Ellipticals vs. Stair Steppers – Which is Best?

Which machine will be best for your needs?

The elliptical trainer and the stair stepper are perfect cardio machines for burning calories, improving stamina, and activating the muscles of the lower body. While both devices provide an exceptional full body workout, there are a few significant differences to consider which device to incorporate into your fitness routine.

Does the elliptical burn more calories than StairMaster? 

When it comes to calories on a stair stepper vs elliptical, the elliptical is said to provide a far more intense full body workout. This is because, on the stair stepper, you only move your legs, while on an elliptical machine, your arms and legs are engaged in an upper body workout.

A 150-pound person only burns about 80 calories in 30 minutes on the stepper, while burning over 129 calories on an elliptical trainer.

What muscles does an elliptical tone?

If used correctly, an elliptical can assist in targeting your hamstrings, glutes, quads, biceps, triceps, and your abdominal muscles. 

Which is better? 

This depends on your needs. For example, an elliptical is much better for low impact exercise. Ellipticals provide an upper body workout. The elliptical trainer engages your arms, flexing your triceps, biceps, trapezius, and core muscles, and works all of the same muscles a stair stepper targets. The other only targets your lower body muscles, including your hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes.

Will a StairMaster make your bum bigger?

Yes, if you want more developed glutes, definitely use a StairMaster.

Exercising in a forward motion on an elliptical work your hamstrings, while using in reverse impacts your quads. You can see how the range of motion you get on an elliptical machine requires your body to move much more. On an elliptical, the inertia of the pedal movements reduces the amount of work your body has to do.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Both the elliptical and the stair stepper have similar cardiovascular benefits. When making a decision on which machine to use, focusing on intensity level may be a better way to evaluate your options. The harder you exert your body, the better the results.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, from the U.S. government, adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. While moderate activity is a five or six on a scale of ten, vigorous activity is a seven to eight. Zero would be considered no effort, while a ten would be the most exertion possible.


Whichever machine you decide to use, always begin your workout by warming up for five to ten minutes. This will gradually raise your heart rate and get your lower and upper body ready for exercise. At the end of your workout, you’ll want to cool down to slowly adjust your body back to its pre-exercise state. Always consult a health care professional before getting started on a new training routine.

Both machines very similar. They both have foot platforms and provide a variety of workouts. But in the end, the machine that you choose should be appropriately aligned with your goals. You have to decide what level of intensity you really want.

For a cardio workout, you'll want 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, 30 minutes per day.

Expert Insight

In a 1996 study, Sports Performance and Technology Laboratory found that between treadmill and a stair stepper, a treadmill use is much better for “enhancing energy expenditure.”

What does this mean? It means that your perceived exertion can limit how much intensity you put into your workout. While you’ll undoubtedly get tired using both machines, you’ll be pushing yourself much harder on a treadmill.

Ellipticals, while providing a similar style of full body workout, offers a low impact workout that won’t damage your knees or tendons. One drawback of ellipticals is that if the stride length is too short for your legs, it can’t be adjusted. Generally, only expensive models have an adjustable stride length feature.


A club-quality stair stepping machine runs at over $1,500. Expensive models can run for as much as $5,000 to $6,000. Elliptical machines aren't much cheaper. Both styles of devices have low-quality models you can find on Amazon. They tend to cost only a few hundred dollars. So, you can see these machines come in a wide range. 

The Stair Stepper is best if you’re looking to tone your lower body for more shapelier hips and legs. Both machines provide low impact workouts to help facilitate fat loss, burn calories, and prevent Type 2 diabetes.


When using a stepper vs elliptical, there a much wider variety of options for how you can work out. For example, you can pedal backward, targeting the quads. You can raise the incline to work your hamstrings and glutes. You can also pedal faster to get a boost of cardio intensity or adjust the resistance to get a harder full body workout.

Steppers are much more straightforward in terms of options. You just get on, choose your resistance level, set the clock, and get started.

Does a Stairmaster help you lose belly fat?

Remember that losing weight is dependent on multiple factors including diet and levels of intensity. These machines will definitely help you build muscle, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn.

Do Stair Steppers work your abs?

It will not tone your abdominal muscles, as the primary muscles used for stair climbing are hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, quads, and glutes.