Cardio for weight loss is not always necessary, however when that time comes to do cardio to burn more calories, the elliptical and StairMaster are two common options for gym-goers. This leads one to naturally ask:
Is the elliptical or StairMaster better for weight loss? Both the elliptical and StairMaster are good for weight loss. However, one study estimates the elliptical may burn 10-15% more calories than the Stairmaster. These results aren’t without controversy though, as another study suggests the elliptical can overestimate calorie burn by up to 100 calorie per 30 minutes.
Our verdict is: Do whichever one you are more motivated to do.
In this article we will discuss what each machine is, the pros and cons of each movement, and give you estimated calorie burning potential for both the elliptical and StairMaster.
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StairMaster Overview: What It Is, Pros, Cons, How Many Calories Does It Burn?
What Is a StairMaster?
A StairMaster is a set of stairs that is on a belt that constantly moves to give you the effect of you climbing stairs.
This is a tall machine, roughly 8-10 foot tall and has 3-4 steps.
You can adjust the intensity of this exercise by changing the resistance of the stair belt. The less resistance, the harder the exercise is, as the belt moves faster requiring you to move your feet faster.
The StairMaster can be a great piece of cardio equipment for those looking to burn calories and leg muscle endurance. Below are two main benefits of doing the StairMaster.
- Mimics Daily Life Movement
The StairMaster allows you to train in a way that mimics walking up stairs, which for most people is something we do daily. By being able to do stairs for long periods of time, not only do you burn calories but you can increase your leg muscle endurance to help you walk, hike, and get around in life.
For those who struggle on long walks, walking uphill, or get leg fatigue after being on their feet all day, this StairMaster could help you improve your performance during those activities.
- Works the Calves and Glutes
While cardio is not the best way to build muscle, the StairMaster can definitely help tone your legs.
Having to climb stairs using your own bodyweight is exhausting, and for some may be a great way to add some extra training volume to the legs.
If you want a great workout, try one of these lower body workouts, and follow it up with a 15-20min StairMaster workout session.
Below is a list of potential reasons why you may not want to do the StairMaster for weight loss.
- Lower Body Muscles May Fatigue First
Unlike the elliptical, the StairMaster does not incorporate upper body movements, making it very challenging on the lower body.
Depending on your fitness level, you may find that your lower body (specifically the calves and glutes) fatigue out too soon, limiting your ability to do longer bouts of cardio.
If this is the case, you could jump off once you get tired and switch over to something like the elliptical to continue your cardiovascular workout.
- You May Get Very Sore
The StairMaster requires you to use your legs with no upper body help.
This can result in the leg muscles, specifically the glutes, quads, and calves getting very sore from this high volume, highly fatiguing exercise.
This may not be a con if you are looking to build more fatigue resistant legs and get a good leg workout.
It may be an issue if that soreness is not allowing you to train hard with weights during leg workouts or push harder during cardio sessions due to excessive leg soreness.
- Can Be Boring
Cardio can get boring, that’s a natural part of the process. The stairclimber however is a very mundane exercise, in which you just climb stairs for however long you want to.
The simplicity of it can be brain-numbing.
You can spruce workouts up by varying your speeds every so often or doing a HIIT-style StairMaster workout.
- Falling Risk
The StairMaster is a relatively safe and easy piece of equipment to use, however, there is the risk of falling if you miss a step or don’t keep up with the pace.
There are handles to hold onto as you perform this exercise, however for people who may have increased falling risks, this may be something to consider.
How Many Calories Does a StairMaster Burn?
Estimating caloric burn for the StairMaster can vary based on the individual’s body weight and the intensity at which they train.
Below, is a chart that includes caloric expenditure based on your body weight, assuming your level of intensity is moderate.
This means that your effort is around a 7 on a 1-10 scale. If you were talking while training, you would not be able to talk in full sentences and would have noticeable shortness of breath, but could still hold a brief conversation.
For each body weight and intensity level, we have estimated the number of calories burned in 15, 30, 45, and 60 minutes.
*Note, these numbers are estimates and are adapted from previous data from the American Council of Exercise (ACE).
Estimated Caloric Expenditure During the StairMaster (Moderate Intensity)
Elliptical Overview: What It Is, Pros, Cons, How Many Calories Does It Burn?
What Is an Elliptical?
An elliptical is a machine that has you stand on feet platforms, one for each foot, and move your feet back and forth as if you were cross-country skiing.
There are handles that you grab onto, that move in sync with your feet to give you that cross-country skiing experience. T
here are settings on there to also adjust the resistance of the movement by the machine, to increase the calorie burn.
Like the StairMaster, the elliptical is low impact and is suitable for most levels and ages, making it a great piece of equipment for people who may just be starting out.
- Low Impact
Low-impact exercise is great for people who have joint issues or injuries, or who are looking to limit the overall stress and strain of exercise on the body.
- Variable Intensity
You can easily adjust your intensity to match your goal of that workout. Whether you are looking to keep your heart rate below a certain threshold or train to your max, you can easily do so by moving your body faster and increasing the resistance.
- Good for All Ages and Levels
The elliptical is a very low-risk machine, one that requires little balance and coordination, as you are standing on platforms and have handles to assist. This makes it a great way to remove the usual barriers some individuals face when trying to increase their intensity, but are too worried about falling over or having to be coordinated in free-motion movements.
Below is a list of potential downsides to doing the elliptical for your weight loss workouts.
- Poor Muscle Building Exercise
Most cardiovascular machines are poor muscle builders. That is just the nature of the cardio machines vs strength exercises. If you are looking to build muscle while doing cardio, the elliptical is not a great option as you do not need to support your own body weight (unlike the stair climber). But, to be clear, both options are poor choices for muscle building.
- It Gets Boring
Cardio can be boring to do regardless of the form. There is not a whole lot of it in terms of complexity, making it something that is all about repetition and doing it over and over again. Again, this is something you will need to combat with most cardio machines, but doing HIIT-style workouts is a great way to change the pace and push yourself.
How Many Calories Does a Elliptical Burn?
Like the StairMaster, we can estimate the number of calories burned on an elliptical based on body weight and intensity of training. The below chart expresses estimated caloric expenditure based on body weight and assumes your training intensity is moderate (7 on a 1-10 effort scale).
*Note, these numbers are estimates and are adapted from previous data from the American Council of Exercise (ACE). The numbers below were taken from estimates of calories burned while doing cross-country skiing at a generally light intensity, which would be the outdoors equivalent of an indoor Elliptical machine.
Estimated Caloric Expenditure During the Elliptical (Moderate Intensity)
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Which Is Better for Weight Loss: StairMaster or Elliptical?
- Based on the estimates above, the elliptical has the potential to burn 10-15% more calories than the StairMaster, which could help promote weight loss from a calorie-burn perspective. Here are some of the best cardio workouts for fat loss, that actually work..
- For best weight loss results, you will want to exercise to build muscle and burn calories through a mixture of weight training and cardio. Not a huge fan of cardio? Here’s how to lose fat without cardio.
- More importantly, you need to make sure that you are eating in a calorie deficit, as this is the most important factor for weight and fat loss. Try some of these healthy meal options to help you lose more weight.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.