If it were a boxing match, the stair stepper probably would whip the exercise bike, since a stepper workout is almost always rigorous and an exercise bike can be a proverbial glide through the park. Still, the two types of exercise machines are more like teammates than rivals. Both are designed to give you a cardio workout, strengthen your lower body and help you maintain or lose weight. And depending how it is used, an exercise bike can give you a workout that is just as grueling as a workout on a stepper.
Both exercise bikes and steppers are effective choices for revving up and strengthening your heart. As Harvard Health Publications explains, steppers and stationary bikes offer you a low-impact cardio workout that is relatively easy on your muscles and joints. You can adjust the resistance levels on either machine to crank up the difficulty of the workout. And you can use either machine for interval training, alternating bursts of high-intensity stepping or pedaling with slow recovery periods. Interval training enables you to derive all of the benefits of a long and steady cardio workout in a shorter period of time. Let's call this round a draw.
Strengthening and Toning
If you're looking for sleek and shapely legs, both steppers and bikes work the lower body, strengthening your joints and toning your muscles. According to Genesis Health Care, steppers have gotten a bad rap in regard to increasing the size of your butt -- steppers develop glute muscles but don't add mass. Some steppers have hand grips at or above eye level, which enable you to simulate climbing a ladder. The ability to offer an upper as well as a lower-body workout gives steppers an edge over bikes in this round.
In general, you'll burn more calories on a stepper than on a bike, according to Peak Performance. During hard exercise, subjects on a stepper burned about 700 calories per hour and those on a stationary bike burned about 600 calories per hour. However, the "Harvard News Letter" states that bikers burn more when the pace is moderate -- about 520 calories per hour -- compared to steppers who burn about 445 calories per hour at a moderate pace. It's fair to say that you can burn plenty of calories on either machine, and that the higher intensity you work out at, the more calories you'll burn and the more weight you'll lose. Let's call this round a draw.
Ease of Use
As Harvard Health Publications notes, bikes are easy to use -- especially recumbent bikes with chair-like seats -- and require no training. But there are some issues with steppers. The machines can be hard on your knees and you need to use them correctly. You don't want to hang over the handlebars or use your arms to support your body. By standing up straight, you'll derive the maximum value and decrease you risk of injuries. The bike gets an edge in this round.
Call it a tie between steppers and exercise bikes, mainly because the best machine for you is the one you'll use the most. Choose a cardio machine -- or any other form of cardio activity -- that you enjoy. By doing so, you're more likely to make exercise a habit. And don't be afraid to change it up. There's no reason why you can't cross-train using both a stepper and a bike.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.