Mini Elliptical vs Mini Stepper

Both 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 machine 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 mini elliptical is essentially the footplate only section of the traditional elliptical fitness machine. The users mounts the footplates and turns the elliptical 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.


Both 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 bodyweight slamming down through each foot causes stress on bones and joints which can lead to 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 machines it could be argued that the elliptical offers less impact than the mini stepper. The mini stepper requires you to lift your bodyweight and transfer it back down to the ground through different legs. This action probably incurs more impact than the elliptical where both feet are fully supported and bodyweight is spread evenly through out the exercise action.


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 mini elliptical is likely to offer the better cardiovascular exercise as there is no cheat option. The mini stepper, or any stepper other than a rolling staircase, can be cheated if the user does not use the correct technique. Many users have a tendancy to bounce on steppers and use bodyweight to displace the steps rather than using 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.

Weight loss

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 to be a better choice for weight loss bearing in mind our previous discussion on cardio aerobic workouts.

Muscle Toning

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 mini 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 mini stepper places emphasis on the core muscles, calves, glutes, quadriceps and hip flexors.

The mini 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 mini 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 is probably better for those individuals who are looking to concentrate on weight loss and improve general fitness levels. Check out the best selling mini elliptical 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.