StairMaster vs. Treadmill

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StairMaster vs treadmill: the great, epic debate for cardio enthusiasts.

Funnily enough, you might be here because you despise cardio (as a lot of people do), and you just want the most efficient machine to get the job done. You want to save your time and apply it to strength training, and that’s okay.

When we put two cardio machines up against one another, we’re trying to find efficiency and peak performance in a way that doesn’t bore us to tears. This is the last comparison you’ll need to find out which machine works best for you.



StairMasters engage your joints and provide better leg muscle building and glute building than treadmills. You get dynamic motion that keeps you mentally engaged and away from boredom while building up leg muscles and getting cardio in at the same time.

StairMasters aren’t more expensive than treadmills, so if cost is your main thought going into this, your budget will just allow for a certain grade of either treadmill or StairMaster. It’s up to you which one you go with.


  • Leg Muscle Building: Your quads, glutes, and additional leg muscles are all engaged almost instantly, helping you build muscle instead of solely burning calories.
  • Better Cardio Health: Gravity sucks and blood pools, so your legs actually need more exercise than many other parts of your body. The StairMaster keeps your cardiovascular system functioning as intended.
  • Decimates Calories: Climbing stairs may not seem like much of a task, but it burns calories like nothing else. You can feel the burn when you step off.
  • Shorter Exercises: You can scale intensity fairly quickly on a StairMaster. With a treadmill, even if you’re doing HIIT exercises, you have to give a little bit more before you can really feel the burn and sweat. StairMaster allows you to take short bursts of exercise, which is perfect for anyone on a tight schedule.


  • Back Problems: You run the risk of really hurting your spine. It’s easy to keep good posture on a treadmill or bike, but it takes time to get used to the wonky way you have to stand on a StairMaster.
  • Harder to Learn: There is a bit of a learning curve at play, so you have to have some patience to reap the rewards.
  • Longer to Find Your Groove: Even when you learn something, there’s still the mastery stage. You know how to use it, but with a StairMaster, it takes longer to feel comfortable with it than traditional cardio machines and equipment.



Treadmills use motors and revolving treads that create a moving platform beneath your feet.

You stand in place, run at your desired speed and incline, and measure your progress with a console screen. Treadmills can be used for HIIT and a few other cardio derivative exercises, though they are limited.

It should be noted that treadmills are typically the same price as StairMasters for mid-tier models. You’ll of course find expensive treadmills in the two grand range that have added benefits, but at the end of the day, the exercise and benefits are basically the same.


  • Improved Joint Health: Even though the range isn’t entirely dynamic, you’re still gently working out your joints and improving the muscles around them. That stability will pay off in the long run.
  • Easy to Use: You don’t need to know much to get started on a treadmill. Back straight, elbows bent, and keep your core engaged. See? It’s simple to use, and that lack of a barrier is great for everyone.
  • All the Cardio You Need: You don’t have to get a stationary bike or run track or go jogging even. A treadmill can be all the cardio you need in a neat little rectangular corner of your home, so the convenience is nice.
  • Emulates Outdoor Walking: With the right incline level, you can get a more natural outdoor walk/jog feeling. Incline levels are what differentiate StairMasters and treadmills. The incline is where you can scale your exercises to meet your needs every single time.


  • Not Very Engaging: It can be boring to run on a treadmill, which is why some brands tried to reinvent treadmills with interactive and engaging trails. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough, and you have to find your own entertainment while running.
  • Less Muscle Engagement: You can engage more than just your calf and leg muscles while you use a treadmill, but even then, you’re not going to see major gains or anything like that.
  • Less Dynamic Motion: If flexibility is important to you, a treadmill isn’t going to offer you a whole lot of value in this department. You’re basically doing the same thing over and over.


Now it’s time to put these two against each other and see what’s what. Treadmills are a bit outdated for modern exercise, but StairMasters also have their disadvantages. Let’s find out what this manufactured rivalry between two machine types is really all about.

Calories Burned

Calories Burned

You burn more calories on a treadmill than you do on a StairMaster. While a StairMaster helps you enact the afterburn effect, where you burn more calories for up to 36 hours after a workout, treadmill exercise doesn’t exactly halt caloric loss the second you step off of it.

The argument that the StairMaster is better because it offers resistance training is at least a valid point, but not sustainable. Burning calories is how you shed unwanted fat, and while building muscles is important, you do get great muscle engagement on either machine.

The treadmill is better for burning calories even if it doesn’t hit the same points as the StairMaster.


Cardio training means that it affects your cardiovascular system. It’s a complex and complicated system, which means it often needs a complex plan to maintain it. Both of these machines get your blood pumping, but nothing does it like the StairMaster.

Gravity causes blood to pool in your calves. There are valves in there that help pull the blood up to your heart, which is why you have a higher heart rate while standing than you do when laying down. Your body is fighting gravity, so your heart has to pump more often to pull that blood volume up.

While you use the StairMaster, you’re exercising your calves and thighs, opening and closing those valves to help your body push and pull blood. It’s exhausting, but it has more direct cardio benefits than a treadmill.



High-intensity interval training is a very specific type of exercise, but thankfully, you can use just about any machine with it. You can use a treadmill or a StairMaster for HIIT exercises, but one of them is a clear winner.

And it’s the treadmill again. The StairMaster is close, but the intensity that you get from the treadmill is more scalable than the StairMaster, so you can slowly upgrade your HIIT workout to bring you the intensity that you need to get the results you’re after.

Impact Level

Treadmills absolutely have more impact thanStairMasters. Unless you’re gently walking at a brisk pace (which won’t yield the results you want), your knees take an impact during your time on a treadmill.

When your foot comes down hard on the tread, that shock is transferred to your joints. StairMasters require you to stay in the same position for the entire time, so the impact and shock is evenly distributed and not all sent right up your calf to your knees.

Overall, if you need a low-impact workout to protect yourself against future injuries, a StairMaster will work out better. Plus, because it builds muscles around your joints, it will help with stability in a way that treadmills simply don’t.

Weight Control

Here is where treadmills actually win for a change. You can burn more calories in the same amount of time on a treadmill versus a StairMaster. Because there’s less impact on the StairMaster, it equates to less that your body has to go through.

That being said, weight control isn’t just about losing calories. Building and exercising your muscles is imperative to maintain weight and control it. Because the StairMaster at least offers resistance training and muscle-building, it has its own unique advantage for weight control.

Still, the treadmill wins in this department because it lets you shed more weight than a StairMaster does, and in the end, that’s why a lot of people choose cardio in the first place.

Finding Your Perfect Cardio Groove

Treadmills have their ups and downs, but at least they’re consistent. If a StairMaster doesn’t work for you, there’s no harm in going with a treadmill and vice versa. At the end of the day, it’s about preference and finding what works for you to be able to get the best workout possible.