio, it is an excellent supplement to any athletic routine.

Winner: Treadmill

Stairmaster Vs Treadmill Comparison

Common Stairmaster & Treadmill FAQs

Stairmaster vs. incline treadmill; which is better?

The Stairmaster will be better for low-impact HIIT workouts of 20 minutes or less. For long steady-state cardio, working on the treadmill on an incline will provide excellent results.

What is a stair treadmill ergometer?

An ergometer is simply a cardio machine with the ability to measure your vitals during a workout. This will allow you to track your movements and your progress. A stair treadmill is a mix between a treadmill and a Stairmaster.

Stair treadmill ergometer vs. Stairmaster; which is better?

Stair treadmills are fantastic pieces of equipment, but they are extremely expensive and will be overkill for most gym users. They are complicated to use and require strong joints and a high level of cardio. We advise most people to stick to the Stairmaster or the treadmill.


As you can see, both machines have their pros and their cons. The ultimate decision is going to depend entirely upon your own situation.

The Stairmaster is a great high-intensity muscle-building machine that complements bulking periods and both strength and power training.

For pure calorie-burning potential and running training, the treadmill is unrivaled.

If you have injuries and joint problems in your knees, ankles, or hips, the treadmill might be a little too high impact for you. The Stairmaster allows for a much gentler work out in terms of impact.

If you want a much more in-depth conversation on this head-head, there is an excellent Reddit thread that you can read here.

Last Updated on January 25, 2023

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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.