Does Elliptical Build Muscles: The Surprising Answer

Welcome, fitness enthusiasts and curious minds alike!

We're here to tackle a question that might be lingering in your head – does the elliptical machine help build muscle?

In short, while the elliptical does engage various muscle groups, it isn't the most effective tool for muscle growth.

It excels, however, in improving cardiovascular health and aiding in weight loss.

But hey, don't click away just yet! We're going to dive deeper into this topic, clarifying how muscle growth works, the real benefits of elliptical training, and how to maximize your fitness routine.

Let's get started!

The Elliptical Machine: An Overview

Welcome to the world of elliptical machines!

If you've ever stepped foot in a gym, you've probably seen them.

Let's take a moment to really understand this popular exercise equipment and how it can serve your fitness journey.

Description of the elliptical machine and how it works

An elliptical machine, also known as a cross-trainer, is a stationary piece of exercise equipment designed to mimic the movements of running, stair climbing, and walking, but without causing excessive pressure on the joints.

This makes it an ideal choice for people with injuries or those who wish to give their joints a break while still getting a solid workout.

The machine works on a simple principle.

As you stand on the footplates and hold onto the handles, you move your legs in an elliptical motion, hence the name.

This elliptical movement creates a smooth, flowing motion that minimizes impact and stress on the body.

The resistance can be adjusted to increase the intensity of the workout.

Different features of an elliptical machine

Elliptical machines come with a host of features that can be tailored to suit your fitness needs.

Here are some common features you might come across:

  1. Adjustable Resistance: This allows you to increase or decrease the difficulty of your workout. A higher resistance will make your workout more challenging, requiring more strength and potentially burning more calories.
  2. Incline Settings: Some machines have an adjustable incline setting, allowing you to mimic uphill workouts, adding variety and increasing the challenge.
  3. Pre-Set Programs: Many ellipticals offer pre-set workout programs. These can guide you through different types of workouts, like interval training, fat burn, or cardio.
  4. Heart Rate Monitors: Some models include heart rate monitors, usually built into the handles. This feature helps you monitor your intensity and stay within your target heart rate zone.
  5. Stride Length Adjustment: Higher-end models may offer adjustable stride length. This feature allows you to change the elliptical path to better suit your natural stride and provide a more comfortable workout.

Muscles targeted by the elliptical machine

One of the key benefits of an elliptical machine is that it provides a full-body workout.

Here are the muscle groups that it primarily targets:

  1. Lower Body: The main muscles worked in the lower body include the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. The movement can be reversed on some machines to better target the hamstrings and glutes.
  2. Upper Body: The moving handles on many elliptical machines work your upper body muscles as you push and pull. These include the chest, back, biceps, and triceps.
  3. Core: While not as targeted as specific core exercises, maintaining your balance during the workout does engage your core muscles, including the abs and lower back.

Elliptical for Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, cardio workouts are a key player and the elliptical is a star performer.

Let's dive into why and how this machine can be your ally in your weight loss journey.

Role of the elliptical machine in burning calories

Burning calories is at the heart of weight loss.

To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume, creating a calorie deficit.

The elliptical machine can be a powerful tool in achieving this.

The elliptical works both your upper and lower body, resulting in a high energy expenditure.

According to Mayo Clinic, a person weighing 160 pounds can burn about 365 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous exercise on an elliptical.

Of course, the exact number will vary based on factors like your weight, age, gender, and the intensity of your workout.

Comparing the elliptical with other cardio workouts

Let's compare the elliptical with some other popular forms of cardio:

  1. Treadmill: Running on a treadmill generally burns more calories than the elliptical. However, it's also higher impact, which may be a concern for those with joint issues.
  2. Stationary Bike: An elliptical typically burns more calories than a stationary bike because it works the whole body. However, cycling can be a good choice for those who need a lower-impact option or want to focus on leg strength.
  3. Stair Climber: Stair climbers can burn a similar number of calories as an elliptical but might be more challenging for beginners or those with certain health conditions.
  4. Rowing Machine: Rowing machines can provide a similar total-body workout and calorie burn to the elliptical. Choosing between the two may come down to personal preference.

Incorporating the elliptical into a weight loss plan

Here's how you can effectively incorporate the elliptical into your weight loss plan:

  1. Consistency is key: Aim to use the elliptical for at least 150 minutes per week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for general health benefits. You can divide this time into smaller sessions throughout the week.
  2. Mix up your workouts: To avoid a fitness plateau, change your workouts regularly. Adjust the resistance, use the incline feature, or try interval training to keep challenging your body.
  3. Combine with strength training: While the elliptical can help with weight loss, combining it with strength training can lead to even better results. Strength training helps build muscle, which can boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories, even at rest.
  4. Monitor your diet: Remember, you can't out-train a bad diet. Make sure to pair your exercise regimen with a balanced diet. Consider consulting a registered dietitian for personalized advice.

Elliptical for Muscle Building: Myths and Reality

Navigating the world of fitness can be confusing, especially with so many misconceptions floating around.

One common myth? That the elliptical machine is a powerhouse for muscle building. Let's break down this myth and get to the reality.

Common misconception about elliptical for muscle building

It's easy to see where the myth comes from.

After all, when you use an elliptical, you can feel your muscles working, so it seems logical to assume that it's helping you build muscle.

But it's crucial to understand the difference between using your muscles and building them.

Yes, an elliptical workout does involve various muscle groups, but it doesn't provide the necessary stimulus for significant muscle growth.

Explanation on why elliptical does not build muscle as effectively as resistance training

The primary mechanisms for muscle growth are mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

Resistance training, such as weight lifting, directly targets these mechanisms.

It involves repeatedly challenging your muscles by lifting, pushing, or pulling against resistance, which promotes muscle growth.

On the other hand, an elliptical machine primarily provides cardiovascular exercise.

It increases your heart rate, improves your lung capacity, and helps burn calories.

While it does offer some resistance, the resistance is typically not enough to cause significant muscle growth.

The elliptical is more about endurance and less about strength.

The effect of elliptical workout on muscles

While the elliptical may not be the best tool for muscle building, it's not entirely without benefits for your muscles.

An elliptical workout does engage and strengthen your muscles to some degree.

It targets both your upper and lower body muscles, including your glutes, hamstrings, quads, chest, back, biceps, triceps, and core.

The elliptical can help maintain muscle tone and prevent muscle loss, especially in combination with a healthy diet and strength training.

Plus, it can help improve muscular endurance, which is the ability of your muscles to perform repetitive movements for extended periods.

Balancing Elliptical Workouts with Strength Training

To achieve peak physical fitness, it's all about balance.

That means not just relying on one type of workout, like the elliptical, but incorporating other types as well, particularly strength training.

Let's get into why this is important and how to do it effectively.

Importance of incorporating strength training for muscle building

Strength training, which involves lifting weights or using resistance bands, is crucial for muscle building.

As discussed earlier, it targets the primary mechanisms of muscle growth – mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

Strength training not only helps increase muscle mass but also strengthens your bones and boosts your metabolism, aiding in weight loss.

While the elliptical does provide some resistance and therefore some strength benefits, it primarily targets cardiovascular endurance.

For optimal muscle growth and overall fitness, it's best to complement your elliptical workouts with dedicated strength training sessions.

Tips for balancing elliptical workouts with weight lifting

So how do you balance your elliptical workouts with strength training?

Here are some practical tips:

  1. Alternate Days: One of the simplest ways is to alternate days between cardio and strength training. This way, you avoid overworking the same muscles on consecutive days, allowing them time to recover and grow.
  2. Combine Cardio and Strength in One Session: If you prefer to work out every day, you can start your workout with a brief, intense session on the elliptical to warm up and get your heart rate up. Follow this with strength training exercises.
  3. Try Circuit Training: Circuit training involves rotating through a series of cardio and strength exercises with little to no rest in between. This approach keeps your heart rate elevated for the cardio benefit while still providing the muscle-building benefits of strength training.
  4. Listen to Your Body: Everyone's body is different. Pay attention to how your body responds and adjust your routine accordingly. If you're feeling excessively tired or if your performance is declining, it might be a sign that you need more rest.

Case for a well-rounded fitness regimen

A well-rounded fitness regimen is about more than just looking good.

It's about enhancing your overall health and wellbeing.

By combining different types of exercise, you're not only building muscle and improving your cardiovascular fitness but also promoting better bone health, boosting your metabolism, enhancing your mood, and reducing your risk of various health conditions.

Incorporating both the elliptical and strength training into your workout routine offers a balanced approach that targets different aspects of fitness.

This way, you're reaping the benefits of both endurance and strength training – the best of both worlds.


In conclusion, the elliptical machine is a versatile piece of fitness equipment that can provide an efficient, full-body workout.

While it's excellent for weight loss and improving cardiovascular health, it's not primarily a tool for building muscle.

Strength training remains the gold standard for that.

However, incorporating the elliptical into a balanced exercise regimen, alongside strength training and a healthy diet, can contribute significantly to your overall fitness and wellbeing.

Remember, the goal isn't just about building muscle or losing weight; it's about adopting a lifestyle that enhances your overall health and makes you feel good!