StairMaster vs. Elliptical

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You’re focusing on legs, glutes, and calves for your workout, but your typical gym routine just isn’t cutting it. It’s time to step things up. You’re building a home gym and you want the best machine to really get the job done. The difficult part is knowing which one.

Stairmasters have their own benefits, but they’re completely different from ellipticals. It’s important to know the pros, cons, and all the little details of both before you make a decision.

Let’s put them against each other and find everything that you need to know before you pull the trigger on that purchase decision.



Climbing stairs put in a serious workout (have you ever had to get to the 8th floor when the elevator’s out?), but it’s not for everyone.

Let’s talk about what StairMasters are good at, and what they’re not good at, and later on, we’ll find out how they compare to ellipticals for calorie burning, HIIT, and impact.


  • Low Barrier to Entry: You can learn how to use the StairMaster in a short amount of time. They’re not tricky to learn, and you can scale up to faster workouts almost immediately. Because it’s a similar motion for each exercise, you don’t have a ton of variation to learn. You can feel good about your workouts without having to scale up first.
  • Build Muscle: The elliptical isn’t going to grant you muscle gains. Stairmasters are putting tension and pressure on your leg muscles and your glutes, so after using this for a while, you’ll be able to see noticeable changes to the shape of your body. It’s not an overnight success, but it does help.
  • Helps With Endurance: Climbing stairs is actually extremely difficult when you hit those high numbers. Your endurance (ability to withstand cardio stress for long durations of time) is imperative to your health, and the StairMaster helps you out with it.


  • No Upper Body Workout: You won’t gain anything on your arms, torso, or back. It’s all in the legs. This is to be expected given what type of machine it is, but it still needs to be said. Just be sure that you have plans for strength training in the rest of your exercise regimen.
  • Can Exacerbate Back Issues: Have problems with your back? A StairMaster isn’t going to do you any favors. In fact, you shouldn’t even use one unless you have a decently strong back to start.



Ellipticals offer a totally different way to get your heart rate soaring and burn through calories. They take some of the control for fitness away from you, and the engagement isn’t as great, but they still have plenty to offer at the same time.

Later on, we’ll find out how they compare with HIIT, weight control, and impact against a StairMaster.


  • Slight Upper Body Workout: Not a fan of how your arms are coming along? Ellipticals help you shape your arms, even though it’s just a slight change. It won’t be as fast or effective as lifting weights, but it’s also something you won’t get with a StairMaster, either.
  • Low Impact: Minimal detriment to your joints, legs, and knees. While being low impact can be a bad thing, it’s also good for engaging exercises. Ellipticals help you maintain your joints and prevent further damage, which is why they’re also one of the most recommended exercises for seniors.
  • Lowered Exertion: Exercising until you’re literally out of energy isn’t a good thing in the slightest. It’s actually dangerous for your health. Your body needs the energy to do more than just build muscle, make your heart pump faster, and then keep you alive. You don’t exert yourself as quickly due to the lowered engagement threshold, so you can still exercise a lot without running into problems.


  • Doesn’t Mimic Natural Movement: Being on an elliptical feels extremely odd. In fact, it feels so unnatural that if you’re not doing it every single day, you’ll feel off-balance and off-center. Ellipticals mess with your equilibrium like nothing else.
  • Harder to Track Progress: It’s difficult to gauge exactly how effective ellipticals are. Because of the low impact and engagement, the movements could be doing less for you at certain intensities. Just because the machine is going faster doesn’t mean it’s engaging you any better than it would at lower speeds.



Now it’s time to take a look at how they look when you put them up against each other.

The goal is to find the results you want and make them happen, and if you choose the wrong machine, that’s going to be an extensive (and time-consuming) error. Let’s find you the right one.

Calories Burned

Stairmasters will help you build your leg muscles up a bit better, but muscle gains and calories lost are not the same things. Typically, people buy either a StairMaster or an elliptical with the goal of losing weight by burning calories.

If you want to lose weight and gaining muscle isn’t on your list right now, ellipticals will actually help you burn around 330 to 370 calories per 30-minute exercise.


The elliptical wins here again because cardio is all about burning calories by getting the heart pumping. Over time, quality cardio exercises will help you reduce your resting heart rate, which helps your heart take a break when you’re not in the throes of cardiovascular exercises.

It’s good for you, and the benefits are stupendous. The elliptical helps you make the most of your time each day, and as a result, the cardio benefits are simply better than they are on a StairMaster.


Training through intensity is another story entirely. A StairMaster is actually going to be better for you since HIIT relies on a mixture of high BPM and intensity for your muscles and joints.

It’s a hybrid exercise, and ellipticals help take away a lot of the impact of the exercise, so you just don’t get nearly as much engagement with an elliptical as you will with a StairMaster.

Impact Level

Impact levels directly affect how HIIT works, so it’s worth noting that impact levels are required for HIIT to be effective (at least for the strength training portion). However, low-impact is better for your joints and overall better for you in the long run.

The elliptical is the clear winner here since it takes a lot of the impact off compared to using a StairMaster.

Weight Control

Weight is a difficult thing to control. Most of it relates to what you eat in the kitchen, but when we want to optimize our body to be as efficient as possible and prevent further fat storage, we need to focus on strength training.

Because of the engagement level that a StairMaster gives you, it wins over the elliptical for weight control. Shedding calories is for weight loss; maintaining a healthy balance of cardio and strength training leads to weight control.

Find the Best Option for Your Fitness Goals

Which one fits your specific needs at the end of the day? Everyone has different fitness goals, and your equipment should reflect that.

Building a home gym isn’t for the faint of heart, so be sure that you have enough room and enough space to really fit everything that you need.

Whether you pick a stellar StairMaster or an excellent elliptical, just make sure it can help you hit your goals and be useful even after you reach them. Think about the long-term investment of one of these pieces of gym equipment.