Mini Elliptical vs Mini Stepper

Mini StepperBoth these machines are targeted at home users who maybe don’t do as much exercise as they would like. Often these machines are a starting point for improving fitness and helping with weight loss. Although both styles of equipment are cheap (sub $100), easy to store and portable, they differ in the results they can achieve. Here we have a quick run down of the differences between mini elliptical vs mini steppers so you can choose the best machine to meet your needs.

How They Work

Although both machines look similar they actually work in fundamentally different ways. A compact elliptical is essentially the footplate only section of the traditional elliptical fitness machine. The users mounts the footplates and turns the footplates through an arc. The bodyweight is spread evenly over both feet throughout the exercise action and a walking action is produced.

With a mini stepper, the user mounts the footplates and depresses the plates to create an up and down stepping action. Essentially the users body weight is focussed through each leg during each step so more resistance to each leg occurs.


Mini EllipticalBoth the machines are low impact machines. Essentially, high impact activities tend to involve periods where both the users feet are off the ground. When the user lands the shock of the users body weight slamming down through each foot causes stress on bones and joints. This can lead to joint problems over time. Neither of these machines requires the user to leave the ground or leaves the user unsupported. Essentially neither machine should cause impact type injuries to joints.

In a direct comparison between the two pieces of equipment it could be argued that the portable elliptical offers less impact than the compact home stepper. The step machine requires you to lift your body weight and transfer it back down to the ground through different legs. This action probably incurs slightly more impact than the elliptical. On the portable elliptical machine, both feet are fully supported and body weight is spread evenly through out the exercise action.

Cardio Benefits

Both machines should offer a cardio aerobic workout as they use large muscle groups (thighs and glutes) during the exercise activity. Out of the two machines the under desk elliptical trainer is likely to offer the better cardiovascular exercise as there is no cheat option. The portable stepper can be cheated if the user does not use the correct technique. Many users have a tendency to bounce on steppers and use body weight to displace the steps. Ideally you should use thigh power alone to move the steps.

A good cardio aerobic workout usually means getting your heart rate up between 60-80% of max heart rate (MHR = 220 – Age). At these levels the heart and lung muscles develop improved stamina . Fitter individuals find it takes high levels of exercise intensity and duration to reach these levels as their heart and lungs have better stamina. For a beginner these levels can be reached very quickly. If you are a beginner you are likely to get cardio aerobic benefits from both machines, although if aerobic benefits are the goal you might be better advised to opt for the elliptical. Fitter individuals may find these machines to be less effective than other exercise machines when it comes to getting a full aerobic workout.

Is weight loss possible?

If weight loss is your goal you want to choose the machine that is most effective at burning calories. We already investigated calorie burning in our post on mini exercise bikes where we gave formulas that could be used to calculate calorie burn. These formulas rely on a mixture of variables such as age and current weight, but heart rate plays a major role. Essentially the machine that allows the user to consistently maintain a higher rate is the machine that will burn more calories and therefore be better for weight loss.

We would expect the mini elliptical trainer to be a better choice for weight loss bearing in mind our previous discussion on cardio aerobic workouts.

Muscle Toning Possibilites

Although both machines use leg and lower torso muscle groups neither machine uses exactly the same muscle groups and furthermore the muscles used are not used in the same manner on each machine.

The compact elliptical will exercise the core muscles (mid torso muscles used for balance including abs, lats etc), the glutes, hamstrings (back of thighs), quadriceps(front/top of thigh) and calve muscles. The portable step machine places emphasis on the core muscles, calves, glutes, quadriceps and hip flexors.

The elliptical exercise action is a momentum action like walking or running. The muscles are used to propel the body rather than lift the body. The stepper action is a resistance action. Each leg is require to press through the action against resistance. Although both machines will tone legs, hips and butts, if your goal is a more shapely figure or improved leg shape and toning, the mini stepper is the better machine because of the resistance action.

In conclusion the mini elliptical trainer is probably better for those individuals who are looking to concentrate on weight loss and improve general fitness levels. Check out the best selling option on the market at our post on the stamina 55-1610 inmotion elliptical trainer. The mini stepper can contribute to weight loss and fitness but offers better results for leg and butt tone than an elliptical might.