What Muscle Groups Does Elliptical Work? (Workout Benefits)

Cardio is tough; there are no two ways about it. It's the worst part about getting in shape. Everyone loves lifting heavy weights and doing cool moves like the bench press, but steady-state cardio? Meh. 

This is why it is so important to find a machine that suits you the most. This will help you break through those plateaus, to dig in and chase those extra miles, those extra calories. Cardio machines aren't just for burning calories though, they all work different muscles. This means the choice of cardio machine you make might also affect your lifting routine. 

In this article, we are going to look at what muscle group's elliptical machines work, along with what health benefits you can expect from using one. 

The elliptical is one of the best cardio machines for those seeking a full-body workout. Unlike the treadmill or the spin bike, which primarily targets the lower body, the elliptical works almost every muscle group from head to toe, thanks to its design.

Before diving into our breakdown below, check out the best affordable elliptical machines to find the best budget model for you!

What Muscle Groups Does Elliptical Work

1. Glutes  

An elliptical machine is a great option for those that want a low-impact workout that targets and tightens the glutes. To get the optimal glute workout while using the elliptical, you should make sure you increase the resistance to a decent level. Don't worry if you can't keep up the pace; resistance is the key. Push your hips back and bend your knees more for added burn.

  • Training your glutes will help reduce back pain as many back problems can be attributed to a weakened posterior chain.
  • Training your glutes has a knock-on effect, improving posterior chain health and releasing trapped and tight muscles. 
  • Glute exercises also help you improve your entire posture as they are part of a category of muscles commonly called stabilizers. 

2. Quadriceps

On an elliptical, when you go through the motion of pushing your foot down, you get a contraction of the quadriceps, which are a major muscle group containing four muscles in the front portion of your thigh.

  • Training the quads is one of the easiest ways to burn huge calories as they are a huge group of muscles. 
  • Training your quads will improve many of your compound lifts, such as the squat and deadlift. 
  • Strengthening your quads will massively improve the stability of your knees, which will massively reduce your chances of injuries. 
  • Strengthening your quads will also massively benefit your explosive power in sprints. 

3. Hamstrings 

Your hamstrings are the muscles found on the back of your leg that help your knee move and flex.

This flex is massively important for any cardiovascular exercise like this, and by increasing the incline, which is where you raise the angle of the machine, you get a really good burn in the hamstrings. 

person walking on a track

The best machines on the market with incline function right now come from NordicTrack and Sole or if you are on a tighter budget, look at the Proform range.

  • Training your hamstrings is crucial if you want your legs to be able to move through their full range of motion. 
  • Strengthening your hamstrings will massively improve your stability, power and will help prevent injuries. 
  • Hamstrings suffer perhaps the most out of all muscles from a sedentary lifestyle like sitting at an office chair all day. 
  • Strengthening your hamstrings will allow for better flexibility and lower back pain, as they are a crucial part of the posterior chain. 

4. Calves 

Your calves are extremely tough muscles that take a beating every single day. They are found on the back of your lower legs and perform a movement called plantar flexion. This happens when you put pressure through the ball of your foot into the pedals of the elliptical machine. To increase the burn, once again, simply increase the incline.

  • By training your calves, you massively improve your explosive power in sprints and lifts like squats. 
  • Good calves will allow you to run for longer distances without fatiguing. 
  • Strong claves stabilize the feet and ankles, meaning you will injury less easily. 
  • Training your calves will improve the health of your joints in the knees. 

5. Triceps And Chest (pecs)

Depending on the model of the elliptical machine you are using, there may be upper body levers for you to use. These allow you to activate your upper body push muscles like your triceps and chest.

  • Training your triceps will massively improve your upper body strength and allow you to do more push-ups, lift heavier on the bench, and will make your arms look bigger. 
  • Your triceps stabilize your elbows and shoulders, lowering your chances of injury. 
  • Your chest also stabilizes the shoulders, so training your pecs will improve your overhead press and shoulder strength. 

6. Biceps And Back

Ellipticals also allow for a slight activation of the pulling muscles, giving you a burn in the rhomboids and biceps. Of course, you are going to need to really turn up the resistance to get a proper workout in the back and biceps but if you just want to turn up the dial on calories burnt, adding upper body movement is a great way to do so.

  • Training your biceps will allow for stabilization of the elbow as well as increase your ability to do everyday tasks like lifting heavy objects. 
  • Training your back is also key for stabilizing the spine and preventing back injuries from everyday tasks. 

7. Core

Almost all cardio requires you to engage your core to some degree, so after a long session, you should definitely be able to feel a burn in the abs and stabilizer muscles. 

Related Article - Does The Elliptical Work Your Stomach?

  • Tightening the abs and core will allow for better power transfer in almost every other muscle group. 
  • It tightens the stomach wall, which will allow you to look slimmer and more toned. 
  • Stabilizes the stomach, abs, and back allowing for less injury from simple motions. 
  • Improves posture. 

Lateral Elliptical Machine Muscles Worked

Lateral elliptical machines allow you to change up your routine with a different style of movement. The difference from a normal elliptical machine is that there is an added sideways movement.

This type of machine places a much higher strain on the lower body muscles and trains them much harder than a traditional elliptical machine; this makes it perfect for athletes who need more stimuli in their quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

  • Much higher level of lower body muscle activation. 
  • Great way to change up your workout and shock the body. 
  • It burns more calories than a traditional elliptical machine. 
lateral elliptical machine

What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work Going Backwards?

One of the great things about the elliptical machine is the ability to pedal backward and change the workout entirely. By reversing your motion, you get a higher burn of calories, and you will target your glutes, hamstrings, and calves to a much higher degree than if you were going forward. You will also increase your ability to balance.

  • Using the elliptical machine backward is an insanely effective quad and thigh burner. 
  • Shocks the body by changing the stimuli. For example, if you always run forwards, your body won't be used to the motion, and this is great for busting plateaus. 

Elliptical Muscles Worked FAQs

Is an elliptical good for building muscle?  

On its own, the elliptical won't help you pack on lots of muscle. Being a cardio machine and one that targets a more extensive range of muscle groups compared to the bench press and treadmill, it will give a better all-over burn but will not replace traditional lifting if you want to pack on mass. 

What muscles do under desk ellipticals work? 

Under the desk elliptical machines target the lower body muscles like the quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Does the elliptical help slim thighs?  

When paired with a good diet, elliptical machines are great at reducing body fat across the whole body. 


Thanks for making it this far! Hopefully, you now have a much more comprehensive understanding of the different muscle groups that you can target with an elliptical machine. We wish you all the best in your fitness journey!

Last Updated on January 24, 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.