Stairmaster vs Treadmill – Which is a Better Cardio Workout?


Take this as a measure of how behind the times I am: I used a stairmaster for the first time a couple months ago. What was a waiting for?! I really enjoyed it. The stairmaster hasn’t supplanted my devotion to my, um, “beloved” treadmill, but it’s provided a great alternative to mix things up.

Maybe you’re like me and just tried on a stairmaster. Now you’re wondering how it compares to a treadmill as a fitness tool for runners. Is it worth switching up your time on the treadmill every so often for a workout on the stairmaster? We’ll answer that question as well as others!

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 as well as other considerations such as impact, duration, cost, and so forth, ending on a pros and cons summary for each one.

stairmaster vs treadmill

Stairmaster versus Treadmill

To start, a brief explanation: you’re going to be climbing a lot of stairs with the stairmaster, whereas a treadmill is just forward movement. This means that if you’re walking on the treadmill, you’ll burn a lot more calories on the stairmaster. It’s easier to walk than climb stairs!

But as you ramp up the running pace, the gap closes. We’ll discuss that and other considerations below!

Related: What burns more calories? Treadmill or Elliptical?


It’s just hard to beat running for a cardio workout, and if you’re going at a high intensity, you’re going to get a better workout on the treadmill as compared with the stairmaster. While it’s easier to walk than climb stairs; it’s harder to run than climb stairs!

But this makes sense. Plenty of people who walk climb stairs, but there are a lot of people who climb flights of stairs a day for work but never run. That’s because running is a better cardio workout, and if you haven’t been running, it will be harder than climbing stairs!

One caveat: it should be intuitive that a tough running workout will burn more calories than an easy stair workout. Our point is that the treadmill is more effective at delivering a tough workout than the stairmaster. It all depends on the effort you put in.


While the stairmaster is low impact because you’re not pounding the treadmill, you do have to complete a repetitive movement of climbing stairs, which can be very hard on your knees.

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.


If you run at a high intensity, you could burn close to 700 calories in a typical workout. 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 the better option.

The reason why is because the treadmill is a pure cardio machine. You aren’t dealing with anything except cardio. By contrast, the stairmaster mixes cardio and resistance training, giving your lower body more of a strength workout but not giving you as much cardio.


Depending on how hard you go and what you’re trying to accomplish, the treadmill will likely give you a better workout in the same amount of time. You’ll be able to burn more calories and therefore more fat on the treadmill than on the stairmaster.

But if you’re trying to add in some resistance training, the stairmaster is the better option because you have to step, which is harder than just moving your legs forward and walking/running.

If you want to build strength and endurance in your lower body and get in cardio at the same time, you’ll get more bang for your buck with a stairmaster.


In terms of purchasing a stairmaster or a treadmill, the latter is significantly less expensive. 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.

Stairmasters are a cardio staple at most gyms, though. If you have access to a gym, spend a bit of time over the next couple weeks working the stairmaster into your routine, and see what it does for you. Even if you feel it’s not as effective as running, it can be a valuable cross-training tool.


Let’s do a quick summary of stairmaster versus treadmill so that you can have an easy way to compare the two.

Stairmaster Pros

A stairmaster is a great choice if you’re recovering from an injury or if you’re older. It is low-impact, meaning it will be easier on your joints. At the same time, you’ll still get a great lower body workout.

You’ll get a high calorie burn rate, and you’ll be building lean muscles. Plus, it’s more mentally invigorating than running on a treadmill. You have to keep up with the moving steps!

Stairmaster Cons

If you are a little uncoordinated (like I am), it can be challenging to keep up with the stairmaster even if it’s going at a normal speed. Plus, it can be hard on your upper body if you’re inclined to slouch. For best results, you need to maintain an upright position.

Because it is a less common machine than a treadmill, if you go to a smaller gym or have one in your apartment or condo complex, there’s a possibility that there isn’t a stairmaster, so it’s less accessible.

Treadmill Pros

Every gym is going to have a treadmill, so they are very accessible. All you have to do is jump on and start running. You don’t have to be particularly coordinated to use a treadmill, and you can probably watch TV as you’re doing it.

You’ll get all the exercise benefits from the treadmill—stronger bones and muscles, more endorphins, and improved mental and emotional well being. Running is also one of the best ways to burn calories and lose weight, so depending on your pace, you’ll likely burn more on the treadmill than the stairmaster.

Treadmill Cons

We all know that running is very hard on the joints because it is high-impact, so you definitely won’t be giving your body a break. It also can be hard to stay stimulated on the treadmill because it’s a repetitive action.

Finally, treadmills vary in quality. If your gym is smaller, you probably don’t have a lux treadmill, and, if it’s older, it might not give you the best workout possible.

In the end, each machine provides its own advantages and disadvantages. If you want to get the best of both worlds, you might want to consider incorporating both machines into your workouts! Then you can get the benefits of toning your lower body from the stairmaster as well as the cardio benefits from the treadmill.