What Muscles Does an Elliptical Work?

This post contains links that we may earn a small commission for at no cost to you read more

Do you love using those ellipticals at the gym? Have you looked at them but not been brave enough to use one? Do you think that ellipticals don’t offer very good workouts?

Hi friends, it’s Kathleen again.

Today, I want to talk about everything elliptical. What they do, what they don’t do, what muscles they work, elliptical workouts, and cardio exercise. If you’re thinking of buying an elliptical to use at home, we will talk about that too.

Our Top Home Fitness Picks

Product Model & Features Price
Teeter FreeStep – Recumbent Elliptical

  • Zero Impact Exercise
  • Dual Power Motion
  •  Works Both Upper & Lower Body Muscles
  • Whisper-Quiet Performance
Check Price
Hydrow Interactive Rower

  • Full-Body Workout
  • Award-Winning Design
  • Live On-Demand Classes
  • 22″ Touchscreen
Check Price
NordicTrack Commercial Series Treadmills + 30-Day iFIT Family membership NordicTrack Commercial 2450 Treadmill

  • 16,000+ On-Demand Workouts 
  • Live Interactive Training
  • 40% Incline
  • Low Impact Cushion
Check Price
Teeter FreeStep – Recumbent Elliptical
  • Zero Impact Exercise
  • Dual Power Motion
  •  Works Both Upper & Lower Body Muscles
  • Whisper-Quiet Performance
Check Price

Hydrow Interactive Rower
  • Full-Body Workout
  • Award-Winning Design
  • Live On-Demand Classes
  • 22″ Touchscreen
Check Price

NordicTrack Commercial 2450 Treadmill
NordicTrack Commercial Series Treadmills + 30-Day iFIT Family membership
  • 16,000+ On-Demand Workouts 
  • Live Interactive Training
  • 40% Incline
  • Low Impact Cushion
Check Price

Ellipticals get a bad rap sometimes, but the negative comments usually come from some misconceptions, so I want to clear up any misunderstanding so you can feel good about using or buying an elliptical machine.

Are you ready? Let’s start a conversation about elliptical machines!

What Muscles Does an Elliptical Target?

what part of the body does the elliptical work

 

Remember earlier when I told you that ellipticals target the entire body? It’s true. Check out this list of the muscles that an elliptical works every time you get on one:

  1. Glutes (your butt)
  2. Quads (the front of the thigh)
  3. Hamstring muscles (the back of the thigh)
  4. Calves
  5. Anterior Tibialis (the front of the calf)
  6. Biceps
  7. Triceps
  8. Shoulders
  9. Core muscles (abdominals muscles)

Perhaps the only muscles that an elliptical doesn’t work are your lower and middle back. Maybe it doesn’t work your neck or eyelashes either, but that’s life.

I do recommend that you try to get in other forms of exercise as well so your body doesn’t become accustomed to the elliptical. Try some strength training, high-intensity interval training, taking your dog for a long walk, kettlebell, or using other cardio machines such as rowing machines.

As you can see, those people who say that ellipticals aren’t real workouts have it all wrong. Ellipticals work the upper body and lower body, something no spin class is going to offer you.

What Does 30 Minutes with an Elliptical Workout Do?

If you haven’t done an elliptical workout, you are in for a real surprise.

Elliptical machines offer a full-body workout. When you’re doing an elliptical exercise, you are actually:

  • Getting in a good cardio workout
  • Working all the major muscle groups
  • Improving your stamina
  • Improving your sense of balance
  • Crushing calories like crazy
  • Burning body fat
  • Losing excess weight
  • Maintaining good posture

While this may not work your back muscles, you can do some weight lifting on your off days to fix that problem.

You get all these benefits while getting a low-impact workout that is easy on the joints.

An elliptical trainer is very easy to learn, and it’s an effective workout. You do need to keep the proper posture while you are using it to avoid hurting your lower back and to engage those core muscles, but that’s about it. If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you can learn to use an elliptical in about 5 minutes.

You will see better muscle tone all over your body, especially in the hamstring and calf muscles within a few weeks. I know I did!

You should always shake up your fitness routine since our bodies are really smart and become accustomed to doing the same workout every day.

Elliptical machines are a terrific way to incorporate cardio exercise into your workout routine.

Is an Elliptical Better Than Running?

I don’t know about your local gym, but there are usually people waiting in line for their turn on the treadmill or stair climber but not the ellipticals. Why is that?

Personally, I think many people believe that running on a treadmill is superior to working out on an elliptical, but is this true?

The short, sweet answer to that is NOPE.

what muscles does the elliptical work going backwards

Ellipticals are actually superior to running in many ways, whether that’s running on a treadmill or on the road. While you may not be able to “run” at 7 miles an hour or use an incline function on an elliptical, elliptical trainers make you use your arms, leg muscles, and even your core. Working more and different muscles is always better.

Treadmills only work the lower body. Ellipticals give you a complete body workout that uses the smaller muscles of your arms, along with a circular motion for your leg muscles that is easier on the joints.

Just like your treadmill, you can still do cardio training on an elliptical. You can lose weight and improve all the major muscle groups, but more importantly, an elliptical works the upper body, something a treadmill can’t do.

Oh yes, you can put on wrist weights and move your arms as you run, but that will only work your biceps. Want more from your workout routine? Use the elliptical, my friend, and you will feel the burn!

How Long Does It Take to See Results from an Elliptical?

This will depend on your current fitness level, how much weight you have to lose, and how long or hard your elliptical workout is.

If you commit yourself to an elliptical workout at least 5 days per week for a minimum of 30 minutes each time, and you work up a sweat (meaning you increase your heart rate so it reaches 60-85 percent of its maximum), you should start seeing results within 30 to 90 days.

If you have a lot of weight to lose, you should see results rather quickly. If you only need to lose a few pounds, you should still see more toned muscles or even muscle growth within a few weeks. Even those who are more advanced will see results within 3 months.

what muscles does an elliptical machine work

Keep in mind that your fitness level is more than just weight loss. Those numbers on the scale can be deceiving. As you lose fat, you will gain muscle, which weighs more than fat but takes up less space. So you may not lose so much weight, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not improving.

Oh yes, and ditch those sodas and late-night snacks. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet. In fact, I don’t even like the word diet. As Garfield, the cat says, Diet is DIE with a T and I completely agree. Don’t sabotage your workout efforts with a poor diet.

Focus on making healthier choices. Avoid sugar and junk food. Replace junk with healthy snacks like nuts and cheese. If you eat healthy 80 percent of the time and get regular exercise, the other 20 percent won’t matter.

Which Elliptical Machine Is Best?

The best machine is the one you are going to use.

Of course, there are other things to consider, such as whether you want an elliptical trainer or something else. An elliptical trainer is an elliptical that allows you to use the pedals only or the handlebars only, or both. You should also look into seated ellipticals and other options, and what your space and budget constraints are.

what muscle groups does elliptical work

Everyone has their own opinion as to what the best elliptical machine is, but my friend Alisha has made up a terrific list that you can read here.

Remember that you will only get back what you put in. If you are going to eat a cookie and read a magazine while you work out, you might as well skip it. If you want to make progress towards your fitness goals, you’ve got to work up a sweat!

Put your leg muscles to work and pump that baby like it was spitting out cash! Using the elliptical should be fun, but you should feel the burn!

What about those Desk Ellipticals – Are They Just as Good?

I love those under-the-desk ellipticals!

OK, in all honesty, they aren’t going to take the place of the gym or a regular elliptical machine. These are meant as a helping hand, not the whole exercise enchilada!

For those of you who are injured or have no choice but to sit at your desk all day long, an under-the-desk elliptical can help burn a few extra calories a day and keep your heart rate elevated just enough to counteract all the bad things that sitting does to our bodies.

what body parts does elliptical work

Someone said that sitting is the new smoking, and I completely believe them! This means that any exercise you get, such as those desk ellipticals, is better than no exercise at all.

If you’ve got the room and the inclination, and you’ve got no other exercise option, I think these portable ellipticals are the best thing invented since sliced bread.

The Final Takeaway

If you’re looking for an exercise machine that is easy on the joints and puts more emphasis on a whole-body exercise rather than just a lower body exercise, if you want to get a good cardio workout and put all the main muscle groups to work in a single piece of exercise equipment, then you’re going to love elliptical exercise.

Even if you can only do 20 minutes a day, it beats sitting on your butt and doing nothing but lifting donuts to your mouth!

Don’t let the naysayers bring you down! Ellipticals are terrific pieces of exercise equipment that can give you a better-looking body and a healthier heart sooner than you think.

Get up and get moving!

Laugh and enjoy life. It’s too short for anything else my friends!