Treadmill vs Stair Stepper – Cardio Comparison

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Last Updated: December 10, 2023

Maybe you’re getting ready to start a new workout routine or want to add a piece of cardio equipment to your home gym. Treadmills and stair steppers are both nice options that can help you improve your cardiovascular fitness.

Treadmill vs Stair Stepper

Both treadmills and stair steppers are fantastic pieces of equipment that could benefit almost anyone looking to get–or stay–fit. But of course, there are significant differences, and what might work for you might not work for someone else.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each so you can make the best decision for your body and your wallet.


Treadmills are extremely popular and help make exercise accessible to a variety of people. They help burn a lot of calories and can be used at anytime. No worries about going out for a walk or run once the sun has gone down or if thunderstorms have rolled in.

Of course, there are many other reasons treadmills are popular workout machines in many homes. One big factor is that many treadmills nowadays come with built-in technology and programming to keep you entertained. With all the different treadmills on the market that we’ve tested here at Treadmill Review Guru, we can guarantee that you’ll never get bored on a treadmill again.

There are still some negatives to owning a treadmill, but the positives far outweigh them. Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying a treadmill for your home and see if it’s the right choice for you.

Pros of using a treadmill for cardio:
  • Deck Cushioning: Most treadmills offer shock absorption that is built into the deck. This helps to lessen the impact that comes with running.
  • Easy To Use Consoles: Some treadmills have straightforward LCD consoles while others have built-in tablets. Both are pretty simple to navigate which makes using the treadmill simple.
  • Training Options: Treadmills let you do all kinds of training from HIIT, long distance running, and even hiking.
  • Balance: Many treadmills have front and side handles to use whenever you need to catch your balance.
  • Simulate The Outdoors: Treadmills often incline and some even decline to simulate moving up and down hills, outside.
  • Content: Often treadmills offer preprogrammed workouts or subscription training content to keep you entertained.
  • Indoor Training: Workout anytime day or night.
  • Track Your Heart Rate: Some models come with heart rate monitors or are compatible to connect to one.
  • Overall Health: Using a treadmill can significantly improve your cardiovascular system, bone health, and overall health.
Cons of using a treadmill for cardio:
  • Price: Treadmills can cost thousands of dollars, especially for premium models. There are more affordable options under $1000 though.
  • Size: Treadmills are often large and take up a significant amount of space. However, there are compact options and folding treadmills on the market.
  • Care: Repairs are sometimes required, as well as regular maintenance like belt tightening and lubrication.
  • Sound: Excess noise from the motor and your feet on the deck can make treadmills loud and not best for some shared spaces.

Stair Steppers

Running stadium stairs is a heck of a workout! Elite athletes often show off running miles up and down the rows of stairs. It’s great conditioning for your legs, glutes, and calves and really gets the heart pounding.

A stair stepper machine simulates that real-world activity without actually climbing anywhere. Stair stepping gets your heart rate up, burns those extra calories, and strengthens your legs in the process. There are many different types of stair steppers to choose from, and either will give you the workout you need to stay fit. Our current favorite stair stepper is the STEPR+ Stair Climber because of it’s compact design and content.

The standard-sized stair climbers (or stepmill) are the ones you’re likely to see at your gym. These are usually reasonably large machines because of the mechanics involved in driving the treadmill-like revolving staircase. They are heavy but offer more options for stepping because the landing surface is a decent size and doesn’t require you to keep your foot stationary. You will step as you would on any staircase, lifting your foot to take the next step.

Unlike a stepmill, a pedal stair climber has two separate pedals to place your feet where they stay put. The pedal moves up and down with the foot. You adjust the resistance to increase or decrease your speed.

A mini-stepper is a pedal stair climber and is more home-friendly since it takes up less space and can be moved easily. This compact stepper is lighter since it doesn’t have a drive motor and is great if you don’t have a dedicated workout space and need to move things around.

Whichever style you use or look to buy, there are quite a few things to know about stair steppers. Let’s look at the pros and cons of stair steppers and see if buying one would suit the type of workout you are looking for.

Pros of using a stair stepper for cardio:
  • Builds Muscle: Excellent for building muscle mass in the legs and glutes.
  • Core Strength: Your core muscles will gain endurance and strength because you are standing and balancing while you step.
  • Calorie Burn: Can burn a large amount of calories per hour, which can help aid in weight loss.
  • Increase Bone Mineral Density: Because stepping is a weight-bearing exercise, it will help build bone strength, even better than walking.
  • Cross Training: Similar to walking and running, it works virtually the same muscles but in a low-impact way.
  • Variation: You can use programs to keep the workouts varied and engaging.
  • Low-impact: Since stepping is joint-friendly, it allows you to workout with some existing injuries.
  • Easy to View Entertainment: Whether you’re watching a show or reading, stepping lends itself to viewing your entertainment safely.
Cons of using a stair stepper for cardio:
  • Tough on Knees: The knees are the primary joint in play when stepping, so stepping can eventually cause knee issues if overused or exacerbate existing knee problems.
  • Can be Intimidating: There is a bit of a learning curve, and some people may wear themselves out unnecessarily before becoming acclimated to stepping.
  • No Upper Body Training: Stepping is primarily a lower-body exercise, so the upper body doesn’t get much work.
  • Tough on Back: Muscle and ligament sprains can occur due to improper posture while stepping and too much leaning on the rails.

Bottom Line

Both treadmills and stair steppers are excellent additions to any home gym. But most people only have the room and budget for one. What you need depends on your training goals, your preferences, and joint health.

A treadmill will always be your go-to for indoor training for runners who train for marathons or triathlons. A stair stepper would be great for cross-training but a poor substitute for actual running. And luckily for you, there are modern treadmills that provide immersive and real-world-like training options.

If you need a lower impact but high-intensity workout, a stair stepper might be the way to go. You will get an unbeatable lower body workout to shape and strengthen your legs and glutes while keeping your heart and lungs healthy…without pounding your joints into oblivion.

We like and recommend both treadmills and stair steppers. You can’t go wrong with either. If you have any questions, reach out and let us help.