Exercise bikes may burn more calories, but that doesn't make them necessarily better for you.
You know you need to exercise, but how do you choose the most effective exercise machine? If you're trying to decide between an exercise bike and a stair stepper machine, keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to choose one or the other. Variety is key to preventing the muscle adaptation that can get in the way of losing the weight or getting the muscle tone you want. That said, it doesn't hurt to weigh the pros and cons of each exercise machine.
Compare the Calories
Because burning calories leads to weight loss, it's a key reason that people choose to exercise in the first place. As such, the number of calories you burn on one machine versus another may be the biggest factor for choosing one over the other. As with any exercise, you'll burn more calories the harder you work. On average, a 155-pound person will burn about 223 calories using a stair stepper machine for 30 minutes. On an exercise bike, a 155-pound person will burn about 260 calories in half an hour.
Contrast the Muscles
The stair stepper and exercise bike are both used primarily for cardio, but you'll also get some muscle-building benefits by using them over time. Both machines focus on the lower body; your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and the core muscles of your back and abdomen will do most of the work when you use either. Some stair steppers are "mini" versions that you can use while sitting down, but when you work on the standing models, the stabilizing muscles of your core will activate more intensely to help you remain upright.
Benefits of the Exercise Bike
Personal preference greatly influences the machine you choose. If you like using one machine over another, you'll be more likely to return to that machine time after time. However, you might choose the exercise bike over the stair stepper for a few reasons. If you suffer from balance or mobility issues, an exercise bike will allow you to get in a workout while sitting down. Mini stepper machines also allow you to do that, but they typically don't have hand-holds that can help you steady yourself. You might also prefer some models of exercise bikes that have arm levers, because you can get more of a total-body workout by using them. Compared to a mini stepper, exercise bikes may also have a wider range of resistance, allowing you to switch between light resistance and heavy resistance for interval workouts.
Pros of the Stair Stepper
You might choose the stair stepper over the exercise bike for other reasons. The mini stepper varieties are very economical. Since they're so small and portable, you could easily stash a mini stepper under your desk at work, allowing you to get in a workout while you're on the clock.