Should You Use a Stair Stepper or StairMaster to Get in Shape? (Pros & Cons)

A set of two flights of stairs

Have you ever looked at a flight or two of stairs and thought, “That would make great exercise”?

Relax. You don’t have to run up and down stairs at your apartment complex where everyone can look at you.

You can just use the StairMaster at your local gym!

You’ll find it among the rest of the cardio equipment. And while you may feel more drawn to the treadmills or ellipticals, you shouldn’t ignore running up stairs as a viable workout.

Below, we are going to break down several stair stepper pros and cons (or StairMaster or stair machine… whatever you prefer to call it!)

Using the StairMaster is an excellent way to torch calories. You’ll burn 400+ calories per hour using the machine at a moderate pace, and you’ll also develop great strength and endurance in your quads, hamstrings, and butt.

However, the stair machine probably shouldn’t be the only exercise you do since it won’t hit your upper body at all.

Some beginners also find the machine a little intimidating at first and get gassed too quickly their first few times using it! It can sometimes be better to build up your base cardio on a treadmill.

Still not sure if a stair stepper is right for you? Check out this collection of pros and cons to make the most informed decision.

Pros of Stair Steppers (Benefits)

A stair climber is essentially a never-ending escalator.

The stairs revolve around the machine, and all you have to do is hang onto the railing and keep climbing until you’re satisfied with your workout.

These machines typically come with readouts keeping you informed of your progress and heart rate.

Fun fact: if you climb 1,576 stairs in a single workout, then you will have just climbed the entirety of the Empire State Building.

The StairMaster may look daunting at first. But after a few workouts, you’ll find there’s nothing to be scared about.

In fact, regularly working out on a stair climber offers many benefits for your health you just can’t get with other machines.

Here’s all the good stuff you need to know about.

A Great Calorie Burner

If your primary goal with working out is to lose weight, then a StairMaster should definitely fit in your regimen.

Research indicates that people can burn anywhere between 180 and 260 calories in a single 30-minute session on a stair climber.

That’s not half bad, and compares favorable to most intense workouts like running, rowing, etc.

You can burn more calories by making the stairs go at a faster pace. However, you want to work out at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Star slow and work your way up to a quicker pace.

The best part is that most stair steppers come with calorie counters, so you can see how much you’ve burned in real time.

You can adjust the pace as necessary to get your desired calorie burn rate.

(And don’t miss: How many calories does climbing stairs burn?)

A Muscle Strengthener

However, a StairMaster is more than just a cardio workout. It also target several muscle groups so that you can tone muscle while getting cardio simultaneously.

The primary muscles a stair climber targets include:

  • Calves
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps

You won’t get bulging, tree-trunk thighs just from using the stair machine (you’ll need heavy weight training, too, to achieve that), but you can develop a really strong, athletic, and toned lower body this way.

But that’s not all!

A StairMaster also gives your core muscles a workout. Pumping your legs so vigorously will strengthen your core, which helps lower your risk of lower back pain and improves your posture.

A Low-Impact Workout

If you have knee or other joint issues, then you may be limited in how you can work out.

Treadmills are often ill-advised for these kinds of health problems because your legs and knees are heavily impacted on the machine. It will only exacerbate any pre-existing issues.

This is where a stair stepper comes in handy. Climbing up stairs places far less stress on your joints, making it a great workout for people who suffer from knee pain.

It can also help reduce discomfort for individuals with osteoarthritis.

Of course, not all injuries and knee conditions are created equal. As always, you should consult with your doctor before starting any new workout regimen.

An Exercise for Your Bones

Osteoporosis is a serious health complication. It tends to develop more often in older folks, and it can lead to the following symptoms.

  • Back pain
  • Stooped posture
  • More easily breakable bones

However, you can drastically reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis later in life by climbing stairs.

Climbing a StairMaster and other weight-bearing exercises help increase bone mass. Bones are living tissue, and you can train and care for them with regular work on a stair machine.

You naturally lose bone mass as you age, but by increasing it now, you can limit the impact bone tissue loss has on your health later in life.

Cons of Stair Steppers (Disadvantages)

A StairMaster stair stepper machine
Benjamín Núñez González / CC BY-SA (

A StairMaster may just be your new best friend.

But before you go crazy on one, there are a few other factors to consider. Ultimately, you just need to think about what you hope to accomplish with your workouts and which machine is best-suited for those goals.

Here are a few cons to keep in the back of your mind.

Not an Upper Body Workout

Climbing stairs is great for your legs. However, the same can’t necessarily be said for your arms.

Sure, if you forgo hanging onto the side rails, you’ll be forced to pump your arms and get them moving.

But you’ll hardly find stair-climbing to be an exhaustive upper body exercise.

(Unlike, say, the elliptical.)

The StairMaster is great for your core, legs, and conditioning… but if you want to work your upper body (which you should), you’ll need to incorporate weight training, yoga, the elliptical, or another form of exercise.

Remember that a balanced approach to training makes you look and feel better. It also helps prevent injuries!

Potential for Back Issues

Working out on a StairMaster may also not be recommended for those suffering from chronic back problems.

The reason for this is that there is a tendency for people to slouch on a stair stepper. They get so exhausted they slouch as they try to finish their regimen.

Again, the key here is to be aware of what you’re doing with your body.

Just like you should bear in mind to move your arms, you also need to remind yourself to stand up straight. A stair stepper is great for improving posture but only if you use it correctly.

If you find that you can no longer stand up straight, then it is time to get off the machine.

A Steep Learning Curve

All this seems like a lot to take in. It’s precisely for this reason why so many people are hesitant to step on a StairMaster for the first time.

Chances are high when you initially use a stair climber, you’re going to feel beat afterward. You may only even be able to use it for 10 minutes or less that first experience.

But don’t give up.

It’s an incredibly rewarding exercise. You just need to stick with it. You’re likely not going to become a stair climbing master the first week or even the first month.

You should still give it a shot. Keep the benefits we talked about earlier in mind because those skills will all benefit your health in the long run.

Wrapping Up

These are most of the stair stepper pros and cons you need to know before you commit to using one as your main workout.

The stair machines at the gym usually aren’t crowded, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good way to exercise. Quite the contrary!

If you’re looking for a huge and efficient calorie burn, a conditioning workout, and a bit of lower body strength, you’d be hard pressed to do much better than a stair stepper.

On the other hand, it can be tough for beginners to get going because you likely won’t last long your first couple of times.

Consider building up on a treadmill or with walks and runs outside. And even then, you’ll want to incorporate some upper body work in, as well, for the best results.

Are you a fan of StairMasters? Is there anything holding you back from going up all those stairs? Let us know!

If you’re still trying to figure out what workout to do, don’t miss:

Hope this helps!