What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work? Impressive Benefits of the Elliptical [2023]

Last Updated on August 10, 2023 by Patrick

Despite its reputation as the “easy” cardio machine, the elliptical is a proven and effective tool for not only burning calories but strengthening muscles and improving balance.

If you’re looking for a low impact way to improve your health and overall fitness, the elliptical is a great option and very few other machines combine cardio and resistance exercise the way the elliptical does.

The Elliptical is Not Just a Cardio Machine

What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work?  - Back Muscles
What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work? – Back Muscles

1. Back

Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory!

When using the elliptical, you periodically push/pull with your arms as you are moving your legs. Not only does this force you to maintain a straight posture (which is great for your spine) but also ensures that your back muscles are getting a good workout as well!

We use our back muscles significantly throughout our lives. They are the core muscles we have relied on as babies, we use them for support as we lean against our chairs in our academic and professional lives and we need them to coordinate the movements of our limbs and trunk.

If you’re struggling with back pain, a conversation with your doctor about ellipticals may prove to be useful. Plus, kids (and some adults) love piggy back rides!

What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work?  - Core Muscles
What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work? – Core Muscles

2. Core

This might be counterintuitive at first, but let’s think about it for a second. When you’re on the elliptical, you’re constantly using your arms and legs. That means you need to rely on a muscle group that provides stability (since you can’t position yourself firmly using the former muscles mentioned).

Luckily, we have our abdominal muscles to help us out. In fact, you are actually tightening them as you pull/push those bar handles which ends up strengthening your core.

Good news if you’re going for those six pack abs!

What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work?  - Glutes
What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work? – Glutes

3. Glutes

Did you know that glutes are the most important muscles most working professionals rely on?  They’re comprised of three muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minima.

The first muscle is responsible for helping you extend your hips and rotating that hip (remember that next time you do the boogie!). The second  helps stabilize your hips in your plane of motion. Finally, the third muscle is the reason your nerves don’t get squeezed on when you move around!

Pretty important, right? Well, guess which machine helps you target all those muscles?

That’s right – the elliptical.

So get up on that machine, standing proud and get the workout you deserve. Because when people see you mesmerizing them on the dance floor, all criticism will go out the window!

What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work?  - Arms and Legs
What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work? – Arms and Legs

4. Arms and Legs

Here are two bonus muscle groups as well: your arms and legs!

Your biceps, triceps and hamstrings are all exerting themselves when you get on that elliptical.

Talk about a total body workout!

But that’s not all!

5. (Bonus!) Cardiovascular System

An elliptical doesn’t just help you target specific muscles but also improves your cardiovascular system!

If you do it right (which we’ll get to in a minute), you can decrease the chance of getting a heart condition and boost your lung power.

How to Get the Best From Your Elliptical Workout

Okay, so we’ve talked about the various muscles that an elliptical helps you target. But how do you plan your workouts?

While there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, I’ll give you some basic guidelines that can help you craft your own plan.

First off, make sure that you are comfortable moving those bar handles at a steady rate. It doesn’t make sense to simply increase the pace if you’re not able to move with correct form. Remember : Quality over quantity.

After you’ve gotten comfortable, it’s time to increase the resistance. Most ellipticals have some pedal settings you can adjust to make the experience a bit more challenging. If not, consider that you can always add weights or wear a heavy backpack.

You can also switch between sprinting and maximizing the incline settings to extract every drop of sweat from your workout. If you feel up to the task, you can also take some dumbbells and maintain your balance by completely relying on your core and legs (remember to have a buddy around to help you out just in case).

Final Words

If you’re short on time or just getting started on your fitness journey, you may be looking at the elliptical as a way of combining cardio and resistance training and asking yourself, “is it worth it? What muscles does the elliptical work?”

As you search for answers, rest assured that can find someone willing to share their “workout secrets” – at a reasonable price of course. You’ll probably also find people critiquing (perhaps even questioning) the utility of simple machines like the elliptical in an attempt to sell you something more elaborate.

While I can’t scare away the former, we can educate ourselves against the latter. Yes, ellipticals are simple machines. Yes, they are used by beginners. Yes – they have real benefits.

Yes, it’s true that when it comes to calories burned, the treadmill may seem superior, but before you cast off ellipticals as an inferior machine to the treadmill – Check this out: A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center found that elliptical training demonstrated greater activity compared to stationary cycling and treadmill walking.

Plus, if you happen to be on your first fitness program, or your first fitness program in a long time, an elliptical can help your body ease into the intensity demanded by future workouts. Not only that, if you’re recovering from an injury but want to hit the gym nonetheless (after consulting your doctor) then the elliptical might be just the thing!

Here’s an excerpt from a fantastic piece Quartz did on ellipticals:

“The movement path that your legs go through on the elliptical trainer produces less stress on the joints than running or jogging,” says  Edward Laskowski, MD, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center. For people with arthritis, sports injuries, or any other joint issues that make running painful or difficult, ellipticals allow them to “exercise longer and more pain-free than higher-impact exercises,” he adds. Compared to running, the elliptical also places less stress on muscles and tendons, Laskowski says.


Ultimately, you alone are the designer of your body. If that means you start off with using the ellipticals to improve certain muscles before you move on to more intense workouts – so be it. We all start somewhere.


what muscles does the elliptical work
What muscles does the elliptical work – Infographic

Further Reading

What to know more about ellipticals vs treadmills?

Learn more about the benefits of aerobic exercise

Is it worth it to have a treadmill at home? (Yes)

Just getting started? Check out the Best Home Exercise Equipment for Beginners

Looking for an All-In-One Solution?

On a budget? Check out my list of best budget weight benches.

Thinking about taking pre workout before a run? Find out how long it takes for it to kick in and how long it lasts

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