What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work?

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muscles worked elliptical

Are you looking to tone your muscles but scared that the treadmill will be too hard of an impact? Or are you not much of a runner in general? You're not alone.

Toned muscles are highly sought after. It gives the average fitness enthusiast a fit look, without resembling a bodybuilder.

Several exercise machines have the ability to shape and define your body. But one takes a slight advantage over the others: namely, the elliptical machine.

This machine was designed to mimic the natural movements of your body. But precisely what muscles does the elliptical work? Keep reading to find out.

What muscles does an elliptical target?

An elliptical trainer is a cardio machine, not strength. If you're looking to build on your muscle mass, this tool is not the right one for you. However, if you want to define, tone and slim down your muscles, the elliptical is a perfect match.

Similar to the exercise bike, it is a low-impact machine. But unlike the stationary bike, an elliptical will work more of your muscles. This makes it ideal for slimming down and defining those muscles.

The word ‘elliptical’ means oval in shape. While pushing the pedals, the machine enables your legs to move in oval motions and this is what mimics running or walking. 

When you're treading away on the elliptical, most of the major muscle groups in your legs are working. This will include your hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps and calves. One significant advantage is that you can alternate which muscles to focus on by pedaling backward or forward.

By the way, if you're overweight and you're looking for an elliptical you might want to check out this article. The article covers the top models for heavier persons. You might find one there!

What Does the Elliptical Do to Your Legs?

If you're looking to strictly tone your lower body, the elliptical is perfect. It's not uncommon to worry if all the treading and pushing will make your legs appear bigger, but don't worry. As I've mentioned above, the elliptical is a cardio machine, meant for weight loss, not muscle gain. 

The more you use it, the more fat you'll burn around the legs and buttocks. This in turn, makes them appear leaner and more defined. Cardio, in general, is used to burn calories and lose weight, so it’ll only do you good.

What occurs when you work the elliptical is that from your core and down, your muscles are being engaged in a vigorous physical activity. If you were to use the moving handlebars, your upper body would work as well. 

The activity will trigger a muscle gain, but only a tiny amount, at least not enough to increase the size of your legs. 

But muscles are what you should be looking for when you want toned legs. Whether you feel they're too skinny or too big; muscles are what's going to define them. The fact is that muscles burn more calories, even while you're resting. 

When you exercise, your body's metabolism will increase. Metabolism is what's helping your body turn nutrition into energy. This is later transferred through to all your muscles, where they'll enter the cells and give them the power to work. 

However, when a person has a low metabolism, it means the food is not efficiently used. It will, therefore, remain in the system and become fat. The elliptical machine is great at giving your body a metabolic lift. It's essential to build up your metabolism, as this will help you burn calories 24/7. 

How to Tone Muscles With an Elliptical?

If you want to tune up those muscles—and possibly your butt—here are a few tips and tricks.


Any time you're on the elliptical, think resistance. If it is too low, you'll risk gaining nothing but wasted time. This is probably the most crucial factor. 

Gradually increase your resistance until you feel as if you're at a moderate to hard effort. Every step should be enforced with strength from your muscles. If you begin to feel as though you're bouncing or not getting tired enough, you'll need to increase the resistance. 

But remember to keep within your limits. Although resistance is your best friend, too much will, of course, increase your muscle mass which will eventually make your legs bigger.

Interval training

A good idea to speed up the process of toning your arms, legs and butt would be to include one or two interval training sessions in your weekly routine. This will not only prevent you from getting stuck on the dreaded fitness plateau, but it will increase your endurance and strengthen your muscles even further.

Do about 20–25 minutes of interval training one or two times a week. Start with a five-minute warm-up at a slow pace, just to get your muscles going. Don't skip it. If you were to do so, especially prior to a interval session, the initial shock from the high intensity would likely be too much for your body and you will end up in pain.

After the warmup, begin to increase your resistance and speed to a moderate effort. Keep this up for a few minutes, before going all out for 30 seconds to one minute. Slow down your pace and recover your breath before repeating.

How fast will you see results?

Exactly when you are able to see results is a tricky question to answer. It will depend on your overall effort, diet and if you're doing other exercises as well. But it also comes down to your size, percentage of body fat and your level of fitness. 

To give you a general idea; if you were to do two or three sessions a week on your elliptical, you're likely to see results within four to six weeks. Toning your body takes time, but it's essential to remain steadfast. As long as you're doing the work, results will come.

You could incorporate one or two sessions of strength training if you feel it's taking longer. Intensity is not the most important factor here, but you could add weights to increase it a bit. Do a few squats, deadlifts or even calf raises to get the job done.

Take a closer look at this short video to maybe get a better idea on how to tone your thighs:


An elliptical machine is perfect if you're looking to tone your body without worrying that your muscles would become bigger. 

This machine provides you with an all-around cardio workout. You're able to engage more muscles and burn more calories, which is the perfect recipe for defining curves and muscles. 

Please leave us a thought or further questions in the comments below!

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