Stair Stepper Vs. Treadmill

young woman jogging on a treadmill

A stair stepper is a training tool that has flat pedals that move up and down in the motion of walking up stairs. Treadmills have durable belts that move around in a circular motion as you walk or run on top of them. These machines have their similarities and differences, and one may fit your exercise goals better than the other, depending on what your goals are.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise is characterized by repetitive movement of the body. Multiple muscles are all being called into play simultaneously to create this movement. Both the stair stepper and treadmill are cardio machines. By using them, you can improve your aerobic capacity which will allow you to work out for longer periods of time without feeling winded. This will also come in handy with daily tasks like walking up long flights of stairs and pushing a lawn mower.


When you are overweight, you are at higher risk for complications like type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart disease and cancer. The key to losing weight is burning calories. This in turn will reduce your disease risk and increase your self confidence. Using a 200-lb. person as an example, the stair stepper burns over 800 calories in 60 minutes and the treadmill burns over 900 calories running at 6 mph. If that same sized person walked at 4 1/2 mph, he would burn just over 570 calories. If you were to incorporate any one of these workouts into your daily routine, you would burn well over 3,500 calories a week, which equals a pound.

Muscles Worked

The stepper and treadmill work similar muscles in the lower body. The glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are examples. The glutes are also known as the buttocks, the quads are on the front of the thighs, the hamstrings are on the back of the thighs and the calves -- which consist of the gastrocnemius and soleus -- are located below the knees on the backs of the legs. If you were to turn up the incline on the treadmill, you would increase the workload on your glutes and hamstrings.


The stair stepper and treadmill both have adjustments to make your workout more challenging. With the treadmill, you can turn up the speed, increase the incline or do both at the same time. With the stair stepper, you increase the resistance to make the stepping motion more challenging. Being that your feet are not fixed, you need to have better balance when using a treadmill. Even though a treadmill has a handrail, you should only use it when first stepping onto the treadmill. If you place your hands on it during your workouts, you will take emphasis away from your body.


Impact is where these two machines differ. Once you place your feet on the foot pedals of the stair stepper, they stay there for your whole workout, reducing impact to your joints. The treadmill, on the other hand, causes a lot of impact to your hips, knees and ankles. You can reduce this impact by just walking. This still causes more stress to your joints than the stepper, but it is considerably less than running. By walking with the incline up, you can increase the intensity of your workouts. The impact does actually come with its advantages, though. Working out on a treadmill is weight bearing. When you do regular weight bearing exercise, your bone adapts to the impact of the weight and pull of the muscle by building more cells and becoming stronger, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.