Cardio workouts are the perfect tool for health-boosting, life quality improvement, losing weight, and shaping that perfect summer body. However, there is an overwhelming list of options for cardio workout machines that you can use to reach your goals or improve your health stats. Of all options available, three prevail as the most popular apparatuses – the stair climber, the treadmill, and the elliptical trainer. Each piece of equipment has its characteristics, pros, and cons. In the following, we will take a deeper look at all three machines and even directly compare them performance-wise to help you decide your best cardio workout option.
Stair Climber 101
In a clinical trial, it has been pointed out that regular stair climbing helps “produce long-term improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness,” VO2 increasing by as much as 7% in only six weeks. So, it comes as no surprise that stair climber machines have skyrocketed in popularity since their first introduction into gyms back in the 1980s. In addition, the machine provides a hearty workout since you will climb upstairs that is likely 8 inches apart (this is the minimum standard for steps, and most models are built following this design rule).
There are different machines to pick from: step mills like the StairMaster products and petal-type climbers like the Bowflex Max Trainer M8. You must learn how to use the stair climber since proper form during this workout keeps you safe from lower back injuries that would otherwise require inversion therapy to fix and maximize the potential of the exercise session.
- Enhances the digestive system function and appetite;
- Keeps the bones and joints flexible;
- Strengthens lower body muscles and ligaments;
- Low-impact training;
- The machine grants constant step resistance;
- Helps improve posture when used properly;
- Improves bones density.
- If you push yourself and have a knee injury, it can aggravate the condition;
- If you use it wrong and slouch, your back will hurt;
- It’s not the most effective calisthenics for the upper body.
Elliptical Trainer 101
This is one of the most complex cardio machines available since it combines traits from the bike, stair climber, and treadmill into a single apparatus. The advantage it holds over the equipment as mentioned above is that the elliptical helps burn more calories than the indoor cycling bike, there’s more exercise variety when compared to the climber (elliptical exercises are a bit more diverse), and it’s much more joint-friendly when compared to the treadmill.
It won’t help you bulk, though. If you intend to grow your muscle mass, you could put on a weighted vest when you do your elliptical workout so that the extra resistance helps you bulk. If you want to amp weight loss results when you use this machine, put on a sauna vest to sweat more. The health benefits of the elliptical are undeniable, and since it’s a low-impact machine that is easy to use, it comes as no surprise that any respectable gym has at least one of these machines in it.
- Low-impact, joint-friendly exercise;
- If you utilize the handles correctly, you can work out upper body muscles in the process too;
- Train without holding onto the handlebars, and you will improve your balance;
- Helps boost endurance;
- Research shows that it’s one of the best machines for activating quadriceps/hamstrings;
- Perfect workout machine for individuals who have pre-existing injuries;
- The under-desk elliptical is an office-friendly variant to exercise during work hours.
- The movement will feel unnatural, so you will need some time to get accustomed to the workout;
- Few models feature incline, so there’s not as much resistance as you get with the treadmill workout;
- It won’t help you bulk your upper body muscles.
You are likely very familiar with this workout equipment since it’s present in ALL gyms, guaranteed. It doesn’t require much skill since it’s straightforward to use. You are the one in control over the workout’s difficulty since you set the speed you like. Therefore, you can use it to either walk, jog, or run. Moreover, it’s one of the best machines for weight loss. However, as efficient as the treadmill might be for weight loss, it only provides these results when runners push themselves and run at least at a moderate speed. A study regarding forced treadmill running points out that using the machine does have “beneficial neuroinflammatory effects, but that the stress induced by the enforcement to run is disadvantageous and exceeds the beneficial effects.”
If you prefer running at high speeds, make sure that you wear a comfortable and supportive sports bra to protect your chest since the impact with the surface will cause some uncomfortable bouncing. We also advise that you alternate treadmill use with other exercises like pull-ups or push-ups since the machine only focuses on the lower body. To shape your body harmoniously, you need to work out the upper body, too.
- You maintain a constant running speed throughout;
- High-end models let you create race environments to train better;
- You are independent of weather conditions, so you can run whenever you’re in the mood;
- Most models come with multiple pre-set workouts, changing speed and incline automatically at different intervals;
- Easier on the joints than running outside of surfaces like cement or the ground.
- The impact with the surface puts strain on the back and lower body;
- Limited workout – you can only use it for walking or running;
- When needed, maintenance is costly;
- It’s not a fun workout; you can get bored quickly.
Quick Side-by-Side Comparison
What Muscles It Works
Calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes
Calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, anterior tibialis
Calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes
How Intense the Workout Is
What It Is Best Known For
Close to a full-body workout
Perfect for rehab from a lower-body injury
Is It Simple to Use?
How Big Is the Upfront Cost
But Which is Better for Weight Loss? – The Stair Climber, Elliptical, or Treadmill?
METs or metabolic equivalents of tasks will pop up in this article section. These values are used in the calculations needed to learn how many calories each type of workout helps you burn. We will provide you with the right MET value for each formula. However, if you want to learn the MET for other activities, check out this article by Dr. Maurice Jetté of the School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa.
Comparing Results to Learn the Winner
As you can see, after a 30-minute intense workout with each of these workout machines, the treadmill prevails as the winner in terms of calories burned. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take away from the elliptical trainer’s efficiency and the stair climber. On the contrary, seeing how the workouts performed on the latter apparatuses are more joint-friendly and less soliciting, chances are that you will likely lose more weight in the long run if you use the stair climber or elliptical than the treadmill for the simple fact that you won’t get exhausted as fast, and will likely maintain consistency in your workout routines.
The Bottom Line
A comparative study between the elliptical and treadmill shows that it is more efficient overall since it activates different muscle groups.
On the other hand, if you don’t put your hands on the handlebars of the stair climber, you engage core muscles and thus amp the workout’s efficiency, so this seemingly simplistic apparatus is not to be taken lightly when it comes to the benefits it provides. Moreover, it’s an exercise that even the untrained can take up. Research shows that even as little as 30 minutes a week of stair climbing makes a major difference in cardiorespiratory fitness improvement.
The treadmill is the most efficient for weight loss, but running vigorously is draining and can have adverse effects on joint health. There’s the issue of sticking to the exercise routine too. You are much more likely to give up on your workout schedule if you overexert yourself by running on the treadmill regularly than if you were to use the elliptical or stair climber since the workouts performed on these machines are lighter.
There is no definitive answer; it all comes down to your goals and fitness level. We recommend the elliptical and stair climber of the three rather than the treadmill. Weight loss might not be as speedy, but at least you don’t put yourself in danger of injury. As mentioned above, the exercises on the machines are more run than simply running, too, so you are likely to stay engaged in the workout for a more extended amount of time. However, there’s no denying that treadmill running has its fair share of benefits. So, whatever apparatus you choose, your health will ultimately benefit. Pick the one that you feel most comfortable working out with and stick to a workout schedule that has you active for 150-300 minutes per week, and you’re on your way to a healthier, better-looking version of yourself in no time.