What Is the Difference Between a Stair Stepper and a Stair Climber?

Woman using stair-climbing machine

Climbing stairs is great for burning calories and getting a cardiovascular workout. It can tone your muscles, strengthen you core and increase your aerobic capacity. However, few people actually want to climb a tower to exercise and would rather use a machine that simulates the motion of climbing stairs. The stair stepper and stair climber both simulate this motion in a different way.

Stair steppers have two platforms, or pedals, where you place your feet. As you push one foot down, the other foot will rise, giving the user the sensation of climbing stairs. Steppers can be fairly basic or offer multiple levels of resistance and speeds you can choose from. In all stair stepper models, the feet are in contact with the pedals at all times.

Stair Climber

Stair climbers are like a miniature escalator. Once you switch the machine on, the steps move down continuously. Though they have handrails for safety, you are likely to lose proper form and not get the full benefit of the exercise movements if you grip them tightly. Use the rails for assistance if you should lose your balance.

Muscles Worked

Both types of machines work the same muscles. Climbing stairs is a vigorous activity and works the glutes, quadriceps, calf muscles and hamstrings. The constant movement will tone the muscles and help boost your resting metabolism. The upper body is not targeted in stair workouts. A general workout on one of these machines will burn from 180 to 266 calories in half an hour, depending on how much you weigh.


There are several differences between the stair climber and stair stepper that you should take into consideration when planning your routine according to your fitness goals. When using the stair stepper, both feet should remain in contact with it. When using the stair climber, however, you have to constantly pick them up and set them down, which can make it harder on the knees. Some people are more likely to grab the handrails when using the stair climber than when they are using the stepper, which reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. It is easier to slow down on the stepper by lifting your feet more slowly. On the climber, you have to adjust the speed setting on the control panel to slow it. For an added fitness benefit, you can climb the stairs sideways when using the climber, but not when using the stepper.