Stair Stepper Vs Elliptical Trainer

Stair StepperBoth elliptical trainers and stair steppers are common pieces of gym equipment these days. Both items of equipment offer a low impact cardio workout and to the naked eye are very similar to each other. This often begs the question which is better?

How they are used

Both items are easy to use but the elliptical requires a little more co-ordination. A stair machine can be either a never ending, rotating staircase or a machine with foot pads where you depress the foot pads.

How do you use a stair stepper? The user simply climbs the stairs for as long as their workout lasts. Side handles are provided for balance. Most individuals have come across stairs before so using this type of machine comes naturally.

stair climberAlternatively steppers may feature footplates that travel up and down under user motion rather than a revolving staircase. This type of equipment will also have side handles for balance.

An elliptical trainer features foot pads that travel elliptically under operator pressure and poles that are operated by the arms and shoulders. The poles and foot pads are operated in synch with each other to provide a full body workout.

The margins of difference are minimal but on the basis of having to have upper and lower body co-ordination until the user is adept at using the elliptical, the stair climber is easier to use for the first timer in general.


Both types of machine are low impact machines. At no time will both feet be off the ground. This means that wear or impact on ankle, knee and hip joints is lower than with high impact activities such as running on a treadmill or skipping.

Although both activities are low impact it is believed that steppers are a higher level of impact than ellipticals. On a stepper you are required to lift your legs and push down, on an elliptical no lifting is necessary and the action is smoother.

schwinnellipticalSmall amounts of impact are considered beneficial in most cases because the impact promotes bone and cartilage growth, however if you do suffer from knee problems you will get less pain using an elliptical machine.


Stair climbing exercise machines only exercise muscles in the lower half of the body. An elliptical trainer exercises upper and lower body. A step machine is particularly useful for exercising calves, thighs, hips and gluts leading to great tone in the legs. An elliptical will exercise the front of the thighs, hips and gluts as well as providing exercise to arms, shoulders and upper chest.

The stepper exercisers found in the gym will provide a more intense leg and lower body workout. The elliptical will give a more balanced workout at what feels like a lower intensity.

These items of equipment are not used for developing muscle but are more useful for improving stamina in muscle and leaning out muscle.

Calorie Burning

Both these exercise machines burn calories but the elliptical is far more effective. Calorie burn is relative to the individual, so for a 180lb individual exercising for 30 minutes the Health Status Calculator suggests that a stair stepper would burn 286 calories and an elliptical trainer would burn 456 calories. This result is not hugely surprising given that the stepper only utilises the lower body whereas the elliptical is a full body workout.

Something to carefully consider if you are choosing to use one of these machines is that the stair stepper workout is intense with a capital “I”. Even if you use both machines for the same length of time the elliptical will burn more calories and leave you feeling far less exhausted as the burden of exercise has been spread over your whole body. The knock on affect of this is that it is easier to use an elliptical for longer periods and to remain motivated over periods of months.


A good quality home gym stepper is likely to cost $1300 and upwards. There are a few cheaper models, notably mini steppers, but you have to question whether they are truly robust enough for the task and whether they will exercise your body in the same way as these more expensive models.

For $1300 you can buy a very high quality home machine. There is a huge range of choice in ellipticals from $500 upwards so the $1300 mark represents the premium level.

In conclusion, whichever machine you choose you will get a low impact cardio workout. If you want toned legs the stepper is for you. If you are looking for an overall body workout and to burn lots of calories to lose weight then opt for an elliptical machine workout. If cost is a concern then the elliptical offers the best potential to get a quality machine at a reasonable price.