Does Elliptical Build Muscle? (How-To Muscle Gaining Guide)

One question that gets asked all the time in the gym is does elliptical build muscle and how to use the elliptical for muscle building.

We are going to take you on a deep dive into what the elliptical machine does for your body and whether this is a good fitness machine for you to use if you want to build chiseled calves and gorgeous quads.

There are many different types of exercise equipment out there that you can choose to help get a full-body workout each time and the elliptical is no exception. Originally designed as a low-impact machine to help people get a solid cardio workout without putting too much stress on the knees, the elliptical is perfect for shedding calories.

While not originally intended for building muscle like many other machines, the elliptical will help you build stronger muscles. Much like running, the primary purpose of these cardio workouts is to burn calories fast. Burning a lot of calories will help you lose fat and make your muscles appear more toned.

But the beauty of this workout is that it will also help you grow your leg muscles. Just don’t expect the same explosive results you would get from doing lunges and squats. In fact, an elliptical can help you build muscles in the following muscle groups:

Does Elliptical Build Muscle?

1. Quadriceps

The quads are the first muscle group you can target with the elliptical. You will work on the quads each time you transfer some weight to push down on the pedal.

The higher the elevation of the elliptical, the more you will be able to work on the quads and get them to turn out stronger. You can then turn down the incline if it tends to be too hard for you in the beginning.

As you work to gain more strength in the quads, it is easier to perform most of the lower body strength training movements that you want. This includes leg extensions, split squats, squats, and lunges. For a complete comparison of split squats vs lunges, you can check out our handy guide.

Other parts of the lower body are heavily involved when you work out on the elliptical. For example, the calves and the hamstrings can be used in both the forward and the backward movements that you do with the elliptical. Just a short amount of time on this machine will be enough to help you really work on the body and get some of the strength you need.

2. Upper Body and Core 

The core muscles will be the ones right in the middle of the body, which you rely on to keep you upright all of the time. Everyone wants a good core that will help them look thin and sleek. While the elliptical trainer is not going to work directly on this area, you do need some stabilization to do the rest of the steps, and that can make the core stronger.

As part of the core, you will get some exercise in the back with the elliptical. The elliptical will utilize the back muscles to help pull the handlebars as you move. This can pull in the biceps as well, which can tone the whole arm as you do some of the movements.  

If that were not enough, the chest and the front delts will get some workout when you utilize this machine. The front delts and the chest will be located right at the front of the body, and they will help with the pushing work you need to do on the elliptical.

When you push the handlebars forward, you will be able to put the front delts and the chest to work. This makes it easier to lift and push things and helps with the sleek and toned look.

If you want to learn more, jump over to our article answering does the elliptical work your core muscles.

3. Glutes & Hips 

We all know that the glutes are things of beauty that should be toned whenever necessary. And the elliptical is a great tool to help you work through and strengthen the glutes. Located in the back region at the top of the leg, the glute is a strong muscle that can go through a lot of work.  

The glutes are going to be engaged quite a bit when you pedal forwards or backward on an elliptical. You move from a position of being seated to standing because they work together with the hamstrings and the quads to push down on the leg. The glutes will also be involved in climbing stairs because they will propel the body up as much as possible.

The stronger you can get the glutes involved, the easier it is for you to move through the day-to-day positions that you would like. These muscles are also involved quite a bit when you are standing, so the benefit can transfer to most of the actions that you will want to do regularly. Plus, this is a good area to work on to really get stronger and tone the whole body.  

Ways To Build Muscle On An Elliptical

The elliptical is a powerful machine to use to help you build up some of the muscle that you want throughout the whole body, especially in the legs. You can use several methods to help make your body stronger and ensure that the muscles you want to engage are getting the attention you need. Some of the ways that you can build up strength on an elliptical include:

HIIT Training On Elliptical

woman doing hiit on elliptical

High-Intensity Interval Training, also known as HIIT, is a good workout method to use if you want to build muscle and burn a ton of calories. 

This type of training will involve varying the direction you can pedal the elliptical to help engage as many muscle groups in one as you would like. 

For example, when you pedal forward, you have a good chance to engage the glutes and the quads. You can then pedal backward to give the hamstrings and the calves the workout that they need.

Incline Elliptical Training 

An incline on the elliptical will help you change things up and make it a little more challenging. In the beginning, you will want to work with the traditional settings on the elliptical for the workout.

But when you are ready to work on some of those muscles to make them stronger, it is time to change the routine and see what happens. And putting the elliptical on an incline is an excellent way to make this happen.

Use The Programs On Your Elliptical 

Many of the more advanced ellipticals that you can purchase will have a variety of programs available on them for you to use. These programs can vary, but most of them will show how long you have been on the machine and how many calories you have burned.

Some can also include workout programs with a trainer that will show you how to perform certain movements on the device and for how long while providing some extra motivation along the way.

Set The Hands Free 

You will be able to do much more than just work on the leg and arm muscles when you spend some time on the elliptical hands-free. If you remove the hands from the available handles and place them on your hips or use them to pump the arms as you work out, you are able to provide a great workout for your core muscles. 

man using the elliptical hands free

The core will be engaged as it will need to do more work than before in order to help you maintain your balance while performing the workout.

Change Your Position

Making some minor changes to the position of the body while you are on the elliptical will make a big difference and can help you slightly change the muscles that you target while doing the workout. Pedaling backward while being in a half-squat, for example, will be a good way to help target the glutes and the quads. 

You can also do a bit more with the lower-body workout by extending the legs a bit for a longer stride, rather than letting them circle in too close to you.

Frequently Asked Elliptical Muscle Building Questions 

Can you get a six-pack from an elliptical? 

An elliptical is a good machine to pair with a healthy diet and can definitely help you trim belly fat along the way. But don’t expect to eat unhealthy meals and get a six-pack just from pedaling. In most cases, you will need a healthy diet and some additional ab workouts like crunches to be paired with your elliptical workout to attain those washboard abs.  

Does the elliptical make your legs bigger? 

Yes and no. Again, the machine was not designed for building muscle but for burning calories. Your legs will become more toned, and you will build muscle but not at the same level as you would from squats and lunges.  

Can an elliptical burn belly fat? 

Since the elliptical is a type of cardio machine that gets the heart rate high and helps you burn those calories, it can help you lose belly fat. You need to make sure that you use lots of movement while on the elliptical and burn plenty of calories while maintaining a healthy diet to really see a loss in belly fat.  

Is the elliptical better than walking? 

In some cases, an elliptical will be better than walking. While you can get a good workout when you do a walk, if you have knee or joint problems, an elliptical will be a better choice. When used properly, the elliptical can burn more calories. It will depend on what you like best to help you determine which workout is the one you want to use.


Elliptical machines are fantastic fitness machines for burning calories and toning the leg muscles while keeping your knees healthy. Having a varied routine in how you exercise and spend time on the machine is always best if you are looking for a full-body workout.

Depending on how much you want to build your muscle, you will most likely want to pair other workouts like squats and lunges to help you build muscle. But if you’re just looking to shed some weight, the elliptical is perfect for you. 

Are you ready to start building muscle and burning fat on an elliptical? Check out our complete affordable elliptical review to find the best model for your home garage gym!

Last Updated on January 23, 2023

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Andrew White

Andrew White is the co-founder of Garage Gym Pro. As an expert fitness professional (gym building nerd) with over 10 years of industry experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern fitness & the newest market innovations for garage gyms. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually out surfing or playing basketball.