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Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Full-Body Toning or Leg Strength?

Closer look at effectiveness of two most popular training machines: stairmaser vs treadmill. Considering workout techniques and health impact
Last updatedLast updated: August 26, 2022
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Running is a great way to have an effective cardio workout. You can also use a cardio machine that would be just as effective and even more convenient. The most popular cardio equipment that will provide a high-quality workout is a treadmill or a Stairmaster. If you are shopping for a machine that will be best for your goals and you cannot figure out which one to pick, you have come to the right place.

We will compare Stairmaster vs Treadmill for fat loss, bodybuilding, body toning and high intensity interval training (HIIT). Other factors we will consider are the space requirement, cost, impact level and the number of calories burned. Our comparison guide also includes the pros and cons of treadmill vs Stairmaster to help you identify the most suitable option for your workouts.

Treadmill Overview

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Trusted Source Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health. Moving more and sitting less have tremendous benefits for everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, or current fitness level. Individuals with a chronic disease or a disability benefit from regular physical activity, as do women who are pregnant. The scientific evidence continues to build—physical activity is linked with even more positive health outcomes than we previously thought. And, even better, benefits can start accumulating with small amounts of, and immediately after doing, physical activity. health.gov , adults should have 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week to gain more health benefits.

Treadmills are convenient equipment that can motivate you to exercise in the comfort of your home, without worrying about extreme weather conditions or expensive gym membership. They feature a screen and multiple incline settings that you can adjust as you wish. A treadmill is more stable than the Stairmaster and you can include arm exercises along with lower body workouts as you walk, run or perform interval training on the ramp or incline. It is also the better option for burning calories and weight loss.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Versatile with broad range of intensity programs
  • Great at fat loss and burning calories
  • Easy to monitor your heart rate
  • Suitable for interval training
  • Includes shut-off feature for safety
  • Relatively cheaper than Stairmaster
  • Beginner-friendly and easier to use

Cons

  • Limited focus on upper body
  • Running strains the joints and lower back
  • The workouts can feel repetitive and monotonous

Stairmaster Overview

A Stairmaster is like an escalator that helps you to climb up at a specified speed. It has low impact on joints which makes it a great machine for seniors or individuals with injuries or joint pain. It also provides cardiovascular benefits as well as resistance training to increase muscle mass on your core and lower body, especially the glutes, hamstrings, calves and thighs. Check out Bowflex Max, the space-saving machine with daily custom workouts and over 50 global routes that adjust to your speed in real time.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Great for resistance training and building lean muscle mass
  • Low impact and ideal for increasing heart rate
  • Available with speed and incline settings
  • Balance improves core strength, spinal alignment and posture
  • Includes safety railings

Cons

  • The Stairmaster has no variation
  • Burns fewer calories
  • Only targets lower body
  • The one-size-fits-all steps could be unsuitable for users who are too tall or too short

Difference between Treadmill vs Stairmaster

Although they both provide a good cardio workout, the Stairmaster and treadmill work in different ways.  We will look at these differences and the role they play in different types of workout routines.

Space occupation

Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Full-Body Toning or Leg Strength?Treadmills come in various sizes from foldable ones such as SereneLife Folding Treadmill that is portable to large models that are 5 feet in height. The Stairmaster is relatively bigger and taller and you will need at least 8 feet of ceiling clearance to fit one.

Calories burn

The calories burned on the Stairmaster vs treadmill varies from one individual to another because it depends on different factors. Your age, gender, height and weight will determine your calorie burn level. For instance, if you compare a male weighing 180 to 200 pounds and a female weighing 160 to 180 pounds and the calories they burn after running on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a pace of 10 mph, you will notice a significant difference. The male will burn 450 to 500 calories and the female will burn 350 to 450 calories.

The number of calories burned also depends on the type of exercise and the level of intensity. For instance, 30 minutes of workout on a Stairmaster will burn 180 to 260 calories on average and 30 minutes on a treadmill will typically burn 100 to 300 calories.

Compared to a Stairmaster, a treadmill burns more calories with a high-intensity workout. This is mainly because a treadmill has various workout programs which require you to use most of your body to match the intensity whereas a Stairmaster does not have variation and is limited to one motion.

Someone weighing 185 pounds burns approximately 350 calories and another weighing 125 pounds burns 240 calories if they both run on a treadmill at a pace of 5 mph for 30 minutes. You can burn 700 calories in an hour of running at a high intensity on incline treadmill vs the 400 calories you would burn in an hour of high intensity workout on a Stairmaster.

However, a lot of us do not have the energy required for an hour of high intensity exercise on a treadmill which is a beast in cardio. Stairmaster would be a better alternative for individuals who would prefer cardio as well as resistance training to strengthen the lower body. Stairmaster is also an excellent HIIT cardio gym machine for shorter workout durations of 20 to 30 minutes.

When considering Stairmaster vs treadmill calories you will burn, choose a treadmill for the most high intensity cardio that will burn more calories as you run and choose a Stairmaster for shorter workouts that will burn fewer calories but combine both cardio and resistance training. A Stairmaster is also a great option for users who either walk or have a slow running pace on a treadmill.

Price

Looking at the cost of a Stairmaster machine vs treadmill machine, you will notice that the latter is much cheaper since you can find the best treadmills under $2000 that include varies workout plans and good cushioning. On the other hand, a brand new high-quality Stairmaster costs twice as much although you can purchase a second-hand one at a more affordable price.

Whatever your choice, choose a cardio equipment that is durable and has the features you need for your preferred workouts.

Impact

Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Full-Body Toning or Leg Strength?If you have joint pain or injuries, you should be more careful with the cardio machine you choose to avoid aggravating things.

A treadmill can strain your shin, knees, hips and ankles and worsen the pain if you exercise for long periods. However, it is more suitable than running outside because you can select and adjust the pace and incline to your preference to avoid pain and discomfort. The impact when running on a treadmill is distributed over a bigger surface area, unlike when climbing stairs or running outside.

The repetitive climbing motion on a Stairmaster could place undue pressure on your knees, ankles and other lower body joints. Fortunately, the machine comes with railings to support yourself and it also allows you to adjust the speed to a low setting while increasing the gradient and difficulty level.

The best treadmills for seniors are better than the Stairmaster for those who have injuries and joint pain and are looking for a low impact cardiovascular machine. There is minimal impact on your joints because the horizontal motion of a treadmill, as opposed to the vertical motion of the Stairmaster, is more natural and it does not require much effort to fight against gravity.

Now that we have listed the impact level and the pros and cons of a Stairmaster machine vs treadmill, you should be able to choose the one you like best since both cardio machines are safe for someone with injuries or joint pain as long as you use them properly and choose the workout settings that are comfortable for you.

Body toning

Both machines can help you to tone your body although the body areas they are most suited for will vary because they work differently. The Stairmaster typically works your lower body and would be a better choice for toning your thighs and legs because it will target your glutes and quads. The Stairmaster also combines cardio with resistance training which builds muscles.

But when you compare running vs Stairmaster for body toning, running on a treadmill uses more of your body and it would be more effective at overall body toning.

Choose Stairmaster to tone and build endurance in your lower body and choose a treadmill to tone your whole body. The latter also has several workout programs with varied intensity that targets the upper and lower body.

Which should You Choose

Between an incline treadmill vs Stairmaster, which one should you choose? Well, the better option would depend on the results you want since the two machines are effective at different fitness goals and they focus on same body parts but are also sometimes optimized for different areas.

Cardio

Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Full-Body Toning or Leg Strength?As mentioned previously, intensity matters when choosing between treadmill vs Stairmaster. For instance, you would burn more calories climbing stairs on the latter than when using the best treadmill for walking. However, you would burn more calories on a treadmill than on the Stairmaster if you are running at a high intensity, as opposed to simply walking.

Is the Stairmaster better than treadmill for an overall cardiovascular workout that will improve your fitness level? As expected, users seem to favor one machine over the other, but this is one category where the general consensus is that a treadmill is the better option for cardio. A treadmill offers more aerobic options such as walking, jogging, running, and interval training which alternate a series of high intensity workouts. The wide range of light and tough exercises works more muscles and is better at exerting your cardiovascular system, building endurance and getting your heart pumping. The workouts are also great at calorie burning as evidenced by the significant difference in the number of Stairmaster vs treadmill calories you burn in a specified period.

The treadmill wins for the best cardio workouts.

Fat loss

Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Full-Body Toning or Leg Strength?What would work best between Stairmaster vs treadmill for fat loss and weight control? Although the Stairmaster can help with fat loss, it does not do it as well as the versatile treadmill which features multiple workout plans while providing room for more intense exercises and other variations such as weight. The Stairmaster has limited variations and difficulty levels.

Compared to a Stairmaster machine, a treadmill is the ideal option for overall weight and fat loss. Since you cannot reduce fat on a specific area on your body, the best way to go about it is through overall fat loss that targets multiple areas on your body, including the belly and thighs.

Ultimately, you should choose the cardio machine you enjoy using to ensure consistent workouts. For example, you might prefer the Stairmaster if you hate running or prefer a treadmill if you are overweight and you find it very challenging to climb stairs. You can increase the intensity level on the Stairmaster by increasing resistance or by increasing the incline on the treadmill.

Bodybuilding

Did you know you could use the Stairmaster or treadmill for abs and bodybuilding? The ideal equipment will depend with your goal. If you want to bulk up and build muscles, the Stairmaster would be a better choice for your core and lower body, particularly the glutes and legs, because it combines cardio with resistance training. The balance required to climb the stairs also strengthens your muscles.

HIIT

Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Full-Body Toning or Leg Strength?The American College of Sports Medicine Trusted Source ACSM Information On... HigH-intensity interval training The popularity of high intensity interval training is on the rise. High intensity interval training sessions are commonly called HIIT workouts. This type of training involves repeated bouts of high intensity effort followed by varied recovery times. www.acsm.org defines High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as workout that involves repeated exercises of high intense that are alternated with varied recovery times. This routine burns fat and carbohydrates after a short period of training.

The short sessions have made HIIT popular in an increasingly busy world. The intense sessions require a lot of stamina which in turn leads to fast results.

Although it is possible, it is a bit trickier to have recovery periods during interval training on a Stairmaster, unlike on the flat and stable surface of a treadmill that reduces the risk of injury.

Between an incline treadmill vs Stairmaster, we recommend the treadmill for HIIT, partially because of its stability and also because it features several programs that provide more opportunities for this type of workout. Besides that, you only need to reduce the gradient and speed to slow down to a walk.

Final Thoughts

Is Stairmaster better than a treadmill? As we have discussed, the two machines have their own benefits and drawbacks. The Stairmaster provides good cardio workout, improves balance and posture, tones your body and builds lean muscle mass, and offers strength and resistance. The treadmill is excellent at burning calories, weight loss, HIIT workouts and you can choose your desired exercise from several options. Stairmaster does not have variety but it is the equipment you need for your glutes, hamstrings, calves and thighs.

The repetitive nature of treadmill workout routines may feel boring after a while but the cardio machine is easy to use, more budget-friendly and it comes with safety features such as auto shut-off and an accessible speed button in case you need to slow down.

Your budget, fitness goals and individual preferences should guide you on which one to choose between the Stairmaster vs treadmill.

References

1.
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health. Moving more and sitting less have tremendous benefits for everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, or current fitness level. Individuals with a chronic disease or a disability benefit from regular physical activity, as do women who are pregnant. The scientific evidence continues to build—physical activity is linked with even more positive health outcomes than we previously thought. And, even better, benefits can start accumulating with small amounts of, and immediately after doing, physical activity.
2.
ACSM Information On... HigH-intensity interval training
The popularity of high intensity interval training is on the rise. High intensity interval training sessions are commonly called HIIT workouts. This type of training involves repeated bouts of high intensity effort followed by varied recovery times.
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