Does Elliptical Build Muscle? Full Guide

Written by Daniel Mesa
Last Updated On

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does elliptical build muscle

The elliptical is a staple cardio machine, but can it be used to build muscle? In this guide, we will break down the benefits and mechanics of an elliptical machine and study whether it can be seen as a muscle-building tool. The last thing you want to do is spend months on a movement only to see that it does not help you reach your goals in any meaningful way.

We will also provide some excellent elliptical tips and sample workouts to get you started.

What Is an Elliptical Machine?

An elliptical machine is a piece of exercise equipment that provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout. It typically consists of a stationary base with pedals that you stand on and push with your feet, as well as handlebars that you hold onto for balance. As you pedal and push, the machine’s flywheel creates resistance, which you can adjust to increase or decrease the difficulty of the workout.

The elliptical allows you to move in a smooth, gliding motion that simulates running or walking but without the impact on your joints that these activities can have. Many elliptical machines also have features such as heart rate monitors, pre-programmed workouts, and the ability to track your progress, which can make your workouts more effective and enjoyable.

What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work?

The elliptical machine is a full-body workout. Your legs will work to push the pedals while your upper body will work to push and pull the arms of the machine. Although your upper and lower body is working together, it is still your leg muscles doing the majority of the work.

Your core muscles will also have to work hard to keep you stable and upright for the duration of your session.

Muscles Groups Worked:

  • Quads

  • Hamstrings

  • Calves

  • Triceps

  • Deltoids

  • Pecs

  • Biceps

  • Abdominal Muscles

Does Elliptical Build Muscle?

The simple answer is yes. The elliptical machine does indeed build muscle to a certain extent. The resistance provided by the machine to your legs and arms will work the muscles.

With enough use and proper nutrition, you will notice some muscular gains in these areas. However, it is important to note that the elliptical machine is not at all optimal for building muscle. If you want to achieve a “muscular” or “strong” look, you are better suited to performing some strength training along with your elliptical training.

Best Workouts For Buiding Muscle On An Elliptical Machine

While the elliptical machine may not be the BEST tool for building muscles, there are some tweaks and workouts you could use that lead to more gains.

HIIT Training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of exercise that involves short bursts of intense activity followed by brief periods of rest. For example, you may go all out for one minute on max resistance and then rest for two minutes and repeat this for 10 rounds.

This type of training is typically known for its calorie burn benefits but in the context of muscle building, there is really no better form of cardio.

Compared to regular steady-state cardio, this is much more effective at building muscle. The shorter more intense intervals are more likely to push your muscles and trigger muscular growth. Just think in terms of professional athletes. Explosive athletes like sprinters tend to be more muscular than endurance athletes.

Sample HIIT Elliptical Workout

Here is a sample HIIT elliptical workout that you can try:

Warm up:

  • 5 minutes at moderate intensity

Interval 1:

  • 30 seconds at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Interval 2:

  • 45 seconds at high intensity

  • 15 seconds at low intensity

Interval 3:

  • 1 minute at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Interval 4:

  • 30 seconds at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Interval 5:

  • 45 seconds at high intensity

  • 15 seconds at low intensity

Interval 6:

  • 1 minute at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Interval 7:

  • 30 seconds at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Interval 8:

  • 45 seconds at high intensity

  • 15 seconds at low intensity

Interval 9:

  • 1 minute at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Interval 10:

  • 30 seconds at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Interval 11:

  • 45 seconds at high intensity

  • 15 seconds at low intensity

Interval 12:

  • 1 minute at high intensity

  • 30 seconds at low intensity

Cool down:

  • 5 minutes at low intensity

Go Hands Free

As we already mentioned, the elliptical machine can be quite taxing on your core muscles. If you want to take this up to the next level, try going hands-free.

Your core will have to work that much harder to stabilize your upper body while your lower body does all the work.

Do Some Of The Preset Elliptical Workouts

This will depend on the machine you have at your home or gym, but modern machines tend to have built-in elliptical workouts.

These guided sessions will automatically adjust your resistance to be in line with the program. Just be sure to check if there are any HIIT or Toning categories that you can take advantage of. These workouts are a great way of having a structured workout without having to do much adjusting or planning.

Elliptical Machine Benefits

Even if the elliptical machine is not the ideal muscle-building tool, there are still several reasons why you should consider including it in your fitness routine:

Low Impact

Unlike other forms of cardio like running, you are never elevated from the ground. This means that the impact on your joints is significantly reduced. If you are someone with a history of joint pain are just looking for some cardio that you can recover quickly from, the elliptical machine is a great choice.

Full Body Workout

As we already discussed, the elliptical machine works nearly every muscle in your body simultaneously. The machine does a great job of providing gradual resistance to both your upper and lower body.

If you are short on time or are simply trying to be efficient, you cannot really go wrong with an elliptical machine.

Versatility

The ability to adjust the resistance on an elliptical means that it is an incredibly versatile piece of equipment.

You can either turn the resistance down and do some steady-state cardio or jack the resistance up and do HIIT. The ability to switch things up removes lots of the boredom and repetition that are usually associated with cardio machines.

Caloric Burn

Elliptical machines are great and efficient at burning calories quickly. Whether you’re doing this to create a caloric deficit to lose weight or for cardiovascular health, the elliptical is a great choice. To see how many calories you burn, use our elliptical calorie calculator.

Alternatives For Muscle Building

As we have already discussed, the elliptical machine while great is not the ideal choice for building muscle. If you want to really gain muscle, here are some more viable alternatives:

Assault Bike

When it comes to cardio machines, there is really no better muscle builder than an assault bike. Unlike other cardio machines, the assault bike gets harder the faster you pedal. This resistance curve makes it easier to reach muscular failure.

However, the assault bike is again not ideal for muscle building. It is simply the best choice if you are set on using a traditional cardio machine.

Weight Training

Above all else, weight training is the number one muscle builder. The ability to induce muscular growth and progressively overload is unmatched. If you are serious about building muscle, here are some exercises broken down by muscle groups:

Legs: Squats, Deadlifts

Chest: Bench Press, Flys

Back: Row, Pull-ups

Shoulders: Overhead Press, Lateral Raises

Arms: Curls, Extensions

Final Thoughts

The elliptical machine is a fine piece of exercise equipment that is best suited for workouts centered around fat loss and burning calories. While all your muscles will be worked in some way by the elliptical machine, it really is not ideal for muscular growth.

You can do things such as HIIT to better push your muscles to failure during your elliptical sessions. However, you will be much better off combining cardio with weight training for the purposes of muscle growth.

FAQs

Does the elliptical burn fat or build muscle?

The elliptical is most effective for burning fat. The elliptical will work your muscles and potentially trigger some growth but not a substantial amount.

What muscles are toned by an elliptical?

Using an elliptical machine can help to tone a variety of muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes in the legs, and the chest, back, and arms. Most elliptical machines also allow you to use your upper body by holding onto the moving handles, which can help to tone the muscles in the shoulders, arms, and upper back.

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