Elliptical trainers are great for cardiovascular training, burning calories and improving endurance. But what about the muscles? Which muscles are targeted on an elliptical trainer and what kind of results can you expect from training on one?
The muscles that are worked the hardest on an elliptical trainer 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 pushing and pulling the levers. Abs will be used to stabilize the upper and lower body.
Down below I’ll go into which muscles are used when working out on an elliptical trainer and how you can get the best muscle toning results. Not all ways of exercising will lead to muscle growth so make sure to get it right.
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.
An elliptical or cross trainer has pedals for your feet but also levers you can grab with your hands. This means both your legs and arms get a workout. But it doesn’t stop there. To push against the arm levers, your chest has to push as well and your core has to stabilize the whole upper body.
When pulling the lever your biceps will do a large part of the work but a lot of muscles in the back also have to do something to keep you stable. Your legs do heavy pushing as well which means every muscle from the glutes down to your feet gets used.
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. The main movers.
Here are the muscle groups an elliptical machine targets;
- Upper back
- Lower back
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;
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 majority of 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;
- Upper back
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.
Elliptical trainers are great for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) This is a great way to burn more calories in a short period of time, improve your cardiovascular health but it’s also good for some muscle growth. 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 set up for any workout a breeze.
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?
Glutes are intensively used on an elliptical trainer and can be toned with the right workout program. How most elliptical trainers are set up will put more focus on the quadriceps than the glutes. It’s possible to the target glutes more by focusing on pushing the pedals backwards instead of down.
Letting go of the arm levers, holding the static grips and slightly bending at the hip will also put more stress on your glutes. Another thing you can do is to set the pedals so they’re slightly higher in the front than in the rear (possible on some models but not all).
Does an elliptical trainer target arm muscles
An elliptical trainer moderately targets arm muscles. The biceps and triceps are used 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.
Biceps and triceps aren’t targeted very heavily on an elliptical trainer. For arm muscle gains, a few sets of curls and pushups after every elliptical workout will have much bigger effects.
Does an elliptical trainer target chest muscles
Chest muscles are used for pushing things in front of your body. On an elliptical you push the levers away with your hands. To do this, both the triceps and chest muscles are used. For beginners, this can be enough to see some chest muscle toning.
However, just like for arms, a few pushups are going to be much more effective at building muscle in the chest and arms than working out on an elliptical trainer. Combining the two is even better though.
Does an elliptical trainer target shoulders?
The pushing and pulling motion you perform on an elliptical trainer does engage the front and back of the shoulder. The side deltoid which gives width to the shoulders isn’t really used. Because the front and rear of the shoulder are small muscles, an elliptical can do a good job targeting them.
Because they are smaller, you need less resistance to get them to be stimulated enough to grow. On an elliptical trainer pushing and pulling the arm levers at a decent resistance, the front and rear deltoid can get a very good workout that will actually increase their size.
Of course that works best for beginners. If you already train your shoulders separately with weights, you won’t see large gains.
Does an elliptical trainer target quadriceps?
The quadriceps is the hardest worked muscle 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.
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 if 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. And unless you’re at single digit levels of bodyfat, more muscle and less fat is going to look better.
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.
Will an elliptical trainer give you a 6-pack?
The million dollar question. The six pack is one of the most wanted features of a good physique especially among men. Will working out on a crosstrainer be enough to give you that?
Visible abs are a combination of having low enough body fat and having ab muscles that are big enough to actually see. An elliptical trainer helps losing body fat as long as your workouts are combined with a good diet.
While an elliptical trainer does work your core, it’s mostly the deeper muscles in your core and not the visible 6-pack muscles. You’ll have to exercise those separately. Building those muscles is relatively easy though. Getting a low enough body fat percentage is much harder for most people.
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 and you don’t need a measuring tape to know that’s not the case.
To build/grow a muscle, the conditions have to be right;
- Training impulse
Those are the three things you have to get right to make a muscle grow.
Recovery and nutrition aren’t really done during the workout but more in the kitchen and bedroom. 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.
For complete beginners, any impulse is going to make the muscle grow to some degree. Because any muscle stimulation is more than nothing, you don’t need much to see a difference.
To actually grow a more exercised muscle, you need to work the muscle at the upper limit of the resistance it can handle. Most bodybuilders use 5-12 repetitions in one set with maybe some exceptions that go up to 25 repetitions.
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.
There is a way to implement the things bodybuilders do into an elliptical trainer workout though. As said above, pushing a muscle with a resistance that wears it out in anywhere from 5 to 25 repetitions will work. On an elliptical, you can see every stride as a repetition.
So if you can set the crosstrainer to a resistance where you can do just 25 repetitions (per side), you can certainly get some extra muscle growth. A HIIT type workout works perfect for this;
- Push the heaviest resistance you can for 25 strides.
- Take one minute rest
- Repeat 5x in the beginning and try to work up to 10x-15x over time
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.
Favorite Cardio Machine 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.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and workouts, there is no better choice than the GymNext Flex. It’s super easy to use and set up with a phone app.
- 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.