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Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?

I’m a runner and I’ve never given much thought to the rather large and slightly scary Stairmaster lurking in the corner of my gym – until now. A physiotherapist friend gave me a little prompting and suddenly I’m hooked! The Stairmaster is amazing for building leg strength!

So this is a long overdue deep dive into all things StairMaster or treadmill related. Which is better for weight loss and what about a cardio workout? Read on to find out more…

stairmaster vs treadmill

What Is A Stairmaster?

Also known as a stair stepper, Stairmaster machines have been around since the 80s. It’s a step climber with a revolving staircase. An internal drive chain provides resistance as you step up on the plates or “stairs”.

The Stairmaster mimics climbing stairs and it’s excellent for improving fitness.

In a way, you’re replicating the classic scene from the Rocky movie – remember Stallone running up those stairs? How could you forget! So expect the Stairmaster to give you a tough workout.

It’s never-ending stair climbing where the user can control the speed of the rotating steps.

NOTE: Stairmasters are sometimes confused with elliptical machines but they have very different motions. The main difference is an elliptical machine mimics cross-country skiing with far less up-and-down motion than climbing stairs.

Using A Treadmill

For most people, a treadmill needs little introduction. It’s a rotating belt that you can use to walk, jog or run on. A user can vary the intensity of the workout by adjusting the speed or the incline.

The steeper the incline, the harder the workout – some treadmills will adjust to a whopping 40% incline!

treadmill vs stairmaster which is best

Treadmill And Stairmaster Benefits

Both the treadmill and Stairmaster are great for aerobic exercise, but which is the better option for your next cardio workout – and which cardio equipment burns the highest number of calories?

#1 Stairmaster or Treadmill: Fat Loss Potential

If you want to burn calories you need cardio equipment that can give you a tough workout. Both the stair master and treadmill excel when it comes to calorie burning and fat loss.

But which is the best option?

To lose weight you need to increase energy expenditure and eat fewer calories by following a healthy diet.

Calorie burn depends on many factors – your current weight, age, gender, metabolism, and the intensity of your workout. The harder you run on the treadmill or the faster you climb on the Stairmaster – the greater your calorie burn.

How Many Calories Will You Burn On A Stairmaster Or Treadmill

A key factor in calorie burn is exercise intensity and MET values.

One MET is defined as the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting at rest. Different exercises and intensity levels result in different METs; for example, running can be anywhere from 6.3 to 23 METs, depending on speed and relative effort compared with sitting at rest.

Typically calories burned can range from as low as 135 to 190 if you’re walking at 4mph (15 min/mile) on a treadmill for 30 minutes to as high as 450 to 670 calories for a flat-out 30-minute run at 10mph (6min/mile). Increase the incline on the treadmill and you’ll work even harder.

The range can be just as great for Stairmaster workouts from 180 to 420. However, it’s down to you and your workout program. I don’t see many people in the gym running at a 10mph pace. Likewise, not many people can keep going on the stair stepper for a full 30 minutes at high intensity.

When it comes to fat loss, most people burn more calories overall on a treadmill. It’s easier to sustain a reasonable pace for 30 minutes plus and get a better workout.

#2 Which Provides A Better Cardio Workout?

A treadmill is a great option for a cardio workout. You can easily vary the speed and use an incline treadmill if you want to really get your heart rate up.

It’s important not to hit an exercise plateau with your treadmill workouts – walking when you should be jogging or avoiding increasing the speed and incline to get a better cardio workout.

A cardiovascular workout can only be as hard as you make it.

The Stairmaster can also send your heart rate soaring but for most people, a cardio workout on a Stairmaster will be limited by their leg strength – the Stairmaster works your lower body and core muscle groups hard! If your lower body muscles are screaming at you to stop, it’s going to limit your cardio workout.

The exception will be trail runners and mountain runners who are used to pushing hard climbing hills. For these runners, the Stairmaster may be a better cardio workout.

#3 Both The Treadmill And Stairmaster Are Good For HIIT Training

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is increasingly popular in our time-poor world. Squeeze a high-intensity workout into your daily routine, and in just 20 minutes you can get as much benefit and burn more calories than a longer less intense session.

A more intense workout is great cardio exercise and the fat burn benefits will continue throughout your day from the boost to your metabolism.

It’s definitely worth adding interval training on a cardio machine if you want to increase your fitness level and hit your fitness goals.

So which is best for HIIT – Stairmaster or treadmill?

Again the treadmill comes out on top. Most people will find it easier to workout harder on a treadmill plus it’s a lot easier to vary the cardio machine’s speed and intensity.

You can quickly drop from a fast-paced run to a recovery jog on a treadmill. It’s a lot harder to rest on a Stairmaster – even at a slower pace, you’re still climbing stairs!

stairmaster vs treadmill
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#4 Climbing Stairs Is Good For Strength Training

The Stairmaster is a great option for body weight strength training and building muscle mass. Working against gravity is an excellent way to work muscle groups in your lower body and core, and can be a good alternative to weight training.

Climbing stairs will work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles – it’s ideal resistance training for runners and will increase your muscle mass which can help with fat loss.

Both running on the treadmill and using a Stairmaster are good for strengthening your lower body and preventing future joint issues and joint pain such as osteoporosis.

This is a health condition where your bones become weak and fragile from loss of bone density. Weight-bearing exercises such as running and stair climbing are great for maintaining strong bones.

#5 Which Is Better For Injury Prevention?

Running is a high-impact exercise. Using a treadmill is better than road running but there is a risk of injury to your lower body if you don’t follow some basic running guidelines.

Wear shoes that are designed for running and replace them regularly, warm up before you start your run, and cool down afterward.

Start slowly and gradually increase your mileage as your body adapts to the new exercise.

If you have any joint issues, it’s best to avoid high-impact cardio workouts and choose other low-impact cardio machines such as using an elliptical machine.

The Stairmaster is low impact but can be hard on your knees if you do too much too soon. Working a Stairmaster session into your training is good resistance training for building knee strength but overdo it and you can pick up a knee injury.

Related post: How long should you spend at the gym?

#6 Use The Stairmaster To Improve Your Balance

To get the full impact of using Stairmaster, it’s best to use the cardio machine without holding onto the guide rails – if you do, you get an upper body workout but reduce the cardio benefits.

Climbing without the guide rails can really test your balance especially as you up the pace – try it and see!

You need reasonable balance to use a treadmill and stay upright on the belt but a Stairmaster can be a lot more challenging.

#7 Cross-Training With The Stairmaster

The best way to get the most out of a Stairmaster is to use it for cross-training. Combine a session on the Stairmaster with utilizing other cardio machines.

This is a typical half an hour exercise routine combining the treadmill and Stairmaster:

  • Warm up on a treadmill, 5-10 mins
  • Hard effort Stairmaster, 10 mins
  • 5 min easy pace treadmill
  • 5-10 min steady pace treadmill with hard efforts.
cardio session how long

Using A Stairmaster To Lose Weight

When it comes to weight loss, the Stairmaster is a great option. You can burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time and the exercise is relatively low impact.

Provided you keep the intensity up it’s a good way to burn fat. Just make sure you don’t replace the calories burned with sugary, high-fat treats. Replenish with healthy snacks and follow a healthy diet.

Related post: Why your weight loss is slow (and what to do about it).

Will A Stairmaster Burn Belly Fat

It isn’t possible to spot reduce body fat. If you want to lose weight, the Stairmaster is a great cardio but it’s not a magical solution. You can’t use a cardio machine to specifically burn fat for one body part.

Instead exercising to lose weight will help to reduce your overall body fat. The good news is belly fat is often one of the first areas of the body to reduce with an exercise program.

Which Is Best For A Home Gym?

If you’re fortunate enough to have a home gym, you’ll find a treadmill is a lot more affordable than a Stairmaster if you’re buying from new.

Stairmasters tend to last longer and you may be able to find a relatively inexpensive second-hand model. There’s less impact and less to go wrong with a Stairmaster.

Most people will get a lot more use out of a treadmill – the exception could be mountain climbers and trail runners.

Running vs. Stairmaster

In conclusion, running on the roads or on a treadmill will be a better cardio workout for most people – the exception is trail runners with strong legs.

Both are good for fat burning but for many leg strength will limit how long someone can keep pushing on the Stairmaster.

A treadmill or running on the roads is pure cardio. The Stairmaster is both cardio and a good workout for building leg strength. It’s great for trail runners and hikers.

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