Elliptical vs Stairmaster: Which Shapes the Body Better?

Do you want to understand pros and cons of workout machines and get the most effective for you? We've reviewed the differences for elliptical vs stairmaster trainers right here!
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Lower body workout is considered as one of the most effective exercises that actually affects your core and back. Yet 76% of injuries while exercising come from wrong equipment being used. So which trainer would be more effective and safe: Elliptical vs Stairmaster? Though these two machines seem like they provide similar workouts, they are not identical in what they have to offer.

We’ve compared both machines with each other to show how to pick the right one for your goals. We’ll explain which one to pick equipment for weight loss, muscle building and common body toning. Let’s take a look at how these two workout machines stack up and what you can expect from each one.

Ellipticals overview

Elliptical vs Stairmaster: Which Shapes the Body Better?

Elliptical machines Trusted Source Elliptical Trainer An elliptical trainer (sometimes called a cross trainer) is an exercise machine that simulates a number of aerobic exercises, including walking or running, stair-stepping, or cross-country skiing. www.spine-health.com , also called elliptical trainers or cross trainers, are machines that incorporate a few different aerobic exercises into one machine. You can use them to simulate walking, running, cross-country skiing, or climbing stairs, depending on which one of the best elliptical models you choose.

There are many advantages to using an elliptical machine. They offer a low-impact, high cardio workout. Ellipticals are often adjustable, so you can reverse the direction of the pedals or increase the resistance to alter your workout when needed. Most models also include poles for a full-body workout.

Of course, ellipticals aren’t perfect. They don’t offer a lot of weight-bearing exercise and focus mainly on the legs, leaving the core out of the mix. It can be hard to get those pedals moving for some as well.


There are a few types of elliptical machines to pick from, so you can get the right machine for your needs. There are under-desk models, which consist of only pedals, that can be used while you’re working. There are compact or portable models that work well in small spaces.

Then there are the normal ellipticals, which use the elliptical wheel to move the pedals and poles for the upper body workout. The Schwinn Fitness 470 is a good example, offering an adjustable ramp, 25 resistance levels, a DualTrack LCD system, and Bluetooth connectivity. You can even check out the best hybrid elliptical, which combines the benefits of the elliptical with those of a stationary bike.

How they work

Ellipticals feature suspended pedals that are attached to an oval-shaped track, which determines the rotation of the pedals as you move them, similar to the movement of the pedals on a bicycle. The movement of the pedals is fluid since your feet never leave them and the track maintains the elliptical motion. Some models also include poles, which you can move back and forth, the way you would move poles when cross-country skiing. These are designed to add some upper-body exercise to your workout.

Stairmasters overview

The Stairmaster Trusted Source The History of the StairMaster | Innovation|
Smithsonian Magazine
The 1980s brought about America’s gym obsession—and a machine that demands a notoriously grueling cardio workout www.smithsonianmag.com
came into being in 1983 when three entrepreneurs put their heads together to come up with a new business idea. They founded Tri-Tech and launched their first product, initially calling it the Ergometer 6000. It was renamed the Stairmaster 5000 soon after.

Over the years, new additions were added to the machine, including a digital screen that displayed readouts for burned calories and the number of stairs climbed. They also replaced the rotating escalator-type stairs for the adjustable pedals we use today.


Stairmasters consist of pedals that move up and down, simulating the way you would climb stairs. Though it sounds rather basic, there are a few types to pick from. There are the under-desk models, which allow you to use the stepping motion while seated. Compact and portable stepper machines are also common for those with limited space.

You can also try out hybrid machines that combine the stepping function with the movement of a treadmill. For those interested, you can also find the rotating escalator-type machines, though these include actual steps that you need to climb rather than keeping your feet on the pedals throughout the workout.

How they work

Stairmasters are rather easy to use since you only need to place your feet on the pedals, pushing one down at a time while keeping the other foot relaxed. When the first foot hits the bottom, you relax this one on its pedal and push down with the other foot. This simulates the way you’d walk up a set of stairs, though you don’t have the joint impact you’d get on actual stairs.

Stairmaster vs Elliptical

Now that you know what each of these machines are and how they work, it’s time to compare the Stairmaster vs elliptical machines in terms of the workout they offer.

Fat loss

Those trying to lose weight may be wondering which machine burns calories faster, the Stairmaster or elliptical. The results are essential to ensure each individual reaches the goals they have set for themselves.

The elliptical machines incorporate most of your body in the workout since your lower half moves with the rotation of the pedals and your upper body rotates as you work those poles. This allows you to burn more calories and more fat in a shorter amount of time. Of course, this depends on how fast you’re moving. A slow, leisurely pace will burn less calories, even with an elliptical, so the harder you work, the better the results. In fact, it’s possible to burn hundreds of calories on an elliptical in only half an hour.

A Stairmaster only focuses on your lower half, so you aren’t burning as many calories or as much fat when using one of these machines. You’ll have to work out longer and harder to reach the same goals.


The elliptical machines offer a great aerobic workout, which increases how hard your heart and lungs need to work to keep blood and oxygen flowing to all your muscles. This type of cardio helps to build stamina and endurance at the same time. You can even use your elliptical machine for steady-state cardio workouts as well as high-intensity training.

The steady stair-climbing movements of the Stairmaster also strengthen your heart and lungs. This allows you to take in more oxygen, which is then absorbed into your blood and sent to all your organs and muscles. Like the elliptical, you can increase your stamina and endurance for longer workouts, plus you can increase and decrease your pace for a more varied routine.


An elliptical machine targets a few different muscles, depending on the resistance and incline you’ve chosen for the foot pedals. You can target any of the muscles in your body, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. When you add the poles to your workout, you also target the muscles located in your arms. The elliptical doesn’t do much for the core unless you let go of the poles and engage your core to maintain your balance.

That being said, the elliptical doesn’t offer a bodybuilding workout. It’s a great machine for burning fat and calories while offering a full-body workout, but you won’t get the rippling muscles that you could get using a machine like the Bowflex Max Trainer Series, which includes more than 60 exercises and adjustable cables and pulleys for custom workouts.

The Stairmaster has a bit more to offer in this area. It works all of the same lower body muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, but it is a bit more intense since you have to use more of the those muscles to push the pedals down. You also need to engage your core to maintain your balance.

Muscle toning

Both the elliptical and the Stairmaster are great for toning your muscles, though the addition of the arm workout with the elliptical means this machine has a bit more to offer. Both machines focus mainly on the lower body. If you keep your hands off the poles of an elliptical or the bars of a Stairmaster, you can also engage your core to help maintain your balance. The poles of the elliptical add the arm toning workout, which the Stairmaster doesn’t offer.


Ellipticals have a wide range of prices. If you can afford it, you can purchase one of the high-end models that cost up to $5000 or stick with one of the best ellipticals under $500 to save some money. On average, Stairmasters have an average cost of about $5000, with high-end models running even higher, so you may spend more for one of these machines.

Final Thoughts

There are several types of workout machines on the market, though elliptical machines and Stairmasters are two of the most popular. These machines aren’t for everybody, though, so you need to consider which one is right for the goals you’ve set.

Those looking to burn calories and reduce fat will love the elliptical since it gives you a full body workout that is easy to do and gets your heart rate up with minimal strain.

If you plan to tone or build muscle, the Stairmaster is a better choice. You should also consider the cost when comparing elliptical vs Stairmaster machines. Ellipticals are a bit cheaper, though you can find a moderately-priced Stairmaster if you look hard enough.


Elliptical Trainer
An elliptical trainer (sometimes called a cross trainer) is an exercise machine that simulates a number of aerobic exercises, including walking or running, stair-stepping, or cross-country skiing.
The 1980s brought about America’s gym obsession—and a machine that demands a notoriously grueling cardio workout

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