Elliptical vs Step Machine: Which One Is Best?

The elliptical machine is incredibly popular, as is the step machine. Both provide excellent cardiovascular workouts. Here we compare the elliptical trainer and step machine/ stepper/ StairMaster to give you an easy overview and guide.

You can also compare the elliptical and treadmill. For more activities, read the best exercise for weight loss and an in-depth look at the advantages and disadvantages of the elliptical machine.

Elliptical vs Stepper

Elliptical Machine
Calorie burning
Targets upper and lower body. More calories are burned on the elliptical trainer. Can burn about 700 calories an hour.A 63kg (10 stone) woman can burn 572 calories in an hour, with good posture.
Almost no impact using elliptical trainers, as the feet stay in contact with the pads throughout the movement. The use of the upper body also keeps joints mobile.More impact that elliptical trainer. Research on injured athletes suggests that the use of a step machine as an alternative to cycling for knee rehabilitation has no harmful effect. Therefore not so bad for knees as often suggested.
Aerobic fitness
Excellent cardiovascular workout. Research shows that 3 months of training, three days a week, improves oxygen uptake significantly.Brilliant for cardiovascular fitness. One study found that runners who only stepped for 9 weeks improved their performance as much as those who continued to run.
Muscles worked
Chest (pectoralis major) muscles. Also back of arm (triceps) and front arm (biceps) muscles.
Hips (gluteus maximus), front of the thighs (quadriceps), back of the thighs (hamstrings), calves (gastrocnemius) and lower shin (tibialas anterior).
If good posture: calf muscles, gluteal muscles and hip flexors targeted on the stepper.
Toned bottom
The elliptical trainer targets the thighs, hips and butt. It works the bottom muscles less and targets the front of the thighs more.If good technique, the stepper is excellent for firming your butt and really working your hip extensors muscles. The deeper your steps, the more powerful the effect on firming your butt.
 For the same work rate, the level of “perceived exertion” may be higher on the elliptical trainer, i.e. you feel as if you are working harder, but you’re not. Requires some coordination. Read, how to use the elliptical machine. The upper body is fixed while the legs move, which requires less coordination than the elliptical. There is some impact on the joints, especially the knees, as such it may not be the best choice for the very overweight.
Common mistakes
Excessive rotational movement from the waist in order to push the hand levers forward.
Placing the heel off the foot plate (i.e. most of your weight on the front section of foot) for an extended periods of time, which causes sore calf muscles.
Supporting body weight with arms.
Leaning too far forward.
Both mistakes place excessive pressure on the lower back.
Look forward and stand tall throughout. No slouching!
Place feet centrally on the foot pedals.
Ensure your heel is down on the foot plate when ever you can, in order to stretch the calf muscles.
Keep your back upright and use your hands for balance, when (lightly) holding onto the handles.
All muscles, particularly upper leg and calf muscles.All muscles, particularly calf and quadriceps (thighs).
Aim for larger controlled movements, rather than a small jerking action. Use your arms to help control the speed and also to assist your legs.Beginners should keep a smooth rhythm, with medium sized steps.

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