How To Go Backwards On Elliptical (Pros & Muscles Worked)

Elliptical machines weren’t designed to build giant muscles but rather to help people burn a crazy amount of calories without putting too much impact on the knees like treadmills do. While most people will jump on an elliptical and spend their time pedaling forwards, they don't realize that they can also pedal backward and engage different leg muscles while improving balance and stamina.

If you're looking for a more explosive cardio workout and want some variation, learning how to go backwards on elliptical can help mix things up. In this guide, we will cover what happens when you go backwards on an elliptical machine, what muscles will be engaged, and which technique is best for your workout. 

Going backwards on an elliptical has several health benefits that can help you crush your workout goals. From engaging different muscles to alleviating boredom during a workout, mixing up your elliptical game will allow you to accomplish a handful of fitness goals, including:

Engaging Different Muscles

When you pedal backward on the elliptical, you engage the thighs much more than when you pedal forward.

This is great if you are looking to strengthen your quads and give them the explosive movement they need to help stimulate the muscle fibers.

woman using an elliptical in home gym

You will also be able to work your calves by alternating between backward pedaling and forward pedaling, which will create a more well-rounded calf muscle.

Burning Calories 

The more muscles you can work on during the exercise, the more calories you will burn. Try to mix up the workout by doing some motions forward and some backwards to really feel the burn while on the machine.

Ellipticals can burn up to 175-225 calories per 30-minute workout depending on your weight and intensity, so this workout is great for shedding weight and building a healthier heart.

Helping with Injuries

When you can change up muscle groups that you work out, it can help prevent injuries in the future. When we reuse the same muscles repeatedly, they are more likely to wear out and stop working as well as before which happens a lot in strength training.

Pedaling backward is a good way to switch up the movement and prevent injuries while also putting much less pressure on the knee joints than a traditional treadmill or running outside.

Boosting Stamina & Cardio 

Since pedaling backward will require you to use different muscles, you can improve your own personal stamina and even get that heart pumping more than before. Your body gets used to going in the same direction and using the same muscles all the time.

Mixing it up with backward pedaling can help with boosting stamina and keeping that heart pounding. On top of that, ellipticals are great for solid cardio workouts that crush calories and leave you feeling healthier.

Alleviating Boredom During Workouts 

Performing the same workouts day after day can be monotonous. It can also be too strenuous on the specific muscle groups you are targeting. This is one of the reasons why we have "leg day" and "chest day."

One of the significant benefits of going backward on an elliptical and alternating that with forward pedaling is that you will be able to mix up for a workout and keep things investing, which is excellent for any long-term fitness strategy.

What Muscles Does Reverse Motion On An Elliptical Target?

As we learned, if you want to work out more muscles while using the elliptical, you can switch directions and go in reverse. This works out several new muscle groups and  includes:

  • Hamstrings
    The hamstrings get a good workout when you go backward on the elliptical. This is also a good way to improve mobility and flexibility in the legs.
  • Gluteal Muscles
    While you can get the gluteal muscles a bit going forward, moving in a backward movement will help target more of this muscle. You will quickly see this one start to burn with this new motion.
  • Calves
    Going backward will help you work the lower legs, too, especially the calve muscles.
  • Core
    Going backward will use more balance than the forward movement. This can help strengthen the core and stomach muscles. If you want more information, read our complete guide to how the elliptical works your stomach muscles!
woman exercising on an elliptical machine

How To Go Backwards On Elliptical (Proper Way Of Pedaling In Reverse)

  1. 1
    Going backward on the elliptical does not have to be a challenge. You may need to practice a few times to get the balance down so you do not fall over, but backward pedaling is something that most people will pick up on quickly. 
  2. 2
    For most people who use the elliptical, it is possible to pedal faster when they go forward. It would be best if you did not try to go backward on the elliptical when you are at your top speed. Do it during the active recovery phases after the higher intensity instead. 
  3. 3
    Always start with a warm-up to ensure that you are safe. This prepares the body, especially if you plan to do an intense amount of training. This gently raises the heart rate and reduces the risk of any injury. 
  4. 4
    Next, you should pedal forward for three minutes at a high speed before doing recovery for two minutes at a low intensity. You can then do another five minutes where you can alternate between low and high resistance to get the muscles working in the lower part of the body.
  5. 5
    Lastly, you can do another 5 minutes of alternating the high and low resistance, but do this in the opposite direction so that you work out the back of the body too. Finish this out with a three-minute period of recovery, going backward the whole time.

This is just one of the ways that you can go backward on the elliptical. It helps to slowly bring it in and keeps you safe during your exercise. You can choose to use different methods depending on your athletic abilities and how comfortable you are on the elliptical. 

If you're ready to buy an elliptical to try out this movement, head over to our review guide where we tested the best affordable ellipticals for home use!

Reverse On Elliptical

Forward Vs Reverse On Elliptical: Which Works Better For You?

Both pedaling directions are great for getting a solid cardio workout while on the elliptical. For those of you who are tired of using the elliptical in one direction, who want to work more muscles during the exercise, or who need to give their knees a break from the traditional method of riding the elliptical, then reverse pedaling may be the best option.

When you first get the elliptical, it is best to just go in a forward motion. This is safer as you make the adjustments and get comfortable on the machine. Going backward will take more balance to succeed and require more work from your calves, so you can do fewer repetitions. For those with trouble balancing or who are not as comfortable on the elliptical yet, going forward may be the best option.

Once you get more familiar with the elliptical and you are ready to really work out different muscles and see the burn in your body, then adding in intervals of backward pedaling can be a good option. It will improve the workout and kick out the boredom when it is time to exercise.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

How often should you go backward on an elliptical? 

You can go backward on the elliptical as often as you would like. You can choose to have a whole workout with pedaling backward, or you can do intervals with forward pedaling. If it’s calf day and you really want to engage those muscles, you can do both.

Does pedaling backward on an elliptical burn more calories? 

Pedaling backward on your elliptical can be a great way to burn more calories. You will work new muscles when you do this, which is always an effective way to burn calories and get a better workout. And it will help you to improve your heart health at the same time.

Should you lift your heels on an elliptical? 

While you are pedaling on the elliptical, you should not lift your feet off at all. Instead, you can make a rolling motion that will start right at the balls of the feet and then ends near the heels while you pedal. You may need to move your feet to different positions on the pedals to find a comfortable place to work out.


Now we know: an elliptical machine is a great tool for absolutely smashing calories while getting a solid cardio workout that isn’t too hard on the knees. With backward pedaling, we can engage our hamstrings, hip extensors, and calf muscles like crazy.

And if we want to pedal forward, we can engage our quads and calves, as well. For a more robust workout and to prevent boredom in the gym, we suggest giving both techniques a try.

Last Updated on January 23, 2023

Paul J

Paul J

Paul J is is an ex-professional footballer who has seen a gym or two and is an expert at knowing what is required for home gym setups. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually going for a run in the park or out for coffee.