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Stepper vs Treadmill: which machine is the best?

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Wondering which is best between stair stepper vs treadmill? Whether you’re shopping for your home gym or deciding what to use at the gym, the treadmill and stair stepper are popular options to consider. Both machines are fantastic for improving cardiac health and burning calories.

However, it’s essential to understand the advantages and similarities between the two machines to meet your goals. Here’s everything you need to know.

a woman trying the difference between stair stepper vs treadmill
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Treadmill vs. Stair Stepper: What’s the Difference? 

If you’ve been to the gym, you’ll see similar types of people use the treadmill and stair stepper. You might think these two machines offer the same benefits but have different advantages and best-use cases. Some of the main differences include the following:

  • The stair stepper machine can be better for strengthening the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and core.
  • The treadmill may be better for improving cardiovascular endurance and conditioning.
  • The treadmill has higher levels of control with speed, pace, distance, time, and incline.
  • The stair stepper machine can be more expensive than treadmills.
  • Stair steppers can be harder on the knees and joints, making them less ideal for those with health conditions.

Let’s take a deeper look at each machine’s wide range of benefits so you can make the right call on which machine will help you meet your goals.

Treadmill Benefits

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A treadmill is a favorite machine for many fitness enthusiasts, as it’s convenient, accessible, and easy to use . But there are several more advantages besides helping you exercise when it’s raining. Here are some of the main benefits of a treadmill.

Improves Heart Health

One of the primary health benefits of the treadmill is that it can significantly improve your heart health. The treadmill offers aerobic exercise, allowing you to maintain constant heart rates and hit target heart rate zones. Low-impact aerobic exercise is beneficial for strengthening heart muscles, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart disease.

May Improve Mental Health

Improvements to mental health are often overlooked when it comes to the treadmill. However, the treadmill can be an excellent tool for improving symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. One study found that just 10 minutes of moderate-intensity running can positively impact mental health. 

These benefits are likely caused by the endorphins released from running on the treadmill. The chemicals are released by your nervous system, resulting in improvements to your overall mood.

So, if you’re looking for a way to boost your mental health, then 10-minute sessions on the treadmill might be suitable for you.

Can Be Easy on the Joints

In some cases, treadmills can be easier on the joints compared to running outdoors. The construction of a treadmill absorbs more shock and impact with each stride. This can be beneficial for individuals with joint pain in the knees or ankles. 

Not to mention, you can increase the incline to work out the hamstrings and glutes more instead of the knees.

Higher Levels of Control

Most modern-day treadmills have high levels of control. You can adjust factors like speed, incline, time, distance, and more. The higher number of settings allows you to hit weight-loss and fitness goals easier. Not to mention, most machines have trackers for calories burned, heart rate, and other measurements.

Can Help You Stay in Shape

It’s no surprise that the treadmill can help you stay in shape. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. 

It’s easy to hit these times on treadmills, as they’re convenient and allow you to hop on for short or long sessions with varying intensity. Not to mention, the calorie burn from the treadmill can help you hit weight-loss goals.

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Stair Stepper Pros

Stair steppers are another cardio machine that’s beloved by many. The fitness stepper can strengthen your legs and glutes. It’s also useful for cross-training and offers a low-impact exercise compared to running.

However, motorized stair steppers might not be ideal for those with knee issues as they can exacerbate issues. Here are some additional benefits to the stair stepper.

Easy to Use

Have you ever climbed a set of stairs? If so, you already know how to use a motorized stepper! The stair machine is user-friendly and can be beneficial for nearly all fitness levels. However, this machine may not be ideal for those with mobility or balance issues. 

Improve Balance and Coordination

Stair climbing machines are a “functional” or “normal” exercise, meaning it mimics daily movements, like going upstairs. Incorporating these types of exercise may strengthen your body for everyday use through higher levels of balance and coordination. What’s more is that the machine requires you to use stabilizer muscles, improving your balance even further.

Strengthens Leg Muscles

The stair stepper can be an ideal machine for strengthening major body muscles. A high-quality stepper can improve muscular endurance in the following areas:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Calves
  • Core 

With the correct form, you can quickly strengthen the largest body muscles and reap the benefits for years to come. Increased muscle strength in the legs and core will also be noticeable in daily activities and the gym. 

Burns Calories

Like other cardio exercises, the stair stepper can burn tons of calories. The machine uses the largest muscle in your body and can burn anywhere from 180-250 calories per 30-minute session. If you up your intensity, you can burn even more calories per session. However, the amount you burn will depend on several factors like your weight, age, and metabolism.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Just like the treadmill, a stair stepper is a fantastic tool for improving cardiovascular health and mental well-being. The machine works to strengthen your heart and lungs, which are fundamental to aerobic fitness. Stronger lungs help you get more oxygen, while a healthy heart pumps more blood to your muscles and organs.

What Are the Price Differences?

Now that you know the benefits of each machine, your next question might be, “How much do they cost?”

If you consider buying a treadmill, it can cost anywhere from $700 to over $3,000. On the other hand, most stair steppers you see at the gym will cost anywhere from $2,500 to over $3,500. Overall, treadmills are usually more affordable for home gyms compared to stair machines.

Which One Should You Pick?

Whether you’re purchasing a machine for your home gym or deciding what to use at the gym, it’s crucial to make the right call. Selecting the right indoor exercise equipment will impact your fitness goals, enjoyment, and results. Here are some considerations to help you choose the right option.

Go With a Stair Stepper for Strengthening Muscles

Opt for the stair stepper if you’re looking to strengthen your legs and core. The stair stepper activates significant muscles like the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Each stride will use your legs and core for stability, making it excellent for a lower-exercise workout. 

The treadmill also uses these muscles but won’t typically activate them as strenuously unless you use a steep incline setting. So, for a better lower-body exercise, go with the stair stepper.

Use a Treadmill for Weight Loss

The treadmill can be a better machine for weight-loss goals. The treadmill can help you quickly burn calories, regardless of the intensity. Long sessions at low power can shed a lot of calories. Higher intensity will burn more calories, and the treadmill provides several settings to meet your goals. Not to mention, you can easily find exercise programs for any goal.

The Stair Stepper Can Be Low-Impact

Both machines can be low-impact alternatives, but the stair stepper can be lower-impact than the treadmill. The machine provides low-impact aerobic exercise. The stair stepper requires you to push off your leg instead of landing on it. This can cause less stress on the joints, feet, and ankles.

Go With a Treadmill If You Have Bad Knees

It might be best to use a treadmill if you have bad knees. The stair stepper requires you to repeatedly use your knees. Overuse of the stair stepper can lead to knee pain or exacerbate underlying issues. If you’re unsure about your situation, be sure to speak with your doctor before moving forward.

Do Treadmills and Stair Steppers Use the Same Muscles?

Both machines activate the major muscle groups, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. However, the stair stepper is better at strengthening these muscles, while the treadmill is ideal for cardiovascular conditioning.

Which is Better, the Treadmill or Stair Stepper?

Each machine offers advantages, disadvantages, and best-use cases. The best machine will depend on your goals, fitness level, and body composition. However, the treadmill can be better for burning calories and improving cardiovascular health. The stair stepper might be better as a low-impact alternative and strengthen muscles in the lower body.


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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