“StairMaster vs. Incline Treadmill: A Comparison of Their Features and Benefits”

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to try my first bootcamp that utilized a StairMaster instead of a treadmill as its cardio component. I bought an intro pack for Bunda, a group health studio that combines weight lifting with step climbing. In only a few minutes, I could feel my cardiorespiratory technique kick into higher gear, even though we weren’t moving quickly. I was sweating and my heartbeat was synchronized to the high BPM playlist that was playing.

At the end, I was satisfied with what trainers had been saying for years: Stairmills like the StairMaster were the best (and underrated) cardio machines. My time at Bunda also made me curious about how getting steps on a StairMaster compares to doing the same thing during an incline-treadmill exercise such as 12-3-30.

The same muscle groups are worked by walking on an inclined treadmill and climbing on a StairMaster
You’ll be working your lower physique regardless of the machine you choose. “Strolling with incline…strengthens the muscle groups in your posterior chain, aka the muscle groups out of your calves as much as your again,” Aaptiv grasp coach John Thornhill beforehand informed Effectively+Good. Katie Lunger, CSCS creator and cofounder of Bunda, confirms that the StairMaster does the same.

If you decide to let go of the handrails in either case, your stabilizing and core muscles will also be engaged, as they’ll need to fire to assist you keep your balance.

The StairMaster has a higher metabolic burn potential
Even though both exercises are intense, if you were to move at the same pace on each machines, it’s possible you’ll use more energy on a StairMaster because it takes extra effort to walk up an incline than it does to climb stairs. The same thing happens even after the exercise, as your body returns to its baseline. This is similar to the difference between climbing a hill and a mountain.

Lunger says, “Strolling up an incline is the next best thing to do after the stairs, but in reality, the depth will be lower–it’s just not enough of an incline.” The metabolic effect is not as strong. The more intense the exercise and the greater the effort, the higher your metabolism will be.

The StairMaster has a much smaller impact on the environment.
Both cardio machines are considered low impact, but Seth Maynard (former director of the health Swap Playground, New York Metropolis) told Effectively+Good in the past that the StairMaster is “less difficult on the knees,” which Lunger also agrees with. Bunda created Bunda’s exercises using a StairMaster instead of an incline-treadmill. She says that the StairMaster is better than a treadmill because it has a lower impact on joints, even though it is metabolically active. On a treadmill, you are more likely to step on a straightened leg when you climb stairs.

Climbing up a StairMaster requires a more purposeful movement
The StairMaster will mimic a motion pattern that most people use more frequently, which is stepping up stairs. This makes the exercise more purposeful than walking on an inclined treadmill.

Who wins the StairMaster vs. Incline treadmill debate?
The StairMaster is the best because it offers a higher-intensity, lower-impact exercise with a greater metabolic impact. As Lunger points out, incline walking is a close second. The only way to determine which cardio machine will be the best for you is to consider your health goals and what piece of equipment is most convenient.