Does Elliptical Build Muscle?

Does an Elliptical Build Muscle?

The elliptical machine, also known as a cross-trainer, has become a popular choice for cardiovascular workouts in gyms and homes worldwide. It’s praised for its low-impact design, which is easy on the joints, making it suitable for individuals of all fitness levels.

While it’s undeniably effective for burning calories and improving cardiovascular health, many people wonder if an elliptical can also help build muscle. In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore whether using an elliptical can contribute to muscle development, discuss which parts of the body it works out, provide example workouts to help you maximize your results, and offer tips for effective muscle building.

Understanding Muscle Building

To determine whether an elliptical can build muscle, it’s essential to understand the principles of muscle development. Muscle growth, known as hypertrophy, primarily occurs when muscles are subjected to resistance or tension beyond what they are accustomed to. This typically happens through strength training exercises, such as weight lifting or resistance band workouts. These activities create micro-tears in muscle fibers, which the body then repairs and strengthens, resulting in muscle growth over time.

The Role of the Elliptical in Muscle Building

The elliptical machine offers a different form of resistance compared to traditional strength training exercises. While it doesn’t provide the same level of resistance as lifting weights, it does engage multiple muscle groups in your body:

Lower Body

  • Quadriceps: The front thigh muscles are heavily engaged during the pushing motion of each stride.
  • Hamstrings: The back thigh muscles contract as you pull the pedals backward.
  • Glutes: The muscles in your buttocks work to extend your hips with each step.
  • Calves: The calf muscles play a role in pushing off the pedals.
  • Hip Flexors: These muscles help lift your knees during each stride.

Upper Body

  • Chest: When you actively use the handlebars, you engage your chest muscles.
  • Shoulders: The pushing and pulling motion of the handlebars also target the shoulder muscles.
  • Back: The back muscles are involved in maintaining an upright posture on the elliptical.
  • Arms: The biceps and triceps are engaged when you grip the handlebars.

While the resistance on an elliptical is primarily generated through air or magnetic mechanisms and is not sufficient for significant muscle growth on its own, it can still play a role in building muscle when used strategically in your fitness routine.

Example Workouts

High-Resistance Intervals

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes at a low resistance.
  • Work Phase: Alternate between 30 seconds of high resistance (enough to make you work hard) and 30 seconds of low resistance (recovery).
  • Repeat the work phase and recovery phase for 15-20 minutes.
  • Cool-down: 5 minutes at a low resistance.

Lower Body Emphasis

  • Set the elliptical to a moderate resistance level.
  • Focus on maintaining a slow, controlled pace.
  • Do a 30-45 minute session, concentrating on engaging your lower body muscles throughout.

Upper Body Emphasis

  • Use the handlebars more actively and set a moderate resistance.
  • Concentrate on a pushing and pulling motion with your arms.
  • Aim for a 30-45 minute session, placing emphasis on your upper body.

Full-Body Workout

  • Combine both upper and lower body emphasis workouts into a single session for a comprehensive full-body workout.

Also Check Out: 5 Fat Burning Elliptical Workouts

Tips for Building Muscle on an Elliptical

Increase Resistance

Most elliptical machines allow you to adjust the resistance level. To promote muscle development, increase the resistance to a challenging but manageable level. This added resistance will engage your leg muscles more effectively and stimulate muscle growth over time.

Incorporate Interval Training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) on an elliptical can be an effective way to build muscle. Alternate between short bursts of high-intensity effort and recovery periods. This method can help create muscle tension and stimulate growth.

Use Proper Form

Ensure you maintain proper form while using the elliptical. Focus on pushing through your heels and engaging your glutes and quadriceps with each stride. Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed to prevent unnecessary strain.

Combine with Strength Training

For optimal muscle building, consider combining elliptical workouts with traditional strength training exercises. This will provide the necessary resistance to target specific muscle groups and promote balanced muscle development.

Adequate Protein and Nutrition

Building muscle also requires proper nutrition. Ensure you’re consuming enough protein and overall calories to support muscle growth and recovery.


While the elliptical machine may not be the primary tool for muscle building, it can still be a valuable addition to your fitness routine. It engages multiple muscle groups in both the upper and lower body, providing an efficient full-body workout. To effectively build muscle using an elliptical, you should increase resistance, incorporate interval training, maintain proper form, and consider combining it with traditional strength training exercises. Remember that consistency and a well-balanced diet are essential factors in achieving your muscle-building goals. Incorporate these strategies into your elliptical workouts, and you can enjoy both cardiovascular benefits and muscle development in your fitness journey.

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