Climbing stairs and walking on the treadmill on an incline are both effective cardio exercises that offer a number of benefits. You can use either exercise to improve your cardiovascular health, to lose weight and even to increase your lower-body strength. But while these two workouts have similarities, they also have some differences, so which exercise you choose will be based on your personal goals and preferences.
The calories you burn walking or running on an inclined treadmill are comparable to what you will burn climbing stairs. A 140-pound person walking on the treadmill at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour and at a 5 percent incline will burn about 68 calories in 10 minutes. That burn increases to 115 calories for the same amount of time if you increase your speed to 5 mph. That same 140-pound person would burn an estimated 85 calories in 10 minutes by climbing stairs.
Your intensity is more important than the type of exercise you choose if your goal is weight loss. As long as you're working at an intense level of perceived exertion, you will burn more calories regardless of your exercise choice. To increase your intensity for either exercise, increase your speed and avoid leaning or holding onto any exercise machine handrails. When walking on a treadmill, you can also increase intensity by increasing the incline.
While both stair climbing and walking on an incline target your lower-body muscles, incline walking is a better option if you’re looking to tone your glutes. A 2007 conducted at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, Movement Sciences Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, found that walking on a flat treadmill activates 24.3 percent of the gluteus maximus, while using a stair climber activates 24 percent of the gluteus maximus. Those results are increased when you walk on an incline. A study published in the January 2012 issue of the journal “Gait and Posture,” meanwhile, found that walking uphill can increase your gluteus maximus activation by up to 345 percent when compared to walking on a flat surface.
Both exercises offer cardiovascular benefits, but if your main goal is to improve your heart and lung health, climbing stairs is a more effective option. A Canadian study cited in the August 2009 issue of “Harvard Men’s Health Watch” concluded that stair climbing is 50 percent more taxing on your cardiovascular system than walking up a steep incline.
- Complete Strength Training: Simple Calories Burned While Walking Calculator
- American Council on Exercise: Calculate Your Calories Burned
- Mayo Clinic: Exercise Intensity: Why it Matters, How it’s Measured
- Comparison of Gluteal Muscle Electromyographic Activity Across Five Cardiovascular Exercises In Healthy Young Adults
- Gait & Posture: The Effects of Grade and Speed on Leg Muscle Activations During Walking; J.R. Franz et al
- Harvard Health Publication: Walking: Your Steps to Health
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.