PowerliftingTechnique.com is independent and supported by our readers. Please note that we may earn a commission if you buy through any of the links in our article (at no additional cost to you). For more, see our disclosures page. And thanks for supporting our team!
The Stairmaster and the treadmill are both hugely popular cardio machines that you’ll find in most gyms. Although both effectively improve your cardiovascular fitness and burn calories, one might be better, depending on your unique goals.
When I’m working with clients, I recommend both for warm-ups and cardio. But each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s compare the Stairmaster vs treadmill: The treadmill is better for most people, especially beginners. It's versatile and allows a range of intensities, from easy walks to fast runs. Running on a treadmill above 5.2 mph burns more calories than a Stairmaster. On average, treadmills burn up to 700 calories per hour, and Stairmasters burn an average of 400 calories per hour.
On the other hand, the Stairmaster shines in providing an all-encompassing lower body workout, core strengthening, and facilitating HIIT. Plus, it's an excellent option for those with joint or injury concerns who find running painful.
If you want to improve your fitness, you won’t want to miss any of these sections to select the right exercise for your goals.
Keep reading because I will cover the similarities and differences between the Stairmaster and the treadmill and answer whether the Stairmaster or treadmill is better. I’ll also give my recommendations you can pick up to take your home workouts to the next level.
Table of Contents
Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: 4 Differences
When comparing the Stairmaster vs running, there are a lot more differences to consider, including:
- Calories Burned
- Workout Intensity
- Muscles Targeted
- Joint Impact
1. Calories Burned
If your main concern is burning calories for fat loss, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘is the treadmill or Stairmaster better for weight loss?’
Both the Stairmaster and treadmill enable you to burn a decent number of calories per hour. On average, the Stairmaster burns up to 400 calories an hour, whereas you can burn up to 700 calories an hour on the treadmill.
Ultimately, if you want to lose weight and burn calories, it comes down to your workout intensity.
According to research by Compendium of Physical Activities, a Stairmaster burns more calories than a treadmill if you run slower than 5.2 mph (11.5 minutes per mile) or 8.4 kpm on a treadmill. However, the treadmill surpasses the StairMaster in calorie burn when you run faster than these speeds.
You can increase the rate you burn calories on a Stairmaster if you take bigger steps and don’t hold the handrail.
Your unique metabolism and physiology also contribute to your total calorie burn, so there will be individual variances to consider when it comes to which is more effective for weight loss.
2. Workout Intensity
You can adjust the intensity of your workouts on both the Stairmaster and treadmill. However, it’s much harder to run up the stairs than it is to run on a flat, rolling surface.
Running is a better cardio workout than walking and will provide a higher intensity workout than gently walking up the stairs on a Stairmaster.
But of course, it all depends on the settings that you choose on your machine and your effort. Depending on how quickly you're climbing, walking, or running, you can make a Stairmaster or a treadmill workout easier or harder.
3. Muscles Targeted
When comparing a flat or incline treadmill vs Stairmaster, there is a lot of overlap in the muscles targeted. However, although both machines emphasize the lower body muscles, there are distinct differences in the main muscles targeted.
The Stairmaster is optimal for targeting the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. As you climb each step, you need to isometrically contract your muscles to keep up with the rotating steps.
Your quads enable you to control each step, and your glutes and hamstrings provide force to keep you moving. Your calves are constantly relaxing and contracting with each step so you can continue climbing.
Conversely, Treadmills are better at developing the quads, hamstrings, and calves and place less emphasis on the glutes (although the glutes are somewhat involved if you’re running on a treadmill). You’ll use your quads, hamstrings, and calves to push yourself forward and keep up with the rotating belt of the treadmill.
4. Joint Impact
Is the Stairmaster better than the treadmill for your joints? The answer is yes!
If you’re dealing with joint issues, such as arthritis, recovering from an injury, or simply want to minimize the impact of your workouts on your joints, the Stairmaster is your best choice.
The Stairmaster offers a lower-impact workout and is easier on your joints. Walking up the stairs doesn’t exert as much force on your joints as running does, but it still provides a great lower-body workout.
Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: 4 Similarities
Looking at the Stairmaster vs treadmill, there are plenty of similarities between the two, including:
- Cardiovascular Fitness
- Customizable Workouts
- Ease of Use and Injury Risk
- Muscle Building Capabilities and Resistance
1. Cardiovascular Fitness
There are many benefits of the Stairmaster vs treadmill, but the main benefit is their ability to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Both machines provide effective cardio workouts for powerlifters that can elevate your heart rate and enhance your heart and lung function, leading to better cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
2. Customizable Workouts
Both the Stairmaster and the treadmill offer a customizable workout. With the Stairmaster, you can adjust your workout's speed and resistance level to increase or decrease the intensity. On a treadmill, you can increase or decrease the speed and elevation of the belt to customize your workouts according to your needs.
If you’re recovering from an injury or a beginner in the gym, you can keep the intensity nice and low to begin with. Once you’re nearing the end of your recovery or have built up some confidence and muscular endurance, you can start increasing the difficulty level on either machine.
3. Ease of Use and Injury Risk
There is no clear-cut winner when comparing the ease of use of the Stairmaster and treadmill. Both are relatively simple to operate, even for beginners, with various buttons to adjust the speed, intensity, incline, and workout program.
Some devices come with a ‘quick start’ button, and all Stairmasters and treadmills have safety mechanisms that stop the machine from operating if you fall off.
Both types of cardio machines also carry injury risks. Long-term high-intensity running on a treadmill increases your risk of developing shin splints and knee joint issues. Stairmasters require you to work against constant resistance and stay balanced to avoid injuries.
As with any cardio machine, properly using the Stairmaster and the treadmill is important to avoid accidents and injuries. If you’re unsure how to use either machine, ask a personal trainer in your gym for advice.
4. Muscle Building Capabilities and Resistance
Whether using the treadmill or Stairmaster, you can use these machines to build muscle. Although they aren’t as effective as living weights for hypertrophy and strength gains, you can build some level of muscle using either machine.
The Stairmaster and treadmill offer adjustable resistance settings, which allow you to increase or decrease the difficulty of your workouts and challenge your muscles in unique ways.
Walking on an incline, running, or sprinting on the treadmill will elicit muscle growth in your lower body. Similarly, walking on a Stairmaster at a relatively high resistance level will have some muscle-building effects.
The Stairmaster: How It Works, Benefits, Drawbacks, Muscles Worked, Product Recommendation
How Do Stairmasters Work?
The Stairmaster looks like a set of stairs with rails on either side. The front of the machine has a control panel where you can choose different settings to adjust your workout intensity.
A Stairmaster is designed to mimic traditional stairs. When you switch the machine on, the stairs will rotate, enabling you to mimic the action of walking up the stairs. The Stairmaster provides an effective lower-body workout as you constantly contract your muscles to continue walking up the stairs as they move behind you.
You can adjust the level of resistance and the speed at which the stairs will rotate. A slower speed and lower resistance will provide an easier workout, and vice versa.
If you’re wondering what the answer to the question, ‘Is the Stairmaster good for cardio?’ or you want to know what the Stairmaster is good for, here are some of the main benefits of using a Stairmaster machine:
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Increased calorie burn and weight loss
- Lower impact form of exercise than running
- Lower risk of joint paint compared to using a treadmill
- Convenient way to perform high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
There are drawbacks to choosing the Stairmaster over the treadmill. The main drawbacks include:
- Limited variability in workouts compared to using the treadmill
- May be intimidating for beginners
- Requires a higher level of baseline fitness than using the treadmill
- No upper body involvement
Muscles Worked With the Stairmaster
The Stairmaster primarily targets your legs, with particular emphasis on all of the lower body muscles, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
If you’re considering whether to use the Stairmaster or treadmill for abs workouts, both are great. Climbing the stairs requires you to contract your abs to stay balanced and continue working against the resistance of the machine.
Running or sprinting on a treadmill will also target your abs effectively. However, gentle walking or light jogging won’t be as effective as the Stairmaster at building your abs.
I recommend investing in the BowFlex Max Trainer M6, which is my top choice for my friends and clients.
The M6 is a premium machine that you’ll enjoy using. It boasts a compact design that most people can fit in the corner of a room. It's made with high-quality materials that assure durability and longevity, reflecting BowFlex's dedication to crafting sturdy fitness equipment.
Unlike cheaper models, the M6 offers smooth motion, minimizing joint stress while ensuring an effective, high-intensity workout. It’s a pleasure to use and I look forward to my workouts, which isn’t always the case if I have to use a cheap Stairmaster at the gym.
While the BowFlex Max Trainer M6 comes at a premium price point, the workouts' features, build quality, and effectiveness provide excellent value for those serious about fitness.
Treadmills: How They Work, Benefits, Drawbacks, Muscles Worked, Product Recommendation
How Do Treadmills Work?
A treadmill is a type of cardio machine that is designed for walking, jogging, or running. Its flat belt rotates around a set of rollers, creating a moving surface you can walk or run on. You can adjust the speed at which the belt rotates, as well as the incline of the platform, to adjust your workout intensity.
Treadmills are easy to operate. They usually have a ‘quick start’ button that you press to start the machine. When you press this button, the belt will start rotating at the lowest speed setting. You can then use the buttons on the control panel to adjust the speed and incline accordingly.
Some treadmills have preset workouts that you can select to vary your workouts. For example, your treadmill might have a ‘rolling hills’ setting, where the incline increases and decreases to mimic running across hills.
You can perform a variety of workouts on a treadmill, including gentle walking, light jogging, steady-state running, and sprinting for high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
The treadmill offers a wide range of benefits for gym-goers of all levels. Some of the main benefits of using a treadmill include:
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Increased calorie burn and weight loss
- Easy to use and operate
- Customizable workouts
- Low impact options
- Easy to track workouts and progress
As with any cardio equipment, the treadmill doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Some of the main drawbacks of using a treadmill include:
- Injury risk
- Can be boring or repetitive in the long term
- Lower glute engagement compared to the Stairmaster
- High cost
Muscles Worked With the Treadmill
The treadmill targets the lower body muscles, particularly the quads, hamstrings, and calves (although the glutes are also recruited when you’re walking on an incline or running). Running or sprinting will also recruit your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles, improving your core strength and stability.
You can incorporate some upper body movement into your treadmill workouts by swinging your arms to help propel you forward.
If you’re looking for a top-quality treadmill for your home gym, I highly recommend the NordicTrack T Series 6.5 S Treadmill. It reaches a speed of up to 10 mph and a 10% incline, enabling you to customize your workouts according to your needs and preferences.
It has a sturdy steel base with minimal movement, even when you’re sprinting, and a large LCD display that makes it easy to see your selected settings. You can access the iFit Membership for on-demand workouts too.
My gym has this model, so you know it can last for years with regular use. It’s also super quiet so I can hear the television as I run. The 10-inch screen also makes it easy to select your workout options.
StairMaster vs. Treadmill: Which Should You Choose?
I recommend a treadmill over a Stairmaster for most people, especially beginners. Treadmills offer more variety in your workouts, and they’re more beginner-friendly than Stairmasters because you can walk at a very low intensity until you build up your muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness.
- Treadmills also burn more calories per hour (up to 700 calories), especially if you’re running faster than 5.2 mph, than using a Stairmaster (up to 400 calories). H
- However, if you prefer walking, go for the Stairmaster. Don’t hold the rails, and try to take larger steps for a better workout.
The Stairmaster is superior if you’re looking for a cardiovascular machine that targets all of the lower body muscles, builds your core, and enables you to perform HIIT. It’s more suitable if you’re dealing with an injury or joint health issues and can’t run without discomfort.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a Stairmaster or Treadmill Better for Weight Loss?
So, what burns more calories - the treadmill or Stairmaster? Because you can work out at a higher intensity on the treadmill, you can burn more calories (around 700 per hour) than you can on the Stairmaster (around 400 per hour).
Is the Stairmaster Considered HIIT?
You can use the Stairmaster as a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) by adjusting the speed and resistance of the machine and alternating between periods of higher and lower intensity. However, you can also use the Stairmaster as a form of low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio by keeping the speed and resistance the same throughout your workout.
Is an Incline Walk or Stairmaster Better for Weight Loss?
You can use the treadmill on an incline or the Stairmaster for weight loss; both are effective at burning calories. However, the Stairmaster comes out on top, as it provides a more intense workout with a higher level of resistance to stimulate muscle growth and burn calories for weight loss.
When comparing the Stairmaster vs treadmill, it’s important to consider your unique needs and wants. Both machines are effective for improving cardiovascular health and fitness, and both can elicit muscle growth.
I recommend trying both machines in your local gym for a few weeks and seeing which one you prefer before you purchase a machine for your home gym. If you enjoy both and are seeing great results, incorporate both the treadmill and Stairmaster into your routine if you wish!
About The Author
Athina is a Biochemistry and Genetics graduate, and a qualified personal trainer with a passion for women’s health and fitness. She is passionate about helping women to learn more about the importance of the menstrual cycle and how to balance their hormones. She is the host and producer of Fertility and Freedom podcast, which covers all things women’s health and hormones.