Choosing the type of cardio equipment that's right for you can be a daunting task. Two of the most common machines, the stepmill and treadmill, both offer a wide range of capabilities, options and programs. Although each can help you burn calories and tone muscle, the best choice of equipment may boil down to how much you enjoy using it.
Treadmills are the mainstay of most gyms, and due to that popularity, there is a greater variety of treadmills than stepmills. Most treadmills are approximately 6.5 feet long, although longer ones may be better for runners. Treadmills provide a flat, stable surface for walking, but also typically incline 10 to 15 percent, allowing for a harder workout. High-end treadmills have a range of program options such as Fat Burn, Cardio, Hill and Speed Interval Training. Additional features may include docks for iPods and TVs, USB ports and wireless Internet connectivity, as well as heart rate monitors and cooling fans.
The stepmill, formerly called the Gauntlet, is a machine that resembles steps with a mini-escalator moving the stairs continuously, like an endless flight of stairs. The stepmill can be trickier to master than a treadmill at first, requiring coordination to lift and place your feet without stumbling. Since there are fewer stepmills available on the market, these machines tend to be more expensive and more streamlined with fewer options, although the resistance levels and speeds are programmable for beginners to advanced users.
Set at high intensities, both the treadmill and stepmill will give you a high-calorie burn, compared to other cardio machines. How many calories you ultimately burn will depend upon the intensity and duration of your exercise routine. Walking on a treadmill at a rate of 2 mph will burn approximately 204 calories for a 160-pound person, while a 3.5 mph rate will burn 314 calories. Running at 5 mph burns 606 calories and at 8 mph, 861 calories. An average caloric burn for the same 160-pound person on a stepmill would run around 657 per hour. However, walking up stairs is more intense, so you may only be able to start out a few minutes at a time on the stepmill.
Benefits and Areas Worked
The treadmill will sculpt your legs and build leg muscle strength, but the stepmill work more muscle groups by putting your legs and glutes through a full range of motion that tightens your calves, thighs and butt. A stepmill also allows advanced users to perform lateral training by walking up sideways or backwards. A study in the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" showed that both stair climbing and the treadmill helped college women athletes improve their VO2max aerobic capacity and decreased their racing run time. Another study, in "Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation," reported that both machines improved the exercise capacity of patients with peripheral vascular occlusive disease. If you want to get the most from your training, alternate between the stepmill and treadmill during your workouts.
If you're a beginner on either the treadmill or stepmill, use the railings and start off slowly. Keep the program in manual mode to control your speed and make it easier to slow down, if needed. Use extra caution using either machine if you have balance issues or knee pain, and consult with your doctor before exercising. Researchers at the University of Ulster also found that aerobic exercise in unfit individuals that takes your heart rate to 85 percent of its maximum for more than 10 minutes releases dangerous free radicals that can have a negative effect.
- Consumer Reports: Treadmill Buying Guide
- ShapeFit: Stepmill Workouts - Cardio Exercises To Burn Fat Calories
- Seattle Times: Three Machines That Are Worth Your Gym Time
- Shape.com: Better-than-the-Treadmill Cardio Blast
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effects of Stair-climbing vs Run Training on Treadmill and Track Running Performance
- Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation: Functional Improvements Following StairMaster vs. Treadmill Exercise Training for Patients with Intermittent Claudication
- MayoClinic.com: Calories Burned in One Hour
Bonnie Singleton has been writing professionally since 1996. She has written for various newspapers and magazines including "The Washington Times" and "Woman's World." She also wrote for the BBC-TV news magazine "From Washington" and worked for Discovery Channel online for more than a decade. Singleton holds a master's degree in musicology from Florida State University and is a member of the American Independent Writers.