StairMaster vs Incline Treadmill: A Cardio Results Guide

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The fitness world is full of debate about different machines and techniques to achieve fitness goals. 

These tools can help you lose body fat, improve endurance, or even just work up a sweat with a heart-pumping routine

We’re going to focus on a small but timeless part of the debate: StairMaster vs. incline treadmill — what’s your stairway to cardio heaven?

You may be a diehard StairMaster fan or a brand-new treadmill user. Either way, knowing the best machine for your goals is key. 

With the right information, you can make every step count.

Do They Work the Same Body Muscles?

When you mount the StairMaster or stair climber machine, you engage every major leg muscle: your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. 

You may also engage your core and hip flexors, building body strength and definition while improving your balance and stability. 

On the other hand, the incline treadmill provides a more evenly distributed challenge on the legs, mimicking a gradual hike up a mountain trail. Depending on the incline level, you may focus more on your glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 

If you don’t hold on to the handrails, you can intensify the workout for those muscles. Beyond the legs, you also activate core muscles to maintain balance and alignment. 

What Are the Benefits of Incline Walking?

Inclined walking, a fundamental part of the incline treadmill experience, offers a range of benefits:

What Are the Benefits of Staircase Walking?

The unique motion of a StairMaster workout also packs a punch in the benefits department:

  • Offers high-intensity interval training (HIIT) potential, especially when incorporating speed intervals. This boosts cardiovascular endurance in less time.
  • Engages a targeted group of muscles (in this case, the leg and abdominal muscles), maximizing your results.
  • Has a lower impact on the joints than running, making it a great option for those with mild joint issues or recovering from injuries.

How To Choose Based on Your Goals

If calorie burn is what you’re after, you can’t go wrong with either machine. But remember: what you put in is what you get out! Speed and incline will determine how many calories you end up burning. 

But there are some differences between the two machines to consider:

Workout goals:

  • Incline treadmill: Ideal if you’re looking to improve endurance—the length of time you’re able to comfortably exercise. Walking on an incline is also great for building leg strength. 
  • StairMaster: Excellent for high-intensity cardio, which is working at 80-95% of your maximum heart rate for short bursts. The StairMaster can also help build strong glutes and calves.

Impact level

  • Incline treadmill: At a low speed and incline, it typically offers a lower-impact workout that can be easier on the knees and joints. Remember that running at a higher speed at a steeper incline will increase the impact on joints. 
  • StairMaster: Also considered a lower-impact workout. But it can tax the knees and ankles since you need to bend and extend your legs. The effect of either machine on your joints depends greatly on the speed and difficulty of the workout.

Size and accessibility

  • Incline treadmill: Normally larger, needing more space, although some can be folded. Often found in most gyms.
  • StairMaster: Generally more compact, making it a better machine for smaller rooms. It’s also widely found in gyms.

Workout variety

  • Incline treadmill: Suitable for various workouts, such as walking, jogging, or running. Adjusting the incline also lets you mix things up.
  • StairMaster: Focuses mostly on stair-stepping motion, which can feel more repetitive.

Skill level

  • Incline treadmill: User-friendly for beginners while still great for those who want a challenging experience.
  • StairMaster: There may be an adjustment period as you get used to the stepping motion. Some people find them more difficult, but it’s doable for all skill levels.

Fun fact: In 2022, our users logged over 340M runs and walks. Join the club by downloading the free app today!

The Bottom Line: Both Machines Further Your Fitness

There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing fitness equipment. The “best” machine will be the one that matches your individual fitness goals. Experiment with each device to see how your body responds. When you find that perfect fit, your workouts will be something you look forward to. 

Whether you’re pushing through a tough session on the gym treadmill or climbing the StairMaster from the comfort of your home, the most important thing is to keep moving. 

Don’t limit yourself to just one machine — mix it up and try different exercises to keep challenging your body and mind. Remember, even small changes in your routine can lead to big results. 

As always, be sure to consult with your physician before starting any diet or exercise routine to ensure it is right for you.

Enjoy the journey and the many benefits of exercise in whichever form it takes. So, go ahead and conquer those stairs or crank up the incline on the treadmill — your healthy self will thank you!

Originally posted 3/3/2020 | Updated 7/8/2024



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