Which Muscles Does An Elliptical Trainer Work? Can It Build Muscle?

We know elliptical trainers are great for cardiovascular training, burning calories and improving endurance. But what about the muscle benefits? Which muscles are trained and what kind of results can you expect from training on an elliptical machine?

An elliptical trainer targets many muscles all over the body. The muscles that are worked the hardest are the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. In the upper body the arms, chest and back also get a good workout, especially if you choose to focus on using the upper body during the workout.

If you want a longer explanation and what you can expect from your workouts, keep reading.

Which muscles does an elliptical machine target?

The beautiful thing about an elliptical trainer is that it works so many muscles all over your body. And on top of that you can consciously choose to use more of your upper body or not. Some elliptical trainers even have the option of changing the incline of the pedals which changes which side of the leg you target more.

Looking for a good elliptical trainer for your home gym? Check out which one I recommend here (click) and why that’s the best one for at home.

Since there are so many different muscles working out on an elliptical machine targets, I won’t list all the specific ones, just the big muscle groups.

Here are the muscle groups an elliptical machine targets;

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves
  • Core
  • Arms
  • Upper back
  • Chest
  • Lower back
  • Shoulders

As you can see, that targets pretty much you whole body. The lower body will generally do more than the upper body.

The muscles that are targeted the strongest are;

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Those are the muscles in the lower body that do most of the work. They are some of the strongest muscles in your body so it only makes sense that they are the ones that overcome the resistance.

If you choose to really push and pull on the levers with your arms, your legs will still do a lot of the work but, because your upper body is weaker, those muscles will be worked pretty hard. In the upper body, it will mainly be;

  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Upper back
  • Chest

So if you make a conscious decision to let your upper body do more of the work, you can certainly expect some muscle gains here.

Finally there is another important part of the body that is trainer by an elliptical machine; the core. The core ties the upper and lower body together. And since you’re using both, the core has to do quite a bit of work to keep everything straight.

For more benefits of using an elliptical trainer, check out another post on this site: 15 Awesome benefits of elliptical trainers.

Does an elliptical trainer target ….?

Let’s look at it from another angle. Here are some common questions you might have when researching which cardio machine is best for you. Many people want to improve the aesthetic of certain body parts. So here are some of the body parts people care the most about and what you can expect from training on an elliptical trainer.

Does an elliptical trainer target glutes?

The glutes are one of the biggest and strongest muscle groups in the body. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they do a lot of the work on an elliptical trainer together with the rest of the body. How most trainers are set up will put more focus on the quadriceps. However, if you are in a situation where you can increase the incline of the pedals, you can focus more on your hamstrings and glutes.

Does an elliptical trainer target arm muscles

An elliptical trainer moderately targets arm muscles. Most people will use their biceps and triceps a little bit and you’ll feel them if you’re untrained. You can choose to push and pull more and you’ll target your arms more. If you do this at a higher resistance level, you can see some muscle gains.

Does an elliptical trainer target chest muscles

Chest muscles are used for pushing things in front of your body. On an elliptical you can push the levers away with your hands. To do this, you need both your triceps and chest muscles. This means that working out on an elliptical machine does target chest muscles and can be targeted extra if you focus on pushing the levers.

Does an elliptical trainer target shoulders?

The pushing and pulling motion you perform on an elliptical trainer does engage parts of the shoulders. Especially the front deltoid and rear deltoid will be hit. The side deltoid which gives width to the shoulders isn’t really used. You might gain a bit more ‘depth’ in your shoulders but the width and strength won’t be affected.

Does an elliptical trainer target quadriceps?

The quadriceps is the hardest hit muscle group when working out on an elliptical trainer. It’s where most of the power is coming from on every stride. Especially if the pedals are set flat or to lower inclines, the quadriceps will be working very hard. If you increase the incline the focus will shift more towards the hamstrings and glutes.

Does an elliptical trainer make your thighs bigger?

The total size of your thigh consists of the muscle and the fat tissue. An elliptical trainer will moderately grow the muscle size of the quadriceps and hamstrings but at the same time your body fat percentage will likely drop as long as your diet stays the same/improves. That means that the total size of your thighs will stay about the same or even shrink slightly depending on how much body fat you lose and your genetics.

Targeting a muscle isn’t directly the same as building muscle. They are certainly related but using a muscle doesn’t mean it will grow for sure.

Does an elliptical machine build muscle?

Simply using a muscle doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll get bigger. If that were the case, runners would have bigger legs than bodybuilders.

To build/grow a muscle, the conditions have to be right;

  • Training impulse
  • Recovery
  • Diet

Those are the three things you have to get right to make a muscle grow.  

So if you’ve got the recovery, nutrition, etc. right, that leaves the training impulse. That impulse can be many things. But it has to be something your body isn’t used to. If you do something to your body it isn’t used to, it’ll try to adapt. That adaptation can be gaining strength, gaining muscle, both of those and becoming more efficient at that certain movement.

Suggested post: Elliptical trainer stride length

In the end, what does that mean for building muscle on an elliptical machine? It means you will see some muscle and strength gains, especially in the beginning. After a while, your body adapts to your workout routine and the growth stops. At that point you can increase the resistance to get some more gains.

You won’t look like a bodybuilder no matter how much you train on an elliptical trainer. You will see modest muscle gains. Combine this with a lower body fat percentage because you burn more calories and the result is a significantly more ‘toned’ body. You muscles will be more visible although not huge.

Suggested post: how much weight can an elliptical machine handle?

If you want more muscle, it’s a good idea to add a weightlifting routine to your workouts. Maybe you just want to grow certain body parts. In that case, just add some weighted exercises that target that specific muscle group and you’ll get the results you want.

Looking for a good elliptical trainer for a good price? Click here to find my recommendation for a home gym elliptical trainer.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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