Aerobic exercise, often referred to as cardio, can help us aim to increase our cardiovascular health, build endurance, and promote weight loss. Cardio has many health benefits and we often hear about how it can help to keep our lungs and heart healthy.
Cardio workouts can offer us so much more than a quick way to boost endurance and increase stamina depending on the type of machine you use. Cardio machines such as the elliptical will provide the benefits of a cardio workout while simultaneously working to strengthen your muscles-- that is under the pretense that this exercise is performed correctly.
If you have never tried the elliptical, it is a cardio machine that is similar to a stationary bike except performed while standing upright. While standing straight, you place each foot on a separate foot pad and your hands grab hold of the moving bars out front which run parallel to your legs. The machine provides a full body workout and is designed to imitate running while remaining low impact.
What Muscles Does the Elliptical Work?
The elliptical has become quite a popular machine both in the gym and at home. It’s a low impact workout that can be an excellent way to work the heart, lungs, and muscles. The elliptical works both the upper and lower body muscles as you swipe the legs and arms in opposite directions.
The elliptical can provide a great workout to the upper body muscles if you engage your arms during the exercise. While the arms are not a required component to move the machine, engaging them can help to activate the upper body muscles and give us a great full body workout.
Upper Body Muscles Worked on the Elliptical
While completing a workout on the elliptical, it is possible to work all of the following upper body muscles:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Anterior Deltoid
- Serratus Anterior
However, the elliptical does not even require the arms to move the machine. This is where the intentionality of the user during the workout comes in. If you are wanting to work all the muscles, it is critical to actively engage the arms and focus on that push and pull motion.
The elliptical can work the pectorals, serratus anterior, anterior deltoid, and triceps when actively being pushed forward. When the muscles are being actively pulled back, this helps to turn on the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and bicep muscles.
Lower Body Muscles Worked on the Elliptical
When proper form is used on the elliptical, the user can effectively work all the following lower body muscles:
- Adductors (Read more on adductors vs. abductors)
- Anterior Tibialis
In order to properly use an elliptical, it is necessary to engage the lower body. If you want even more engagement on the machine, you can choose to increase the incline. In this particular study, it was reported that there was a significant increase in glute and hamstring activation when the incline is higher.
Core Muscles Worked on the Elliptical
As your body works to stabilize yourself on the machine, you will be activating your core muscles.
- Rectus abdominis
- Quadratus Lumborum (QL)
- Transverse Abdominis
It is important to maintain a strong core when performing this exercise. You want your core engaged to ensure that your hips are not wobbling and that you will keep your back safe.
While all of these muscles are being worked when using the elliptical, it is unlikely that you would be able to significantly increase muscle mass when working out on an elliptical. If you are wanting to strengthen these muscles and build mass try these workouts in conjunction with the elliptical for great results:
Walking vs. The Elliptical
You may be asking, “Well isn’t low impact running just essentially walking?” While walking does have less of an impact on our joints than running, the elliptical has even less so than walking. When on the elliptical, we are actually putting way less pressure on our joints in comparison to walking. This makes the elliptical a great way to work the muscles if you are in need of a low impact workout due to an injury or medical reason.
Furthermore, the elliptical helps to work more muscles and burn more fat than walking. In a study designed to understand what muscles the elliptical works, researchers found that muscle activation of the glutes remained significantly higher than when walking.
Why Low-Impact Workouts Can Have a Great Impact on Fitness
So, does low impact imply that there will be less of an effect on our bodies? The answer to this is absolutely not! Our bodies can really benefit from low impact workouts and sometimes high impact workouts can be way too intense, causing more harm than good.
While most of us aim to intensely work our muscles when we workout, there is an unsafe amount of exercise that can cause muscle strain and impair muscle growth. It is good to incorporate low-impact workouts into your fitness routine and cardio is recommended for us all to partake in to increase our heart health and lung capacity. Additionally, a low impact workout, such as the elliptical, means that our muscles can recover faster after being worked.
Is It True That Cardio Decreases Muscle Mass?
For those of us wanting to build muscle, we are often told that cardio will counteract the strength training we have done. Cardio has even been rumored to burn up muscle along with fat, making it a counterproductive way to build muscle. This is just not true.
With that said, cardio is not the culprit of muscle loss, but poor technique on the machines is. This is why it is important to maintain form and resistance. It is key to be engaging the muscles that are intended to work and perform the exercise correctly. In fact, multiple studies have shown that cardio can help to build muscle when done alongside strength training.
Why You Should Add The Elliptical to Your Routine
Most of us who engage in fitness, whether that be weightlifting or yoga, understand the important health benefits that aerobic exercise can have on our bodies. That said, it seems that a good number of gym-goers are either super engaged in weightlifting and strength training or focusing all of their efforts on cardio.
The elliptical will work to strengthen your muscles but it is not an ideal workout to primarily focus on if the goal is to build muscles. Solely focusing on a cardio exercise, like the elliptical, with the intention of building muscle mass is not going to work. However, cardio is great to do in conjunction with a weight lifting routine for optimizing your muscle strength.
There are so many health benefits to the elliptical and it is an effective way to work the core, upper body, and lower body muscles. The elliptical provides an excellent full body workout when all the muscles are active and engaged.