Does the elliptical build muscle and if so which ones?

The short answer is yes! Elliptical machines can help you build muscle if you use them correctly. Ellipticals tend to get a bad rep in the world of exercise machines. Since they are designed to provide a more low impact workout, the obvious implication is that they won’t do as much for your body, particularly that they can’t help you build muscle, but that’s not necessarily true.

When you use an elliptical there is much more constant direct contact between your body and the machine, which means there is less impact than you would get while running on a treadmill or walking on a track, where you are constantly raising and lowering your legs and feet. While that kind of exercise is more physically demanding, the constant pounding of your feet against a hard surface can be taxing on the joints.

Contrast that with the elliptical, where you are not raising your legs and feet off of the machine regularly. If you look at it that way you may wonder what muscles does the elliptical work if the machine is essentially doing most of the work? It’s an understandable question. In fact, there have been studies done to compare how ellipticals differ from standard walking in terms of motion and muscle activity.

Despite the more low impact level of an elliptical workout, that doesn’t mean that there are no benefits to be gained. When used properly, an elliptical machine can provide a good cardio workout, help to burn calories leading to weight loss and yes, even build muscle. As a matter of fact, elliptical muscle groups affected are far greater than those of most other exercise groups. In general, the elliptical works about 80 percent of your muscles, making it much easier to achieve a total body workout on these machines.

When you consider the muscles used on the elliptical, the ability to get a good workout and to build those muscles depends on a number of variables, including things like resistance, incline, range of motion and stride length. Obviously, the length of your workout can make a difference as can your posture when you’re working out.

Elliptical Muscles Worked – It’s All About Execution

Simply put, when it comes to building muscle what you get out of your elliptical workout depends on what you put into it.

Scientists have taken a close look at the patterns of muscular activation during different types of exercise to determine exactly how using treadmills, steppers and ellipticals can affect your body. The primary goal of this study was to determine whether steppers and ellipticals were safer for use during rehab or by individuals with mobility issues due to their lower impact, but it also indicates that even though they are lower impact they are still working various muscles when done regularly and properly.

So what are the elliptical muscles worked and how can you make the best use of your elliptical to target those various muscles? Let’s take a closer look.

First off, ellipticals are one of the few types of exercise equipment that work both the upper and lower body simultaneously. The amount of work that the upper body gets depends on the type of machine. To get the best upper body workout, you want a machine with handles that provide the most range of motion. If you have a machine that doesn’t have handles you can use a medicine ball or light dumbbells while on the elliptical to get an upper body workout.

Generally speaking the push/pull movement of the handles helps to work the chest, shoulders, lats, traps, biceps and triceps. Removing your hands from the handles and either placing them on your hips or pumping them as you exercise also helps to work the core muscles as they are used to help you maintain balance.

Of course the most common muscles used on elliptical machines are the muscles of the lower body, including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors and calves. The lower body is going through its own push/pull cycle as you perform your steps and that engages all of the muscles of the lower back and spine to help keep your body stable and moving smoothly throughout the entire range of motion.

Some of the higher end ellipticals, like those from Sole and NordicTrack, also include an incline function and this can help to increase the benefits to your muscles even more. Increasing the incline is a great way to target the hamstrings and glutes specifically as they have to work harder to push through the range of motion.

Most ellipticals also include various resistance levels and, not surprisingly, this can also be an effective way to intensify your workout and work the various elliptical muscle groups. Obviously you need to be mindful of your own individual limitations and set resistance accordingly but increasing even by a small amount can be beneficial when it comes to building muscle.

Stride length can also affect your ability to build muscle. If you’re using too long a stride, you run the risk of straining muscles. Many ellipticals allow you to adjust stride length, which can help you to achieve your most effective stride and maximize your workout.

Brands such as Octane also offer lateral ellipticals, designed to provide an even wider range of motion by including two wheels that move the user in a sideways motion. This helps to more closely mimic natural movement and in turn engages more of your muscles, especially the lower body and core.

When it comes to building core muscles, including the abs and obliques, it’s all about maintaining proper posture. This is the group of muscles that help you to maintain balance and if you are slouching, leaning forward or leaning too heavily on your elliptical you won’t be fully engaging these muscles. You need to ensure that you are sitting up straight with your navel pulled in towards your spine. This will help to brace your spine and contract those core muscles.

You can target specific muscles by adjusting your position or pedaling backwards and by using interval training. Also, many ellipticals have a variety of built-in programs, like NordicTrack & Proform’s iFit program, that can mimic the feel of walking or pedaling uphill, which can engage muscles in a similar way as weightlifting.

As you can see, if you’re asking what muscles does the elliptical work, clearly the answer is all of them…provided it is used properly!

So, do ellipticals build muscle? The evidence says they do. When put to proper use, an elliptical provides a quality aerobic workout, which studies show can result in muscle hypertrophy, one of the sure signs of muscle growth.