Both stair climbing and running are effective cardiovascular exercises that will improve your heart health and burn calories. When you’re choosing a form of exercise it’s important to choose one that you actually enjoy and will stick to long term, but it’s also useful to note how stair climbing has compared to running in scientific studies.
A stair climber, also known as a step mill, is a piece of gym equipment that looks like a mini descending escalator with arm rails. As the steps come down, you’re forced to climb up in an action that mimics real stair climbing. While it provides an intense workout, it is low impact, so it’s easier on your knee joints than running. To get the most out of your stair climber workouts, stand straight and lightly hold on to the hand rails without leaning on them.
Stair climbers offer very similar cardiovascular benefits to running. A study published in a 2004 issue of the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness” looked at the physiological changes following a 12-week program of stair climbing, treadmill running and elliptical training and concluded that there were no significant differences among these three exercises in how they affected the cardiorespiratory system. The key in the study was that the participants worked at the same level of intensity regardless of the exercise they were performing.
There have been some conflicting reports on whether running is superior to stair climbing for fat reduction. While the "‘Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness" study cited earlier also failed to see any significant differences in body fat between participants who performed the different exercises, this contradicts an earlier study published in the August 2001 issue of the journal “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.” That study reported that both men and women burn more calories running on a treadmill than using any other cardio machine, including a stair-stepper.
Running is considered a high-impact exercise, so it also has strength-building benefits that you may not be able to match on the stair climber. A 2007 study conducted at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, Movement Sciences Center in Lincoln, Nebraska concluded that running on a treadmill activates 48.9 percent of the gluteus maximus and 72.2 percent of the gluteus medius, while using a stair climber activates only 24 percent of the gluteus maximus and 40 percent of the gluteus medius.
- Canadian Living: 7 Exercise Machines Decoded: Treadmills, Exercise Bikes, Stair-Climbers and More
- Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: Physiological Changes Following a 12 Week Gym Based Stair-Climbing, Elliptical Trainer and Treadmill Running Program in Females; M. Egana et al.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Intermodal Comparison of Energy Expenditure at Exercise Intensities Corresponding to the Perceptual Preference Range
- Comparison of Gluteal Muscle Electromyographic Activity Across Five Cardiovascular Exercises In Healthy Young Adults; S. Takahashi et al.
Andrea Chrysanthou began writing professionally in 1993. Her work has been published internationally by "The Cyprus Mail," MochaSofa and My Favorite Trainer, among other magazines and websites. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from Ryerson University. Chrysanthou is a certified fitness instructor and personal-training specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the fitness industry.