Elliptical, Treadmill, or StairMaster: Which is Better for Weight Loss?

Take a look at these three effective cardio machines and see which one you should use for your fat-burning goals!

Elliptical, Treadmill, or StairMaster: Which is Better for Weight Loss?
Photo by Ryan De Hamer / Unsplash
María Rubio María Rubio
5 min read

When it comes to burning fat and getting rid of a few extra pounds, a combination of cardio and strength training is the best way to go. And while going out to run or ride your bike is a great way to do cardio, if you do your weightlifting portion of the routine at the gym, it’s way more convenient to also do your cardio there.

Luckily, there are many ways to do cardio at the gym! You can hop on one of the many cardio machines that the gym has to offer, like the elliptical, the treadmill, and the Stairmaster – but how can you choose between all of them? Is one better than the other for your fat-burning goals or should you use them all?

In this article, we’ll break down the benefits and differences between these three popular cardio machines. Plus, we’ll tell you what is the best cardio machine for your weight loss journey so that you can have a more effective cardio session the next time you step into the gym!

Cardio on an elliptical

You’re probably already very familiar with the elliptical machine. This machine works by having you place your feet on two pedals and move them in an elliptical way, similar to how you would do on a bike, while you grab onto two moving handles.

In a way, the movement that you do on the elliptical machine resembles running, except that you’re not putting as much strain on your muscles and joints. It can help you break a heavy sweat very quickly, making it a popular option among active people that want to get some cardio done at the gym.

Here are the main benefits of an elliptical trainer:

  • It’s a low-impact cardio machine

When it comes to low-impact cardio, the elliptical machine definitely takes the cake. This is because of the way that you move on the elliptical since you never take your feet off the pedals. Additionally, the movements are elliptic instead of strictly vertical or horizontal, making it easier on your joints.

  • You get a full-body workout

During an elliptical session, you grab the handles with your hands and move them forward and backward in coordination with your legs, keeping your arms active throughout the exercise. This makes for a full-body cardio workout with an emphasis on your lower body.

  • It’s great for beginners and those recovering from injuries

Because it’s low impact and easy to use, this machine works wonders for those who are just getting into cardio or have suffered injuries and need a way to get back to it smoothly.

Plus, the elliptical machine has a set path which leaves almost no room for variation. This makes it easy to get used to and eventually master to move onto more difficult cardio movements.

Cardio on a treadmill

Another gym classic, probably the first one you picture when you think of getting some cardio done at the gym. Using the treadmill is as simple as choosing the speed that you want and hopping on it, whether it’s to walk, jog, or run.

What makes the treadmill a good choice for fat burning is that you can adjust the incline, taking the workout from a simple horizontal cardio session to a challenging incline one. When it comes to losing a few pounds, the incline treadmill can be your best friend!

Here are some benefits of using the treadmill:

  • It’s highly versatile

The best thing about treadmills is how much you can do with them. You can take it easy and simply walk by yourself or hold a dumbbell in each hand, or you can pick up the pace and start jogging or running. You can even do so backward to add some variety to your cardio session!

  • The incline adds a level of difficulty

Most intermediate and advanced gym-goers use the incline on a treadmill for a good reason: running on one is slightly easier than running outdoors since the surface is more gentle on your joints.

You can add a slight incline to mimic what it’s like to run around a park, but you can also increase the angle a little more and slow down the pace for a more intense workout.

  • It’s a good option for those who can’t jog or run

The incline is also great for people who are not able to have more strenuous workouts. By using the incline, those with injuries or who are not able to jog or run due to balance or mobility issues can still increase their heart rate and have a sweat-inducing workout in a controlled environment. Plus, it has railings!

Cardio on a Stairmaster

Lastly, the Stairmaster is probably the cardio machine that offers the most intense workout from the get-go. This machine mimics the action of climbing up a seemingly endless flight of stairs, making your lower body burn.

The reason why this machine can be more intense than the others is that you’re dealing with your full body weight as you take each step since you’re moving in a vertical motion. This can result in a very effective fat-burning session – and it also helps sculpt your leg muscles!

These are a few benefits of the Stairmaster:

  • It’s a versatile machine

Similar to the treadmill, you can do a lot of things with the Stairmaster. You can adjust the speed of the stairs as well as try different climbing approaches, such as going two steps at a time, climbing sideways, or even going backward – just make sure you’re holding onto the railings!

  • It helps build lower-body muscle

The Stairmaster is a cardio machine that doubles as a killer leg station. After a couple of minutes of stair climbing, you’ll feel how your leg muscles start burning from the constant vertical movement, helping you build stronger legs while you get your cardio done.

  • It’s a low-impact movement

Even though climbing up stairs can get tiring quickly, it’s still an excellent low-impact option for those with mobility issues or recovering from injuries. The Stairmaster goes easier on your joints while still burning a lot of fat and toning your leg muscles!

Which machine should you use?

All in all, each machine has its unique combination of benefits, and they’re all great to get a good fat-burning cardio session!

If you’re a beginner or are recovering from injuries, the elliptical might be your best option. It’s low-impact and very easy to use while still being a great way to burn fat. A Stairmaster machine is also a great option for this, but it’s a better alternative for those looking to build muscle at the same time.

Right in between, the treadmill can be both low and high-impact, so it can adapt to your fitness level and goals more easily. You can also build a fair amount of lower-body muscle with the treadmill, especially if you use it on an incline.

That said, the best cardio machine for you will depend on your current fitness level, limitations, and goals:

  • For fat-burning and muscle endurance, use the treadmill.
  • For fat burning and muscle building, use the Stairmaster.
  • For fat burning with lighter movements, use the elliptical.

Ultimately, how much fat you burn using either of these machines will depend on how much effort you put into it. You can have an effective calorie-burning session with any machine that you choose, you just have to plan accordingly!

The best cardio is the one that works for you

If your goal is to lose a few pounds, there’s no wrong method as long as you keep moving! You can use just one of these machines, all in combination, or a different machine such as a spin bike. You can also try a completely different approach, like HIIT training or doing cardio outdoors. What matters is that you choose the right method for your goals and your body!

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