StairMaster vs Treadmill—Which is a Better Workout?

If you’ve ever been to a commercial gym, you’ve probably noticed the many types of workout machines available. A lot of them provide similar functions but with different mechanisms, which can confuse most beginners. Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or completely new to the scene, you’re probably familiar with the treadmill, one of the most popular cardio machines.

The treadmill operates fairly simply. You can walk or run on it, providing a basic aerobic workout that often serves as the foundation of cardiovascular endurance training. On the other hand, the StairMaster may not be as familiar to beginners, although the design gives you a good idea of how it works. Like climbing stairs, it’s also a great cardio exercise, with the added benefit of toning lower body muscles.

Whether you’re trying out new equipment at the gym or you’re looking to buy your own exercise machine for your home gym, you may be wondering which of the two will give you a better workout. Well, the answer largely depends on your personal goals, your fitness levels, and the type and intensity of workout you do on either machine. Below, we’ll look at the similarities and differences of the two to help you choose which will be more preferable for you. 

Main Differences Between StairMaster and Treadmill

StairMaster is a type of cardio exercise machine that resembles a short flight of stairs and operates like a never-ending escalator. The standard StairMaster is typically three to four steps high, and like other stepper machines, simulates the action of climbing stairs. This is a great exercise to improve cardiovascular strength. 

The treadmill is probably familiar to anyone who has ever been to a gym. The treadmill belt rotates around its base continuously, causing you to match its pace by walking or running on the platform. The treadmill is serves as the foundation of cardiovascular training for most people since it’s easy to adjust the intensity of your workout, from walking, running, to interval training. 

While both the treadmill and StairMaster provide cardio training, the treadmill can burn more calories and offers more versatility perfect for beginners to advanced runners. The StairMaster, on the other hand, provides a great low-impact weight-bearing workout that helps tone lower body muscles such as your glutes and quads.

StairMaster Pros and Cons

StairMaster Pros and Cons

The StairMaster and most other stair climber machines can look intimidating for first-time gym goers. But once you get the hang of it, it can either be enjoyable or get boring fast since stair climbers offer less variability in your workouts. They’re typically limited to lower body exercises with little room for variations. Although, if you have other exercise equipment and accessories in handy, getting some steps in with a StairMaster can do a lot of good for your cardio health and lower body muscle toning.


In particular, the following are the advantages of using a StairMaster machine.


The StairMaster delivers an excellent cardio exercise with less impact on the ankles and knees compared to running. This is perfect for people suffering from arthritic joints or recovering from running-related injuries. It’s definitely a good cardio alternative for runners on their rest day. 


Weight-bearing exercises challenge your muscles by making them move against gravity. Climbing the StairMaster is a weight-bearing exercise that helps increase bone mass, strength, and density and build a stronger musculoskeletal system. The StairMaster also improves body coordination, balance, and flexibility, which helps against osteoporosis and other bone diseases associated with aging.


Climbing stairs uses your own weight to work different muscle groups in your lower body, even more so that walking or running since the vertical movement forces you to resist gravity. Compared to other cardio machines, the StairMaster is particularly effective in toning the muscles in your legs and buttocks. Climbing up stimulates your gluteal muscles and hamstrings as well as your quadriceps and calves as you bend and straighten your knees at every step.  Keeping your balance when climbing also requires some work from your core muscles. 



With the StairMaster, its own strength can also become its biggest weakness. Here are the disadvantages of this exercise machine.


While stair climbing is excellent for building your lower body muscles, there really isn’t much else it can do for upper body stimulation. The best it can do is activate your core muscles for stability. Besides that, your arms, shoulders, and back muscles are not engaged when you use the StairMaster. You can add some upper body work by carrying free weights and performing some bicep curls or shoulder presses, although this requires greater balance and coordination.


As mentioned, the StairMaster can be intimidating and difficult to get around for beginners. Compared to running on a treadmill, for example, climbing stairs requires more skill. You need both muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness to sustain the vertical and horizontal action.


While stair climbing is a low-impact exercise that most people probably already perform everyday for short periods of time, the continuous movement on the StairMaster places more impact on your muscles if you don’t observe proper form. Again, this is why this machine is more suitable for experienced users. 

Improper use over time can lead to more harm than good. You must know proper form and foot placement to avoid putting too much stress on certain muscles at once, resulting in soreness and even injury. Keep your back straight and place your feet flat on the steps, hingeing with your heels and not your toes.


Stair climbing can be challenging,  but it can also get boring quickly. There really isn’t a lot of variation you can add to your workout routine on a StairMaster, unlike treadmill workouts where you can adjust the incline to simulate running uphill.

Treadmill Pros and Cons

How Long Does a Treadmill Last

The treadmill is perhaps the most popular exercise equipment for any commercial gym or home gym. The beauty of the treadmill is that it can accommodate almost anyone with any level of fitness. It gives you the benefits of walking or running outside without the impact of your feet striking uneven or rough terrain. 



The treadmill is one of the most versatile exercise machines. You can easily adjust the speed at which the belt rotates, starting slow to warm up then increasing it as you hit your stride. You can even incorporate some high-intensity interval training by alternating the speeds. 

The treadmill provides incline levels to get your heart pumping at even slower speed. Higher-end models also include built-in programs that automatically adjust your workout settings to mimic certain outdoor conditions.

Compared to the StairMaster, where you can only speed up or slow down, working out on a treadmill gives you a wider range of intensity for your workouts. This allows you to get a full cardio and lower body workout or a simple aerobic exercise.


Like the StairMaster, treadmill running also provides a low-impact cardio exercise while giving you full control of the intensity you want to work at. Running on hard surfaces leads to stress on your joints and increases the risk of injuries and back, knee, and ankle problems. To minimize this impact, treadmills have cushioned running decks that absorbs shock. 


Unlike the StairMaster, a treadmill is easier to operate for a beginner. Walking on a treadmill is a good way to start any training. Since the movement is intuitive, multitasking on the treadmill is also no problem for more experienced users. While it still poses some risks, like falling or stumbling, a treadmill comes with a safety key that will abruptly shut down the machine to prevent accidents.




Both joining a gym and purchasing a treadmill for your home will cost you some money. Whether you want to pay a one-time investment in your own treadmill (approximately $1000) or a monthly gym membership is up to you. However, you can get all the benefits of a treadmill for free by simply going outside.


While it does provide some more versatility than a stair climber, the monotony of walking to running can get boring to most people, which could set back the workout progress. Running outside at least gives you some scenic views and different terrains, but on a treadmill, you’re likely stuck staring at a wall. Some ways to run around this is to introduce exercise variations or try other equipment and accessories if you’re working out at the gym, or simply listen to music or put your favorite show on your screen if you’re at home.

Calories Burned 

The number of calories either machine can help you burn varies depending mostly on your weight, age, and the type, intensity and duration of the exercise. Although, in general, a higher heart rate means you’re burning more calories, and both the StairMaster and treadmill are great at increasing the heart rate fast.

On average, a half hour on the StairMaster can burn somewhere between 180 to 260 calories, or more, depending on your body weight and the intensity of your workout. On the other hand, the calorie burn o f a person on a treadmill varies more when taking the speed and incline in consideration. A steady pace of 5 mph on a treadmill can burn at least 200 to over 300 calories in 30 minutes, while a brisk walk of 3 mph can burn 100 to 250 calories. 

Fat Loss

Comparing the treadmill and StairMaster in terms of burning fat, then the treadmill wins by a narrow margin. Both machines can help with weight loss by pumping your heart rate up and torching those calories, but the treadmill offers more versatility that allows for more intense calorie-burning. While the StairMaster can get your heart racing at a shorter time, you can’t go much further than that without tiring quickly and forgetting your proper form.

Be reminded that you cannot reduce fat in specific areas alone, but by consistently burning fat overall, you will soon see some progress in these target areas. If you’re looking to lose fat in specific areas, the treadmill may be a better choice for overall fat loss, although both machines can help with your goals.

Cardiovascular Strength and Endurance

Again, both machines provide a great cardio exercise, although the treadmill allows more variability for aerobic exercises than the StairMaster. You can choose to walk, jog, sprint, or alternate for HIIT, which builds your cardiovascular endurance better than on a StairMaster.

Meanwhile, just stepping on the StairMaster can work up a sweat faster than when you start with walking on a treadmill. However, after this buildup, there isn’t much else you can do on the StairMaster. Sustaining this movement still works up your endurance and gets those glutes and quads toned, but the lack of variety can get tedious for most people.

Muscle Gain

These machines may not be the most obvious choices for building muscles, but they can be quite effective too. If you want to increase muscle mass in your legs and glutes, the StairMaster is perfect for the job. Moving up the steps places the load on your lower body, forcing it to work against gravity. This serves as a form of resistance training that helps build the muscles on your back, glutes, quads, and calves. Climbing also requires stability, which activates your core muscles. 

While neither the treadmill or stair climber is especially helpful in building upper body muscles, you can always incorporate free weights into your treadmill workout to stimulate the muscles in your upper body to complement your cardio workout.


Both the treadmill and StairMaster provide low-impact workouts, but still some level of impact can be felt corresponding to the intensity of your workout. Comparing the impact of a treadmill and stair climber depends on the speed you use them. Walking feels more intuitive than climbing and produces the least impact on the knees and ankles. However, as you increase the speed on both the treadmill and StairMaster, you’ll likely suffer more impact when running than when climbing up. This is because the faster you run, the harder your feet will hit the ground, adding more stress to your knees.


The bottom line is that both the treadmill and StairMaster machines are excellent options for cardiovascular exercise. Although there are some advantages and disadvantagesfor each, the choice ultimately depends on your personal preference. If you want to build endurance and gain muscles and get some high-intensity interval training in the process, then you may opt the StairMaster or really any stair climber machine that fits your budget.

But if you want to burn more calories and incorporate more variations in your workout, then you should go for a treadmill. At the end of the day, the best choice is whatever machine fits your workout routine the best. We’ve talked about the pros and cons, now you can choose which one you can stick with consistently to get your desired results.