Ellipticals are amazing fitness machines for both fitness enthusiasts and even expert users. They become so popular because they offer high versatility and offer a total body workout. The exercises work on various muscle groups all at once that provides an effective way in toning and strengthening them.

The elliptical machine serves as both an upper and lower body workout. When done properly, it can target your glutes, hamstrings, quads, chest, back, triceps, biceps, and even your core muscles.

And if you want to maximise and learn everything about your elliptical, let me tell you more.

Main Muscles Activated During Elliptical Workout

The elliptical machine burns calories in a low-impact but extremely effective manner. Although it primarily works your leg muscles, many of them feature handles that allow your arms to get the workout it needs.

When using your elliptical machine, this is how the different muscles are used:


The quadriceps are four muscles located in the front of the thigh. They become active when the knee is extended. The elliptical machine works on them by straightening the legs, but don’t be surprised if you don’t feel them.

Unlike stationary bikes, which concentrate much of the work on the quadriceps, elliptical machines work the hamstrings, glutes, and, in some circumstances, the upper body as well. You’re less likely to feel a lot of work in the front of your thighs because the other muscle groups are dividing the load.

Hamstrings and glutes

Knee flexion is performed by the hamstrings, which are located on the back of your legs. During elliptical exercise, leg flexion and extension are quite important. Some elliptical machines offer an inclination control that simulates hill climbing.

This causes increased leg flexion, allowing the hamstring muscles to work even harder. Elliptical machines with a reverse motion put additional emphasis on the hamstrings by assisting in hip extension, or backward movement of the thighs.

On the other hand, the gluteus maximus, the largest of the three glute muscles, is responsible for hip extension. While using the elliptical machine, hip extension is a key movement, especially when the machine is set at an inclination. Therefore, this also helps in targeting your glutes.


Plantarflexion is a simple movement but it requires the use of different muscles like the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in your calf. When you press through the ball of your foot against the pedals of your elliptical machine, this action occurs. Therefore, your plantar flexors have to work considerably harder when you do it on an uphill movement.

Arms, Chest, and Back

Upper body levers are seen on several elliptical machines. When the arms are straightened, these machines activate the “pushing” muscles. Pushing muscles include the triceps, which are positioned in the back of the arm, and the pectoral muscles, which support the chest.

When your arms bend on an elliptical machine with upper body levers, the “pulling muscles” are stimulated. The biceps and back muscles are also activated as the pulling movement is done. When used in reverse mode, the machine places a stronger emphasis on these muscles.


An elliptical exercise will engage your core muscles, just like any other cardio exercise. The major focus of an elliptical workout is on your abdominal muscles. If performed with good posture, the elliptical strengthens your core muscles in your abs and back as they contract to keep you upright and help maintain your balance.

However, if you lean too much weight on the handlebars, it will decrease the involvement of your core muscles. Hence, it is important to maintain an erect and steady posture at all times.

How Does it Compare to Walking

Using the elliptical and walking are one of the most popular forms of low-impact exercises. They are both great for burning calories, and building muscles, and are easy on your joints. However, if you are going to compare them, which is better?

Here is what I found out:

For burning calories

When it comes to burning calories, both of them can do the job. However, using an elliptical machine generally burns more calories than walking.

According to Harvard Health Publishing (2021), a 70kg (155 lbs) person can burn about 335 calories after working out on an elliptical for 30 minutes. While the same person can only burn about 149 calories after 30 minutes of walking. Hence, if you want to burn more calories when walking, you need to pick up the pace or add some resistance while you are walking such as doing it on an incline.

For building muscles

Muscle is built through resistance hence the elliptical may be the better pick of the two because it offers multiple resistance settings that are easy to modify.

Walking on an incline outside or on a treadmill, on the other hand, can also add resistance to your aerobic workout and help you build muscle strength.

For full-body workout

Although both the elliptical and walking are largely lower-body exercises, the elliptical allows you to use your upper body as well.

You’re incorporating your arms, shoulders, back, and core, in addition to your legs, if you use the arm handles on the machine to push and pull against the resistance. As a result, the elliptical is better for a total-body burn.

Additionally, the elliptical demonstrated the greatest activation of quadriceps and hamstrings when compared to walking. An elliptical workout works these muscles the hardest. Using the incline option engages your lower legs and improves hamstring activation behind each leg. Your glutes clench and stabilise your pelvis while your leg swings back in a circular manner hence giving you a total body workout.

Can You Spot Tone Muscles Using Elliptical

According to experts, spot toning certain parts of the body is difficult if you are just using an elliptical machine alone. Instead, the elliptical can be viewed as an opportunity to burn calories and hit major muscle groups in your body.

If you want to create a large butt, for example, merely exercising the elliptical will not get you there. You should also include resistance training to get the result you want. If you’re attempting to lose weight in a specific location, such as your inner thighs, adding resistance, pace, and incline can help you in achieving that.

Pushing through your heels rather than your toes can help you target your glutes and hamstrings. However, to achieve the best results, you’ll need to combine weight training while doing elliptical exercises.


The elliptical machine can help you strengthen your heart, lungs, and muscles while also increasing your stamina, improving your balance, and burning a lot of calories. It’s also a good choice if you have joint problems or want to get back into shape after an injury.

While this low-impact piece of equipment is suitable for most fitness levels, if you want to strengthen your legs and increase bone density, you should combine it with other workouts. There is no such thing as a perfect workout for every goal.

Nonetheless, the elliptical machine is an excellent choice for practically everyone. Knowing the proper way to use it can help you target different muscles and build a healthy body.

1. What muscles do going backwards on an elliptical work?

On the elliptical, pedalling backwards engages the thighs far more than pedalling forward. If you want to develop your quadriceps, pedalling backwards can also give them the explosive action they require to assist in stimulating muscle fibres.

You can also work your calves by alternating between backwards and forward pedalling, which will help you develop a more balanced calf muscle.

2. What is the proper way to use an elliptical?

On an elliptical, the proper way to use it is by having a good posture while working out. This means keeping your back straight and not favouring one leg over the other. To keep this posture, keep your core firm at all times. Pay close attention to your form during your workout and don’t slouch, since poor posture can increase your risk of injury and you may not get the most out of your workout routine.