Does an Elliptical Trainer Provide a Full Body Workout?

An elliptical trainer is often thought to work wonders on your lower body. On the other hand, some people criticize it for not providing enough of a workout for your entire body. What is the truth? Here’s what you want to know.

Elliptical trainers are good machines for a full-body workout, as they can strengthen your lower body, upper body, and even core. That’s because both legs and arms are used at the same time. Elliptical trainers can also improve your stamina, improve your cardio and burn fat.

How can you get a good workout on your upper body using an elliptical trainer? It may not look like it, but there are strategies to help you improve your workout on this front. Also, targeting the core is possible while working out on an elliptical trainer too.

Does An Elliptical Trainer Provide a Full Body Workout?

On an elliptical trainer, there are foot pedals and arm levers. That means you have to use both the arms and legs to move everything. The core connects the arms and legs and so is used as well. The arms can be used to push and pull the levers which use most muscles in the arms, back, and chest.

The legs push the pedals which works out pretty much all the muscles in the lower body.

Is that enough to strengthen and grow your muscles? It depends on how big and strong you already are. If you are completely untrained, working out on an elliptical is going to give you more toned, stronger muscles. It will also help you to improve your cardio and reduce body fat which combined with bigger muscles will make you look better.

However, don’t expect an elliptical trainer to give you very big and strong muscles. If you want to focus on muscle growth on an elliptical, doing short sprints with high resistance will help.

Let’s take a look at what an elliptical does for the different body parts.

Lower Body Workout

Most people are aware of the ability of the elliptical trainer to provide a strong lower-body workout just as any exercise bike would. However, this is not an exercise bike. You can use the elliptical trainer to target the muscle groups in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and thighs.

Giving yourself the best possible lower body workout depends a lot on foot placement and direction. The horizontal motion helps you to work out your glutes and build up resistance in your leg muscles. Even after a short time of working out on an elliptical trainer, you will be feeling burning sensations in your quads, thighs, and glutes. Your entire lower body will be put to the test, and in order to build muscle, you will have to push through with resistance.

Getting a killer workout on your lower body using an elliptical will not help you build a lot of visible muscle in the same way that lifting weights would. The main benefit of working out on an elliptical is your ability to stay in shape. There may be some visible muscle on your lower body from your elliptical workout, but you shouldn’t expect to see a whole lot.

Suggested: Can you lose belly fat by only using an elliptical trainer?

Building a nice muscle tone, however, is one of the benefits of working out on an elliptical. Cranking up the resistance in your workout is a great way to build a nice muscle tone in your legs. This is because you burn a lot of calories in an elliptical workout.

Burning calories will burn fat, but it will not build muscle. So, if you are looking to build muscles, lifting weights is your best bet. If you are looking to burn fat, working out on an elliptical can help you achieve your goals by raising the resistance on the machine. Do this consistently and you will start seeing results.

Here is a video of a great lower body workout using the elliptical machine along with other lower body and cardio workouts:

Of course, if you want to see even better/faster muscle growth, combining your elliptical workouts with weightlifting is going to be your best option. Click here to find out what you need for a weightlifting home gym.

Upper Body Workout

Some things to remember when targeting the upper body in an elliptical machine is that the machine primarily targets your lower body. An elliptical machine is also great for cardiovascular exercises. However, it is still possible to get a great workout for your upper body using the elliptical. The muscles you can workout on your upper body include your biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

Suggested: Is 45 minutes on an elliptical enough to get abs?

Keep in mind that not all elliptical trainers work best for the upper body. Consider finding a newer model that provides built-in workouts for the upper body.

As for the actual workout, make sure you maintain a great posture. Stand up straight and do not slouch. Keep your chest out as you go. Flex your arms and legs as you stride; you want to push and pull through. Don’t compensate for a half-hearted effort. To feel the workout, you want to focus on your pushing and pulling. Push your arms out and pull them inwards toward you as you work out to obtain maximum power. Having proper form is also key because you do not want to develop muscle imbalances or injure yourself.

Speeding up your workout will also create a stronger workout for your upper body. You can also increase the resistance level and push yourself to go faster. This will get your body more invested and help build strength and muscle.

Changing up your workout every so often is not a bad move at all. It is good to find what works best for you and what will help you to better succeed in reaching your fitness goals. Visualize the upper body that you want so that when you work out, you can create a program in your mind and develop the muscles you want to focus on. This will help you approach your workout with more intensity and a firm goal.

Again, the elliptical is great for burning fat for both the lower and upper body. However, if you are thinking that you will be flexing your biceps to show off after a few workouts, think again—as the elliptical workouts are better equipped to burn calories and muscle endurance rather than the muscle itself.

Recommended home gym elliptical trainer


Image of people on an elliptical trainer

When working out on an elliptical machine, the core muscles are always being used to keep your body balanced and in the correct posture. To really work out your core when you use the elliptical, you need to avoid frequent bobbing up and down. Some adjustments can be made to work your entire core.

Of course, these adjustments begin with proper posture, which includes correct foot placement and standing up straight. You’ll want to avoid slouching as you will lose the focus on your core this way.

Next, you have to really engage your muscles. This means identifying mentally your core muscles as you begin to work out. This involves making the effort to tighten your muscles by putting your mental focus on them. Continuing this concentrated effort will help you feel the burn more quickly, and then you will know you are targeting your core.

As with your upper and lower body, it could also be beneficial for you to try various kinds of workouts on the machine. Most can give a good core workout as long as you will focus on working your core muscles. Try going through your machine’s settings and seeing what will work best for you. Switch it up often to challenge your body in different ways.

The last tip for working your core on an elliptical is to periodically let go of the handlebars. This is important because you are allowing your body to balance without the handlebars which will better stabilize your core and help you focus those muscles you are trying to work. You want to alternate between letting go of the handlebars and holding onto them. Make sure though you are able to maintain your balance to avoid injury.

Here is an example of a great 40-minute core workout for an elliptical machine


Elliptical machines were made for cardio exercising and without a doubt, they are great at it. This is because they provide your body with an ideal setting to get your blood pumping quicker through your body. A cardio workout requires both the heart and lungs to work harder to pump more blood and oxygen into your body. This is great for proper exercise conditioning and is exactly what an elliptical machine works best for. As a result, the elliptical machine is great for burning calories and fat.

Image of a heart and cardiogram

Suggested: Is 30 minutes on an elliptical enough to see results?

Using the elliptical machine regularly will also help you build stamina as with any cardio workout. This would make an elliptical an ideal pre-weight lifting workout as you are building stamina in your body to give your best in working your upper body, lower body, and core in your exercises. It can also be a good conditioning tool for athletes as they are looking to build stamina to last the long haul of an athletic competition.

Also, if you are an athlete and are injured, you may be unable to do your normal exercise routine. Using the elliptical machine will help you stay in shape as you nurse your injury. It’s a more gentle form of exercise but still works great. It will help you build stamina in your body and provide strength keeping your body and mind healthy as your injury heals. That way when you do return to full activity, you have the stamina to compete again. An elliptical machine can be very beneficial in this sense.

Suggested: What’s a good flywheel weight for a home elliptical trainer

To get the most out of your workouts, always make sure you maintain your balance and keep good posture. This will help you burn calories and push you to give your best effort in your workout. An elliptical machine is a tool to get people in shape. Using one will only benefit your exercise routine. Cardio is the specialty of this machine, and you will not regret using it for these purposes.

An elliptical trainer is also a good tool for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) This is a great way to burn more calories in a short period of time. A good interval timer is going to make HIIT workouts much more enjoyable. Check out the GymNext Flex timer. It’s super easy to set up and control contrary to most other interval timers making the setup for any workout a breeze.

Elliptical Trainer Vs. a Regular Treadmill

Image of a person running on a treadmill.

Both elliptical trainers and treadmills offer great cardio workouts. Treadmills are more running-based in that they capture the form of an actual runner. This means it can be easy to adjust when you go running outside. Having practiced on a treadmill, you can more easily transition to running again on a race track or marathon.

They also offer controls on speed, agility, pressure, etc. All of these functions can give you an edge when it comes to running in real life, especially if you’re running during inclement weather.

On the downside, a treadmill can be hard on your joints. Sometimes, if a runner does not have their form down, then it is hard to figure that out on a treadmill. Changing the settings on a treadmill can be hard on the joints as opposed to running on the ground. Also, having an improper form on the treadmill can lead to injuries, some of which can be serious.

Just like the elliptical trainer, the treadmill works just as well for cardio. It is great for building stamina, and endurance, and maintaining your overall fitness. The elliptical compared to a treadmill does not put a lot of pressure on your joints and will go easier on them. If you are injury-prone, the elliptical is your friend.

Ellipticals create a smoother workout than a treadmill while potentially giving you a full-body workout, while the treadmill will only exercise your lower body muscles. When reversing your strides on the elliptical trainer, you can also change the muscle you are focusing on in your workout, which depending on you might better serve your exercise needs. As for the treadmill, you can only run in a direct course.

The downside to elliptical trainers is that it doesn’t provide real-life situation workouts. The treadmill better mimics the course of a runner and although the elliptical trainer is still good for building stamina for running, you do lose the direct nature of it.

Suggested: The best elliptical trainer alternatives

If you are a runner, you may want to train with a treadmill since it is a more direct approach to running, supplying ideal settings and workouts. However, an elliptical trainer is still a great cardio machine for building the stamina and endurance needed for running. Both machines are great for cardio and both can serve different purposes. Whichever you choose to use at the gym, you should enjoy a great workout.

Suggested: 10 Cheap treadmills with incline that are worth buying


An elliptical trainer is great for giving a full-body workout. It all depends on your posture, form, and which muscle groups you are intending to focus on. The elliptical trainer works best as a cardio machine that will help you lose weight, burn calories, and build stamina. It functions as a great training tool and can provide a strong workout for the lower body, upper body, and core.

Just remember to have the right form, and feel free to push yourself when it comes to the different settings and modes. There are many ways to work out using an elliptical, so you should feel free to try out as many workouts as you can. This is the only way you will find the best one that will best meet your needs.

Favorite Cardio Accessories

Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:

  • Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high-quality choice.
  • Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
  • Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.

To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to After working out in many different gyms for almost 20 years and helping people build their own home gyms, i've learned a few things i'd like to share with you.

Recent Posts