What Does the Elliptical Do for Your Legs?

What Does the Elliptical Do for Your Legs?
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If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym, then you’ve probably never come across an elliptical trainer before. Also called cross trainers, or elliptical machines, they are favored by many fitness enthusiasts as it can be used to enjoy a fantastic full-body workout with minimal impact to the back, hips, and knees.

In this article, we’re going to tell you a bit more about elliptical trainers, including exactly what they are, and the benefits of using them. We’ll also look at what does the elliptical do for your legs as well as for the rest of your body.

The Importance of Cardio

Most people are aware that they should be getting some cardiovascular exercise (cardio for short) every single day to stay fit and healthy, but not many people know the reason why.

Cardio basically refers to any activity that increases your heart rate and improves your endurance. Performing cardio increases your cardiorespiratory endurance, strengthening your heart and lungs, thereby improving their ability to pump oxygen-rich blood around your body.  Your muscles then uses this oxygen to produce energy for movement.

There are so many benefits to performing cardio, both short- and long-term. Here are some of them:

  • Reduces the stress hormone levels
  • Releases endorphins that make you feel happier
  • Boosts energy and endurance
  • Helps you lose weight by boosting your metabolism and burning calories
  • Reduces body fat and lowers your body mass index
  • Improves circulation, which helps control blood pressure
  • Strengthens your immune system
  • Helps regulate cholesterol levels
  • Helps prevent some diseases (cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, for example)

What Is an Elliptical Trainer?

As you’ve probably gathered, an elliptical trainer is a piece of gym equipment that can provide a whole-body, cardiovascular workout. Comprising of two foot pedals and two handles, you can choose to work out only your lower body by employing the use of just the foot pedals, or your entire body by taking hold of the handles as well.

Your feet slide into two pedals that move in an elliptical shape—hence, the name—and the two handles move back and forth in time with your feet. The elliptical shape your feet make are the reason that this workout machine takes a bit of time getting used to.

While elliptical trainers are designed to simulate stair climbing or running, the elliptical pattern that your legs have to follow feels quite unlike anything you’ve ever felt before.

Some elliptical machines are electrically powered, and some are driven by magnetic resistance, which can affect the noise emitted by them. It is also possible to find elliptical trainers without handles so as to work out only the lower body. Although, it is more common that they do have moveable handles.

Muscles Targeted by Elliptical Trainers

Not only will your health and mood benefit massively from a cardio workout, but you will also notice changes in the way your body looks. This is because the muscles worked out by the machine will strengthen and become more toned. Get ready to kiss your wobbly bits goodbye!

By separating the body into two sections, you can see the benefits of just utilizing the pedals in a lower body workout before moving up to your upper body. This is to see which muscle groups are targeted by using the movable handles as well as the pedals.

Lower Body

So, what does the elliptical do for your legs? The leg flexion and extension involved in the elliptical movement mean that both the hamstrings and quadriceps are employed. Your hamstrings are located on the back of your legs, and your quadriceps are in the front of your thigh.

Some elliptical machines allow you to “pedal” backward, making your hamstrings work even harder. You can also set some models to an incline, which will simulate hill climbing. The hip extension will also work wonders on your gluteus maximus, also known as your bum.

A lower body workout doesn’t just stop there, however. Let’s not forget that your heart is a muscle. Since an elliptical machine provides aerobic or cardio exercise, you are also exercising your heart. Plus, if you avoid holding onto the machine for balance, then your deep core muscles will also be activated.

Upper Body

If you’re holding onto the moving handles, then you’ll also notice improvements in your arms, back, and chest.Your “pushing” and “pulling” muscles will be activated by the backward and forwards movement required by the handles.

Your pushing muscles include your triceps located at the back of your arm and pectorals that support your chest. Your pulling muscles include your biceps located on the front of your arms and your rhomboids, which pull your shoulder blades together.

Benefits of Using Elliptical Trainers

Why choose an elliptical machine over another piece of equipment? Here are some of the benefits you can enjoy with an elliptical trainer:

Cardio Workout

As discussed before, cardio is essential to your health. Just 30 minutes of cardio per day can massively decrease your chance of developing heart disease, as well as help to avoid other risks to your health such as high or low blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Whole-Body Workout

Unlike a treadmill, stair climber, or exercise bike, an elliptical trainer can work out both your upper and lower body at the same time. Regular use will strengthen all of your major muscle groups with visible changes to their tone and definition.

Weight-Bearing Exercise

A weight-bearing exercise is any form of exercise that forces you to work against gravity, including walking, running, hill or stair climbing, and dancing, Weight-bearing exercises are fantastic for helping to strengthen your bones, which can lower your risk of osteoporosis.

Low-Impact Exercise

The movement of an elliptical trainer is very smooth as you keep your feet in the pedals at all times. This makes using an elliptical trainer a very low-impact—in fact, almost zero-impact—exercise.

Low-impact exercises are especially recommended for the elderly, along with people who suffer from any joint problems or past or present joint surgery or injuries. Running on a treadmill, on the other hand, is a much higher-impact exercise and may cause pain and discomfort.


Elliptical trainers are also really versatile. You can work out only your lower body and core, or you can choose to work out your upper body at the same time.

Many elliptical machines operate backward as well, so you can target some specific muscle groups even more. Also available on the market are machines that you can set to an incline to make the exercise even more difficult and much more like stair or hill climbing.

Drawbacks of Elliptical Trainers

There are also some downsides to elliptical trainers that you should be aware of before deciding if it’s the right piece of exercise equipment for you. Here are a few of them:


The footprint of an elliptical trainer is quite large. Unless you buy one that specifically says it can be folded, then it probably can’t. In this case, it will most likely be difficult to store.

Most people who own elliptical trainers leave them set up in a permanent location in their home. If you don’t have a permanent place for it, then you should consider paying a bit more for one that folds away.

Being so big, they can also be quite heavy, so watch out for models with wheels on one end as it makes the job of moving and transporting the trainer much easier.

Noise Level

The noise that is emitted from an elliptical trainer will vary greatly depending on what model you go for but be warned that they can be excessively noisy. This can be quite annoying for anyone else in the house, especially if they’re trying to relax, read, or watch television.

If you are looking for a quieter machine, then choose one that works with magnetic resistance as they are virtually silent. They can be a bit more expensive but well worth the investment if you have to work out in a well-used room in the house.

Who Could Benefit from Owning an Elliptical Trainer?

Literally everyone! Shorter periods of exercise on a daily basis are highly recommended over one long period of workout per week. This is because regularity is much more important than workout length. You can improve your mood, body, weight, and health by having an elliptical trainer in your life.

As this type of machine is low-impact also, it is especially recommended for the elderly and anyone who suffers from joint pain.

Final Thoughts

So, it’s not so much a question of “what does the elliptical do for your legs?”. Instead, you should ask what it can do for your entire body and overall health. An elliptical trainer is a fantastic piece of equipment to keep you looking and feeling great.

When you first try it out, it can take some time to get used to, but it’s well worth the patience and effort. Start on lower-resistance settings and then build up to higher-resistance as your strength grows. As you build up your confidence, you can even try going backward or adding an incline to work your muscles even harder.

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