Stairmaster vs Treadmill – Which is a Better Cardio Workout?

Natalie Cecconi
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If you’re wondering how to compare treadmills as a fitness tool for runners to StairMaster then you are at the right place. This article will answer all your questions!

In this article, we’ll discuss the similarities and differences between a StairMaster and running on a treadmill. We’ll discuss which gives you the better cardio workout and other considerations such as impact, duration, cost, and so forth, ending on a pros and cons summary for each one.

Stairmaster versus Treadmill

When it comes to the treadmill and the Stairmaster, many people have a hard time determining which of the two is the better option for their fitness goals. The truth is that the two items aren’t that different from one another, though they both target different muscles and provide comparable health benefits.

A treadmill or a Stairmaster both work by subjecting the body to an external force that’s meant to challenge the ability to maintain balance and posture. What this means is that, when one uses a treadmill or a Stairmaster, their muscles must continuously tighten or loosen in order to stabilize the body.

The Stairmaster requires the use of certain leg muscles to perform, which means that it will benefit the legs more than the treadmill. If you have knee problems, however, you should exercise caution when using such a machine as the Stairmaster, as it can cause extra strain on your knees.

The treadmill uses the entire body to support one’s body weight, so it engages the arms and the upper body as well. In addition, it also targets the muscles of the core and the lower back. In the end, the treadmill is ideal for those who want to engage all the muscles of the body as opposed to those who just want to target a particular body part.


The human body was built for prolonged walking and running. It was not intended to sit in front of a desk all day and be stuffed into a subway or a bus. It wasn’t given the muscular strength or the fat-burning abilities to handle either of those situations well.

To counteract the negative impact of our modern lifestyle, people are moving to the gym to get some exercise into their lives. The most popular cardio machine that is now available is the treadmill.

When you run on a treadmill (not a walk or jog), your feet are on the machine, and you are going at an intense yet steady pace. You don’t have to focus on anything else because the treadmill takes care of adjusting the pace and keeping you going. It’s just hard to beat running for a cardio workout.

While it’s easier to walk than climb stairs, it’s harder to run than climb stairs!
But with the StairMaster, you have to maintain your pace by being aware of how high you’ve climbed upwards. There is also the option to go down the steps, which is a great workout but still less effective cardio exercise than running. It's because StairMaster mixes cardio and resistance training, giving your lower body more of a strength workout but not giving you as much cardio.


We all know climbing stairs can be very hard on your knees, especially if you have joint issues. Stairmaster is more impact-causing exercise than a treadmill. It also can be easier to get injured on a StairMaster because you are moving vertically instead of horizontally. You’ll have to fight against gravity more, which can potentially lead to injuries.


The everyday life of many people does not allow them to devote enough time for running or jogging outside. This is where treadmills come into play as convenient substitutes for outdoor training.

However, runners are often in a dilemma – should they spend time on the treadmill or go for a run outdoors.

But whichever option you opt for, if you run at a high intensity, you could burn close to 700 calories in a typical treadmill or an intense run outdoors. The same high intensity on the StairMaster will net you closer to 400 calories. However, if you have a slower running pace or walk on the treadmill, the StairMaster will be better.


When it comes to running, speed and duration are very closely related. A person who runs at a moderate pace for a long time will burn a lot more calories than someone who runs very fast for a minimal amount of time. So duration should be a consideration if you’re trying to lose weight.

A treadmill will likely give you a better workout in the same amount of time as StairMaster. You’ll be able to burn more calories and, therefore, more fat on the treadmill than on the StairMaster.

A treadmill can allow you to run at a constant speed for longer than a StairMaster can. Many treadmills allow you to set a course that takes you throughout the length of the machine, which can allow you to run even longer than the machine is capable of.
But if you’re trying to add in some resistance training, the StairMaster is the better option because you have to step, which is more challenging than just moving your legs forward and walking or running.


Most of the time, StairMaster is generally more expensive than treadmills. You can get a good treadmill for around $1,000 or less. You’re going to need several thousand dollars for a StairMaster, making it cost-prohibitive for most people. While cost can be a factor, I would always advise you to buy the tool that will give you the best cardio workout.


Both the treadmill and StairMaster allow you to do aerobic exercise and to track your heart rate. The treadmill is on a flat surface and uses a track perfect for cardio, whereas the Stairmaster replicates climbing stairs, mixing cardio with resistance training.

So the real question is, “ Which one should you choose?

For a baseline comparison, the treadmill has been around longer than the StairMaster. Quite a few people also can recall using a treadmill as one of the first cardio machines they used at the gym. But the Stairmaster is gaining popularity and has been challenging the treadmill for a while in terms of cost, popularity, and convenience.

Stairmaster Pros

Let’s start the conversation with the apparent advantage of the Stairmaster – it offers resistance training in addition to cardio.

Although the name implies that you would be working your legs and your core, the resistance comes from your arms and shoulders as you lean into the handles and hold your body up. This makes the Stairmaster a great total body workout for those looking to get a full-body workout.

Stairmaster Cons

A common complaint of Stairmaster workouts is the inability to increase intensity. Since you rely on gravity to determine the pace, you can do little to speed up or slow down your workout. Also, the impact on knee joints is way more than a treadmill and not recommended for people having joint issues. Stairmaster isn't as easily accessible as a treadmill, and you won't find it in every gym.

Treadmill Pros

If you are interested in getting a good cardio workout, the one name that pops in mind is none other than treadmills. Every gym is going to have a treadmill, so they are very accessible.

Technically speaking, yes, a treadmill is a better exercise machine. A treadmill allows you to control the speed of your workout accurately.

Treadmill Cons

When you increase the treadmill's speed, you risk putting more pressure on your knees, which may cause increased pain and irritation in the knee joint. You don't work as many muscles using a treadmill as a Stairmaster. And people find it boring spending hours on the treadmill.