Stair Climber vs. Elliptical

Four people stepping

Cardiovascular exercise is any form of repetitive movement that involves the major muscles with light or no added resistance. The stair climber and elliptical trainer are two types of cardio equipment that fit this criteria. If you're starting a new workout plan that involves cardio, get familiar with these two machines before using them regularly.


Stair climbers and ellipticals cause only low impact on the joints. This makes it possible for people with joint problems to work out with minimal risk of further injury. Of the two, the elliptical has less impact, since your feet never leave the pedals during exercise.

Stair climbers and ellipticals are available in different styles. A stepper is similar to the standard stair-climbing machine but has pedals that move up and down instead of a revolving staircase. Some elliptical machines have hand poles, while others do not.


Stair climbers and ellipticals have the same overall functions -- they burn calories, improve aerobic capacity and tone muscles. When it comes to caloric expenditure, there is a slight difference. A 200-lb. person burns approximately 815 calories in a 60-minute stair-climbing session and approximately 860 calories in one hour of elliptical training. The caloric expenditure will vary enormously based on an individual's body weight and the intensity of the exercise session.


Stair climbers and ellipticals vary greatly in their appearance. A typical stair climber has a small staircase that continually revolves as you walk up it. At the top and sides are handrails to help you balance.

An elliptical trainer has foot pedals and often hand-held poles that move back and forth in an alternating fashion. Elliptical trainers have a forward and reverse feature, and you also have the option of using just the foot pedals.

Both machines have digital screens with workouts to choose from and buttons that enable you to change the intensity of the exercise. For example, you can adjust the resistance of the stair climber, making it more difficult to push each stair down. On ellipticals, you can typically adjust both the resistance and the incline to change the intensity of your workout.


Stair climbers target the lower-body muscles. The glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are examples. Since you have to continually step in a vertical pattern, the contraction on these muscles is greater than on an elliptical. The elliptical, however, also works your upper body with the hand poles, which you move in unison with the foot pedals. The latissimus dorsi, pectorals, deltoids, triceps and biceps all get worked. These are anatomical names for the back, chest, shoulders and arms.


When using the stair climber, do not lean on the hand rails. Use them only for balance and apply light pressure with your hands. When using the elliptical and stair climber, exercise in a smooth, steady fashion, keeping your body erect. While you exercise, look straight ahead, and don't slouch your shoulders.