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Workout Showdown: Steppers vs. Ellipticals

Whether you're assembling a full home gym or only have room for a single machine, you want to make sure to consider the equipment that will help you get the fitness results you want. From the specific muscles each machine targets to the number of calories you're likely to burn, it's important to take many factors into consideration when deciding which type of workout is right for you. While steppers and ellipticals both provide effective cardiovascular workouts, both have specific uses that target different fitness needs.



Type of Workout


Targeted Muscles

Highly targets legs, thighs and glutes Engages legs, thighs, glutes, arms, back and core

Calories Burned


Impact on Joints

Low-ModerateExtremely low

Common Mistakes

Poor posture can lead to back discomfortPoor posture can lead to ineffective workout


Advantages of Steppers

  • Tones lower muscles more effectively - Working out on a stepper requires you to exercise the muscles in the lower half of your body, particularly in your legs and thighs. This type of machine can help strengthen and tone your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and gluteal muscles effectively while providing a great cardiovascular workout.
  • Requires less coordination - Since the upper half of your body stays relatively stationary throughout each motion (assuming proper posture), exercising on a stepper requires less coordination and balance. This can help you to remain focused on completing your workout properly.

Limitations of Steppers

  • Improper usage can cause back discomfort - Poor posture is one of the most common pitfalls in using a stepper machine. The tendency to lean forward to leverage your body weight not only leads to an ineffective workout, but it also puts more pressure on your lower back. If you ever experience lower back pain or soreness, this mistake can cause serious discomfort during and after a workout.
  • Doesn't engage all muscles - While your leg and thigh muscles do all the work, most of the muscles in your arms, shoulders, chest and upper back remain largely still. While this is an extremely effective workout for your legs, you’re largely neglecting the rest of your muscles.
  • Can be hard on the knees - Although the low-impact nature of steppers can provide more comfortable workouts for people with joint pain, enhanced pressure on the knees while completing each motion may cause soreness or discomfort, especially for those who experience chronic pain in their knees.
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Advantages of Ellipticals

  • Burns more calories - If your main objective is to lose weight and strengthen your heart, an elliptical is an ideal option. By keeping the majority of your body moving throughout your workout, you'll exercise your heart more effectively and burn more calories overall. Maintain proper posture by keeping your back straight, your shoulders back and your core muscles tight for best results.
  • Extremely low impact - If you ever experience joint pain or stiffness, an elliptical provides a much more comfortable cardiovascular workout. The machine is designed to allow you to move all of your limbs and joints in a smooth gliding motion without feeling forceful impacts against hard surfaces.
  • Engages more muscles - While your lower body is doing the brunt of the work, the ski-like motion of the attached arm poles also engage your biceps, triceps, shoulder muscles, upper back and core. An elliptical may not specifically target any muscle or muscle group to strengthen and tone as effectively as a stepper, but it does provide a well-rounded workout for a variety of areas. Additionally, pedaling in reverse helps to exercise these muscles differently for an even more effective workout when combined with forward pedaling.
Limitations of Ellipticals
  • Mind your stride - Some models may be difficult to use for people with particularly small or large strides. Make sure your elliptical provides a comfortable stride length for your height or that it's adjustable to accommodate multiple users.
  • Requires more coordination - Since nearly your entire body is moving in different directions throughout each motion, this workout requires you to be more coordinated with a greater sense of balance.
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