What Is the Difference Between a Stair Stepper and a Stair Climber?

The stair climbing machine is helpful for rock climbers.
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You say tomato. I say tomato. You say stair climber. I say stair stepper. While the climber and the stepper are two different pieces of exercise equipment, the names are often interchanged. Both provide a cardiovascular workout that is not weather dependent, is easily learned and leads to health improvements. The journey to these improvements is different depending on whether you step or climb your way to the top.

Total Body

    A stair climber is a total-body workout. You are in a vertical position with your hands and feet on moveable handles and pedals. You stand on the pedals and reach overhead to the handles. As your right foot rises up to climb, your right arm moves up. Then, you switch hand and foot positions, as if you're climbing up a wall. The stair stepper is a lower-body workout that resembles climbing stairs. Your arms provide balance support on the stationary arm rests as your feet climb the moving steps, or move up and down independently.

Equipment Variations

    Stair climbing machines are not very large. They are tall machines with handles and pedals on the sides of the support center. You can vary your workout to only be a lower-body workout by holding onto support rails on the sides, or by disabling the handles. In contrast, stair-stepper machines can be very large depending on the style. Some machines have two pedals that move up and down and are attached to a large base of support. Others resemble a small bank of escalator stairs and the stairs move as you climb. These machines require a large amount of space.

Fitness Level

    Stair climbers are close to cross-country ski machines in their intensity, so they should be used by those with an intermediate to advanced level of endurance. Since you're exercising your entire body, your heart and breathing rates elevate quickly and to high levels. Stair steppers are acceptable for all fitness levels, as the machines have a variety of settings to ease the beginner and challenge the advanced.


    Stair climbers place a lot of stress on the knees as your knee passes over your toe when you climb. If you have back problems or knee problems, speak with your doctor before you use a stair climber. The stair steppers, especially the ones with moveable pedals, place less stress on the knees, as you can keep your knees from moving forward beyond your toes.

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