Elliptical Vs Stairmaster 2022: Which is Better?

By Inge
Last update:

*HomeGymUnlimited helps consumers find the best home fitness products. When you buy a product we recommend, we may earn a commission.

The elliptical and stairmaster both provide low-impact exercise. However, they differ in how they engage muscles, burn calories, and impact your joints.

Elliptical Vs Stairmaster
Elliptical and stairmaster differ in how they engage muscles

As a personal trainer, I will help you choose between these two machines. I also add some recommendations on the best elliptical machines and stairmasters for home use.

And… as a bonus, I will review some ellipticals and stair steppers.

Plus: if you can’t choose, this will make you happy. Because there actually exists a machine that combines the elliptical and the stair stepper.

Let’s start the review.

Table of Contents

Elliptical Vs Stairmaster Comparison

Type of motion

Elliptical

An elliptical trainer is a stationary exercise machine that mimics the motions of running without the impact on your joints. You can pedal forward or backward and change speed and incline.

The classic elliptical machine has handles that remain stationary. They allow you to hold on for balance.

Depending on the model, many ellipticals also function as a cross trainer. They have two pairs of handles: stationary and moving handles. So you can use it as both an elliptical and a cross trainer.

Stairmaster

A stairmaster (or stair step machine) mimics the motions of climbing stairs. By changing the resistance, this can either be a high intensity workout where you go at high speed.

Or a cardio-strength training where you go at a lower speed and need more strength to climb.

On a stairmaster, you can also step sideways and train the sides of your legs.

As a personal trainer, I recommend you practice both running and climbing. If you have enough space in your home gym and enough budget, you could do with both machines.

Otherwise, choose the lower leg cardio machine that best meets your needs. Consider the important aspects below.

Calories Burned

If your primary objective is to burn calories as fast as possible, then choose the elliptical.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, a 155-pound person working out on an elliptical trainer for 30 minutes burns 324 calories. While on a stair step machine this would be only 215 calories.

Winner Calories Burned Comparison

Elliptical is the winner, because according to Harvard it burns 30% more calories.

Impact on your Joints

In general, the elliptical machine is easier on your joints than a stairmaster.

The elliptical machine is easier on the body because it provides a low-impact workout and can be used by those who might be injured or in pain, such as people with arthritis or back issues [1].

The stairmaster machine provides a high-intensity workout that can cause knee and ankle problems. It may also aggravate existing injuries or conditions like arthritis or back pain.

In addition, it requires more energy output than an elliptical machine, which means it can put more stress on your heart and lungs than an elliptical machine would.

Winner Impact Level Comparison

Elliptical is the winner, because it has less impact on your joints.

Intensity

If you want to get your heart rate up fast, look no further than the stairmaster. Stairmasters are good for short, high-intensity bursts. It is a machine designed to simulate climbing stairs, so it’s ideal if you love an intense workout.

While the elliptical machine is more suitable if you want to get your heart rate up gradually over time. It is also a great option if you want a low-impact workout that won’t put pressure on your joints or muscles.

Winner Intensity Comparison

Stairmaster is the winner, because it gives a more intense workout than the elliptical.

Muscle Toning

An elliptical machine targets your hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, calves, and core [2]. And stairmasters target almost the same muscle groups [3].

If you have an elliptical crosstrainer, you also target your arms and shoulders.

The difference for your lower body is that elliptical machines provide a more natural stride, which helps reduce stress on joints.

But if you want to tone up your legs and glutes, you’ll need more than just a leisurely ride on an elliptical machine. 

Stairmaster tones your lower body better than an elliptical. They’re more intense than elliptical machines and require you to do more work. This is why they are popular in gyms—they get results.

So if you want to work out your lower body with less impact on your joints, then the elliptical is the exercise machine for you.

But if you want to train your lower body at a higher intensity, you should go for the stairmaster. And if you want to include your upper body, a cross trainer is another option, as it has handles that work your arms.

Winner Muscle Toning Comparison

Stairmaster is the winner, because it tones your lower body better than the elliptical.

Versatility

Both machines are suitable for cardio and resistance training.

On an elliptical you can change the incline and resistance and adjust your stride length. You can also pedal forward and backward. Many ellipticals can also be used as a cross-trainer. In that way, you also train your arms and shoulders.

On a stairmaster you can adjust speed and resistance to challenge yourself. You can climb forward and backward. What you can do on a stairmaster, and not on an elliptical, is step sideways. In that way you train different muscles in your legs.

Winner Versatility Comparison

No “winner” when it comes to versatility. Just different exercises.

Comfort

The elliptical is definitely the way to go if you’re looking for something simple and easy to use. The stairmaster is a bit more complicated and takes some getting used to.

The elliptical also allows you to adjust the resistance on each pedal so you can pick how hard or easy it is for yourself. Elliptical is also more comfortable to use since it has less impact on your joints. Though you can also adjust the resistance on the stairmaster, models that use revolving stairs have a fixed incline. And therefore you cannot change it.

Winner Comfort Comparison

Elliptical is the winner, because it is more comfortable to use

Cost

If you’re looking for a cost-effective workout machine, you should go with an elliptical. I compared the price tags of stairmasters and elliptical machines. And I found that ellipticals are generally cheaper than stairmasters. 

Winner Cost Comparison

Elliptical is the winner, because it is less expensive than the stairmaster.

Elliptical Vs Stairmaster: The Winner

Looking at the several factors above, the elliptical machine appears to be a better choice than the stairmaster for most people. However, it depends on your situation and personal preference.

  • The elliptical burns 30% more calories in the same time frame as the stairmaster (according to Harvard)
  • The elliptical targets the same muscle groups as the stairmaster at a lower intensity. 
  • The elliptical trainer has less impact on your joints and is more comfortable to use.
  • The elliptical is cheaper than a stairmaster.

As you decide whether to buy a stairmaster or an elliptical, please consider the following recommendations from me.

Elliptical Recommendations

Note: All of the elliptical machines listed here have both stationary and moving handles. So they work as an elliptical and cross trainer.

Sunny Health & Fitness Essentials Series Magnetic Smart Elliptical

FeaturesSunny Health & Fitness Essentials Series Magnetic Smart Elliptical
DimensionsLength: 39.4 in (100.08 cm)
Width: 26.4 in (67.6 cm)
Height: 59.8 in (151.89 cm)
Stride Length11 in (27.94 cm)
Pedal Step HeightMin: 6.5 in (16.51 cm)
Max: 12.8 in (32.51 cm)
Weight69 lbs (31.3 kgs)
Maximum User Weight220 lbs (99.79 kgs)
Resistance Levels8
Workout ProgramsNone
Other FeaturesSunnyFit® App
Bluetooth Compatible
Device Holder
Digital Monitor
Pulse Sensor
Floor Stabilizers
Warranty3 Year Structural Frame
180 Days Other Parts And Components

If you decide to go for elliptical machines, I recommend the Sunny Health & Fitness Essentials Series Magnetic Smart Elliptical. This elliptical has a small footprint. So it can fit in any space without occupying too much room in your home gym.

The Sunny Health & Fitness Essentials Series Magnetic Smart Elliptical has a digital monitor that shows the distance traveled, the time elapsed, calories burned, speed, and even your pulse. It provides eight magnetic resistance levels that let you change your workout’s intensity.

And if you have short legs or are on the shorter side, this elliptical will still be comfortable to use since it has a stride length of only 11 inches. Also, the minimum pedal height is only 6.5 inches. So it will be easy to get on and off this elliptical, especially if you are a senior or undergoing therapy. 

This magnetic smart elliptical is a great entry-level bike if you are looking for an elliptical machine. It is affordable too. 


Schwinn Fitness 430 Elliptical

FeaturesSchwinn Fitness 430 Elliptical
DimensionsLength: 70.8 in (178.1 cm)
Width: 28.2 in (71.5 cm)
Height: 63.2 in (160.5 cm)
Stride Length20 in (50.8 cm)
Pedal Step HeightNot Specified
Weight164.2 lbs (74.5 kgs)
Maximum User Weight300 lbs (136 kgs)
Resistance Levels20
Workout Programs22 preset exercise programs 
Other FeaturesHeart rate contact grips
DualTrack™ 2 LCD screen system
Charging USB port
MP3 input
Media shelf
Adjustable three speed fan
Warranty‎10 years frame
2 years mechanical parts
1 year electronics
90 days labor

If you want to try out higher resistance levels, Schwinn Fitness 430 Elliptical is a must-try. It has 20 different resistance levels, which means that it’s suitable for people of all fitness levels.

When you’re using this elliptical, you can track your progress and stay motivated with the large LCD display that records your metrics. It has 22 workout programs —8 heart rate control, 2 custom user-defined, 2 fitness tests, 1 quick start, and other programs. This brand will give you plenty of options even if you’ve never used an elliptical before.

Schwinn Fitness 430 Elliptical has a longer stride length of 20 inches than Sunny Health & Fitness. So if you are tall, Schwinn Fitness is a better option.


Body Power Patented 2-in-1 Elliptical Machine & Stair Stepper Trainer

FeaturesBody Power Patented 2-in-1 Elliptical Machine & Stair Stepper Trainer
DimensionsLength: 42in (106.8 cm)
Width: 42 in (106.8 cm)
Height: 62 in (157.48 cm)
Stride LengthNot Specified
Pedal Step HeightNot Specified
Weight96.8 lbs (43.91 kgs)
Maximum User Weight250 lbs (113.40 kgs)
Resistance Levels8
Workout Programs2-in-1 machine:
Elliptical Trainer 
Stepper Machine
Other FeaturesFront Rollers
Warranty1 year for the frame9
0 days on all parts

The Body Power Trainer is both an elliptical and stair stepper. So if you plan to buy both machines, or if you can’t decide, consider this 2-in-1 model.

However, this machine does not do two different movements (elliptical and stepper), but provides one range of motion incorporating both.

Like the Sunny Health & Fitness Elliptical, this machine has eight resistance levels. You can adjust the resistance using the ergonomic crank below the monitor.

Since this is a small machine, you might feel that it is unstable if you go too fast. Also, the step-up height is higher than most ellipticals and has a short stride length.

With this machine, you don’t have to decide whether to get a stairmaster or an elliptical since it offers both features.


Body Rider Brd2000 2-In-1 Dual Trainer Elliptical And Upright Stationary Bike

FeaturesBody Rider Brd2000 2-In-1 Dual Trainer Elliptical And Upright Stationary Bike
DimensionsLength: 48 in (121.92 cm)
Width: 28.5 in (72.39 cm)
Height: 59.5 in (151.13 cm)
Stride LengthNot Specified
Pedal Step HeightNot Specified
Weight66 lbs (29.94 kgs)
Maximum User Weight250 lbs (113.4 kgs)
Resistance LevelsHas resistance knobs
Workout Programs2-In-1 Trainer:
Elliptical Machine 
Stationary Bike
Other FeaturesTransport Wheels
Electronic console
Front And Rear Stabilizers
Warranty1 year

Another 2-in-1 option for you is the Body Rider Brd2000 2-In-1 Dual Trainer Elliptical And Upright Stationary Bike. This is an excellent alternative if you plan to buy an elliptical and a stationary bike.

Since this machine also works as a stationary bike, it has a seat that you can adjust vertically and horizontally. You can sit on the bike seat and hold on to the fixed handle if you want to use it as a stationary bike.

And if you want to transition into using the elliptical, all you have to do is to stand up and hold the moving handles. You can adjust the seat if ever it gets in the way.

It has a resistance knob at the top of the wheel so you can adjust the intensity of your workout. The console shows your workout duration, distance covered, calories burned, and speed.

This brand is the cheapest elliptical on this list, so you won’t have to break your bank to get one.


Body Power 2nd Generation Patented 3-In-1 Home Gym

FeaturesBody Power 2nd Generation Patented 3-In-1 Home Gym
DimensionsLength: 43.7 in (111 cm)
Width: 62.2 in (158 cm)
Height: 29.13 in (74 cm)
Stride LengthNot Specified
Pedal Step HeightNot Specified
Weight71.65 lbs (32.5 kgs)
Maximum User WeightNot Specified
Resistance LevelsNot Specified
Workout Programs3-in-1 Trainer:
Elliptical Trainer 
Upright Bike 
Recumbent Bike
Other FeaturesElectronic Computer Console
Transport Wheel
28-Day Meal Plan by Leisa Hart Included
Warranty1 year for the frame 
90 days on all parts

If you really have limited space in your home gym, why don’t you try the Body Power 2nd Generation Patented 3-In-1 Home Gym? This machine combines three machines into one piece of equipment (upright compact exercise bike, elliptical machine & recumbent bike).

Since this is a combined machine, it has three handlebar options and positions for support. First, if you want to use it as an elliptical, you can stand up and hold on to the moving handles. Second, if you use it as an upright exercise bike, sit on the seat and hold on to the fixed handle. Finally, lean your back on the backrest if you want to use it as a recumbent bike. And hold on to the handle on the sides of your seat.

It uses a weighted flywheel which provides an ultra-quiet motion so you can enjoy your workout without distractions. The bike has an LCD that shows all your stats like speed, distance traveled, time, and calories burned.


Stairmaster Recommendations

Bowflex Max Trainer M8

FeaturesBowflex Max Trainer M8
DimensionsLength: 47.9 in (122 cm)
Width: 30.8 in (78 cm)
Height: 65.2 in (166 cm)
Pedal Step HeightNot Specified
Stride LengthNot Specified
Weight148 lbs (67 kgs)
Maximum User Weight300 lbs (136 kgs)
Resistance Levels20 levels
Workout Programs7 programs
Other FeaturesJRNY App
USB charging port
Bluetooth® heart rate compatible
Heart rate monitor (integrated contact grips)
Warranty3 years frame
3 years parts
90 days labor

If you decide to buy a stepper-style stairmaster, Bowflex Max Trainer M8 is my recommendation. It has 20 resistance levels and seven workout programs to build up your fitness level slowly and safely.

The workout programs have three modes: target coaching, benefit, and manual. Target coaching workouts give a target burn rate for you to achieve, while the benefit mode suggests target resistance levels. The manual mode is an open-ended workout that tracks your total workout duration. These modes depend on the workout program you selected. So stepper-style stairmaster have more workout options than revolving stairs.

Also, the product manual is very informative. It includes an illustrated assembly guide and detailed warm-up and cool-down instructions. It even has a meal plan to complement your workouts.


SOLE CC81 Cardio Climber

FeaturesSOLE CC81 Cardio Climber
DimensionsLength: 59 in (149.86 cm)
Width: 31 in (78.74 cm)
Height: 86 in (218.44 cm)
Pedal Step Height10 in (25.4 cm)
Stride LengthNot Specified
Weight265 lbs (120.2 kg)
Maximum User Weight400 lbs (181.44 kg)
Resistance LevelsHas a resistance knob but the levels are not specified
Workout Programs6 Standard Programs
2 Custom Programs
2 Heart Programs
Other FeaturesTablet/Phone Holder
Chest Strap
Sound System
WarrantyLifetime Frame
5 Years Electronics
5 Years Parts
2 Years Labor

If you love workout programs, the SOLE CC81 Cardio Climber can give you more. It has ten workout programs: 6 Standard Programs, 2 Custom Programs, and 2 Heart Programs. So it has more programs than Bowflex Max Trainer M8.

Sole Cardio Climber has a resistance knob below the screen, but the resistance levels are not specified. Using the easy push pin, you can adjust the handles to 4 different heights. So it is easy to adjust the machine according to your height. The maximum user weight capacity is 400 pounds, the highest on this list.

Sole Cardio Climber’s design is vertical to fit in small spaces. And it is compatible with a chest strap so you can monitor your heart rate. However, this machine is the most expensive stepper-style stairmaster on this list. So if money is not an issue, I recommend this brand to you.


Relife Rebuild Your Life Vertical Climber For Home Gym

FeaturesRelife Rebuild Your Life Vertical Climber For Home Gym
DimensionsLength: 37.5  in (95.25 cm)
Width: 28 in (71.12 cm)
Height: 85 in (215.9 cm)
Pedal Step HeightNot Specified
Stride LengthNot Specified
Weight43 lbs (19.5 kgs)
Maximum User Weight250 lbs (113.4 kgs)
Resistance LevelsNot Specified
Workout ProgramsNone
Other Features
WarrantyNot Specified

If you want to save more room in your home gym, try the Relife Rebuild Your Life Vertical Climber For Home Gym. Like Sole Cardio Climber, this stairmaster is vertically designed to fit in small spaces. And it has a smaller footprint and is cheaper than Sole. You can even fold it when not in use.

This vertical climber has four metal guard rails to support you. Also, Relife Rebuild Your Life has a weight capacity of 250 lbs. If the Sole Cardio Climber has the highest weight limit, this vertical climber has the lowest weight limit on this list. That said, this might not be enough for you if you are on the heavier side.

You can adjust it to five different effects or resistances to change the intensity of your workout. The first and second levels are for jogging, while the third and fourth are for running. The fifth and most challenging level is rock climbing.

If you want a simple, affordable, and easy-to-use vertical climber, this is the one for you.

FAQ on Elliptical vs Stairmaster

Is the StairMaster or elliptical better?

For high intensity training and muscle toning, choose the StairMaster. For a lower impact training and more calories burned, choose an elliptical machine

What’s better for weight loss elliptical or StairMaster?

According to Harvard Health Publishing you burn more calories on an elliptical. So if weight loss is your goal, choose the elliptical.

What to do next?

First, consider the fitness goal you want to achieve with either the elliptical or the stairmaster. Write your goal down.

Next read this review again and select all the aspects that are important for you. Write them down.

Finally, check the recommended machines you like most and make your choice.

Happy Training in your Home Gym!
Inge
Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach

Related Articles on Ellipticals/Cross trainers:

Photo of author

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Inge van Haselen is a certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach. For over 17 years, she has been coaching hundreds of clients in her gym. Inge published several programs on health and fitness. It is her passion to help you have the best Home Gym for your needs. So you can be in the best shape of your life.

Leave a Comment