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Cardio Fitness

Stair Climber vs Elliptical

When it comes to the stair climber vs the elliptical, what’s the difference? Find the answer to this question and more here!

Published: 8/21/19

Stair Climber vs Elliptical: What’s the Difference?

Two of the gym’s most popular machines go head-to-head as we discover which is better: the stair climber vs elliptical trainer. Since ‘which is better’ is a bit—okay, highly—objective, we will break it down by different categories. Interested? Then read on, friends.

1 | Impact On Your Joints

We have written extensively about low-impact workouts and how beneficial they are. What are low impact exercises, you ask? These are exercises that put less strain on the joints. Whether you are prone to injury, use circuit training equipment, or are training consistently with high-intensity and resistance workouts, you should be adding low-impact exercises into your routine. Luckily, both of these workouts fit the bill but vary slightly in their low-impact nature. When using an elliptical for cardio, your feet never leave the pedals. In turn, you are not picking your feet off of the elliptical machine and then hitting them down again. This negates any intense impact that your knees and other joints may experience and is one of the most significant elliptical benefits.

While a benefit of the stair climber is that it is low-impact as well, it does require you to lift your foot from the step and set it back down again. This movement is slightly more impactful on your joints. Though, if you are looking for a low-impact routine, either the stair climber or elliptical machine should be safe for you! Just make sure to ask your doctor.

2 | Muscles Worked

Both the elliptical and the stair climber work your lower body. These cardio machines focus on the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and other lower body muscle within your legs. However, they differ in how they work the rest of your body. When elliptical training, for example, you have the option to hold onto the moving handlebars, which will give you an upper body workout. You also are engaging your core to keep balance. Engaging your core helps to strengthen those abdominals and give you better stability in your day-to-day life. The stair climber does not have moving arm handles, so the upper-body workout isn’t there. However, if you hold lightly to the side rails and keep yourself upright with exceptional form, you will be working your core muscles even more on the stair climber vs. elliptical machine.

3 | Calories Burned

With the moveable handlebars found on most elliptical machines, the calories burned are higher than those burned on a stair climber workout. According to Health Status, a 150 pound 5’8″ male will burn about 238.5 calories in 30 minutes on a stair climber vs. elliptical at 387 calories burned in 30 minutes. Depending on which fitness equipment you like better, and can stay on longer, this may not be a factor. For instance, if you can stay on the elliptical for 10 minutes, but like to zone out on the stair stepper for 40 minutes, then the stair climber machine is your winner in this category.

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4 | Function

When it comes to function, these machines operate the same. They both were created to give you a fantastic lower-body cardio workout. Both pieces of cardio equipment also have similar displays which allow you to adjust the intensity of your cardio workout to your specific skill level. So, if your workout is feeling a little too easy, bump up the intensity and give yourself a challenge. If you prefer one machine to the other, then the winner is the workout that you l-o-v-e! ( Well, “like” works too. ;))

5 | Programs

Built-in programs make your workout as easy as 1-2-3—err, tap, tap, go. Once you are comfortable with the elliptical or stair climber, you can think of what you want to accomplish for your workout, and choose a program that fits your needs. We love built-in programs for those days when you simply don’t feel like thinking about your workout. We all feel that way from time to time, and with the built-in program options on the elliptical and stair stepper, you can truly space out and enjoy your gym session.

We believe that both of these machines are stellar when it comes to cardiovascular fitness. So, choose one, choose both, or choose them and some others to make up your perfect gym routine. The most successful workout routines require diversity in the workouts you complete which helps you to stay consistent. Each of our locations has stair climbers and elliptical trainers, so come on in and try them out to see which machine you prefer.

If you need help figuring out how to start up your machine, grab a team member. We would be happy to walk you through using each fitness equipment, or we can find someone who can show you the ropes. Let us help you achieve your fitness goals.


Reviewed By:

Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.




  1. Howley, Elaine. “Climbing and Stepping Workouts vs. Elliptical Machines: Which Is Better?” US News Health. 11 January, 2021. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/fitness/articles/climbing-workouts-vs-elliptical-which-is-better
  2. Boldt, Andrea. “The Effects of Stair Climbing Vs. Elliptical Workouts.” Healthy Living. https://healthyliving.azcentral.com/effects-stair-climbing-vs-elliptical-workouts-11853.html
  3. “10 stair climber benefits & workouts.” EOS Fitness. https://eosfitness.com/blog/10-stair-climber-benefits-workouts/
  4. Lindberg, Sara. “10 Benefits of an Elliptical Machine Workout.” Healthline. 24 November, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/elliptical-benefits
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