The stair climber and elliptical are two common exercise machines found at gyms and rehabilitation facilities. They both provide an aerobic workout that strengths your heart and lungs while burning calories and toning your lower body. Aim to get 30 minutes most days on either machine to meet the daily recommendations for healthy adults from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The elliptical is a low-impact cardiovascular machine that has you mimicking a running motion but on moving pedals so you never actually lift up your feet. The elliptical machine allows you to adjust the resistance so you can customize your workout to meet your individual fitness needs. Some machines also allow you to change the incline of the pedals, which alters your target muscles. A low incline targets your quadriceps and a high incline targets your glutes and hamstrings. Additionally, some machines feature moveable arm handles. By adding these to your workout, you can also get an upper-body workout; pushing the handles targets your chest muscles and pulling the handles targets your upper back muscles.
Stair Climbing Basics
The stair climber is a low-impact cardiovascular machine that mimics the motion of walking up a staircase. There are several different models available. With the stairstepper, you never remove your feet from the pedals, which rise and depress in a straight line. With the stairmill, there is a rotating staircase so you must lift your feet similarly to walking up a normal staircase. When stair climbing, it is essential to maintain proper form to maximize the health benefits and to avoid injury. Avoid hunching your shoulders or looking down at your feet. Try to only use the rails for balance.
Calorie Burn Comparison
When it comes to burning calories, the elliptical trainer is the clear winner. According to Health Status, a 155-pound person burns 800 calories per hour on the elliptical machine but that same person only burns 493 calories in an hour on the stair climber. A 190-pound person can burn 980 calories per hour on the elliptical machine while that same person would burn 604 calories per hour on the stair climber.
Both the elliptical and the stair climber predominately use your lower-body muscles including your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteal muscles, calves and hip flexors. The stair climber engages your core more than the elliptical if you don't hold onto the side rails. Maintaining your balance while stepping up forces your body to engage your core further. Compared to the stair climber, the elliptical machine offers a lower-impact workout because you never have to pick up your feet.
- Georgia State University: Exercise and Physical Fitness Page: Stairclimbing
- Health Status: Calorie Burn Calculator
- Women’s Health: Get in Shape: Step Up
- Shape Magazine: How to Use an Elliptical Trainer in Your Cardio Workout Routines
- Health Guidance: Benefits of Elliptical Machines
- WebMD.Com: All About Exercise Machines
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.