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StairMaster Vs Treadmill: Best Cardio Workout For Runners?

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For various reasons, people find themselves working out indoors. Whether it is cold, snow and ice, high temperatures, or allergies that keep you indoors, avid runners are often looking for workout alternatives.

Although there are many types of workouts you can do inside that will tax your cardiovascular system, not many will give you the killer workout that a stair stepper will!

Today we discuss a machine like the StairMaster vs. treadmill.

Step Climber or Step Mill

There are two types of stair machines. The older step climber is a machine that attaches two-foot pedals to an internal mechanism that moves as you shift your weight. You lift one leg at a time into a stepping motion.

The newer version, the step mill, is like an escalator. It is a revolving staircase that you continue to climb. However, whereas in the mill, you control the speed by how you move your legs, in the mill, you set the speed on a computer screen and then have to keep up.

Advantages to a Stair Stepper

Using a stair stepper machine such as a StairMaster requires a lot of core strength. Because you have to engage your core through the entire workout to keep your balance, it is a wonderful tool for building core strength. As a runner, you want your core to be as strong as possible!

Stair steppers can help make you a cardiovascular beast. Using a stepper engages the heart and lungs a great deal, enabling you to work out longer and with greater efficiency. Just think about the last time you sprinted up the stairs, late for something important.

Even people in good shape often end up winded from that effort. Once you routinely dedicate workout time to a stair stepper, you are less likely to feel that burn in your lungs from rushing up a flight or two of stairs.

stair stepper

These machines are also calorie burners. So if one of your goals is to torch fat, consider stepping. Here is where the battle of StairMaster vs. treadmill leans toward the stepper.  Stepping machines will challenge your body and burn calories at a high rate.

Using a stair stepper is a weight-bearing exercise that can lead to healthier bones. As a result, diseases such as osteoporosis can be prevented and treated for those who already have it.

Engaging in weight-bearing exercises can help you build stronger bones, which is an important thing, especially for women who are vulnerable to losing bone strength as they age.

A stair stepper also builds muscle strength in specific areas. So let’s talk about specific muscles targeted by using a stair-stepping machine.

Muscles Worked on a Stair Stepper

Wondering which muscles you will work when on a stair stepper such as a StairMaster?

✓ Calves – Your calves are an essential part of any motion that propels you forward or up, like walking or running. With each step on a StairMaster, you will work your calves. After a short time on the stepper, you may feel them screaming out to remind you they are there!

✓ Quadriceps – There are four muscles on the front o your thighs that make up the quadriceps femoris. Your quads are necessary to extend or bend your knee, and each step up and forward on the stair stepper will engage these muscles.

✓ Hamstrings – Working in conjunction with your quads, the hamstrings are three muscles on the back of your leg. Helping to bend your knee these are also crucial to walking, running, and stepping.

✓ Glutes – Some of the strongest muscles in the body, your glutes are located in the buttocks. Working out on a stair stepper engages the glutes and will leave you feeling the burn for sure.

Are Ten Minutes on the StairMaster Enough?

If you are already an avid runner, frequently attend group classes, and generally think yourself in pretty good shape, you might be surprised to see “ten minutes” in a blog written by someone just like yourself. However, don’t be fooled by the innocent-looking step mill in the corner. It lures you in, and it’s hard as hell.


When you first jump onto a stair mill, you may find yourself thinking you will put in a quick 30 then jump off—plan to start small.

My first time on the stepper, I jumped on and found myself feeling like I was dying at 6 minutes. Now bear in mind I was routinely running 5-6 miles at a clip and biking regularly.

Is ten minutes on a stair stepper enough for a full workout? Not if you’re like me. But it is a great place to start. After a few weeks, I had worked my way up to 30 minutes on the step mill, and every workout was tough.

Is The StairMaster or Treadmill Better?

treadmill or StairMaster

When pitting treadmill vs. StairMaster, you simply are not comparing apples to apples. If you read this far, you have learned that a stair stepper works calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads, the same as running. In addition, you now know that a stair stepper is an excellent cardiovascular workout. Guess what? So is running.

You have also figured out that a stair stepper can set your metabolism and calorie burn into overdrive. But, again, so can running. Also, both the StairMaster and treadmill are impact exercises that can build strong muscles—another similarity.

Less important than what you are doing for cardiovascular activity is how you are doing it. If you are schlepping along at a super easy pace, it does not matter what you are doing.

Walking, running, using an elliptical machine or the stair stepper; all of these won’t transform your body if you are lazy when using them.

The most important part is how hard you are working when using the device. If you are looking to mix up your cardiovascular training and are an avid runner, using a stair stepper is a good way to do so. Anytime you add a new dynamic to your workout, it is likely to have some positive impact.

After all, your body can get static if you simply do the same thing over and over. Don’t fall into this trap! However, if you’re looking for a clear answer in the debate StairMaster vs. running, you won’t get one here. Both are great workouts that you can and should use if available to you.

What is important is the energy you put into the workout, not the equipment you are using.

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