What Muscles Does The Cross Trainer Work? Find Out Here!

What muscles does the cross trainer work?

The cross trainer or otherwise known as the elliptical trainer is one of the most prized inventions in the fitness world and rightfully so. It combines the benefits of cross country skiing, climbing a staircase, and finally riding a bicycle - impressive, right?

So if you are looking to boost your cardiovascular health whilst toning your arms, shoulders, back, thigh, calves, abdominals, and butt- a cross trainer is a great place to start.

The best part about this equipment is, it does not place a lot of strain on your joints hence viable for use with people with arthritis or those that have recently been involved in an accident. This should not fool you on the effectiveness of a cross trainer as it can help you burn as much as 9 calories a minute if used right.

Most machines come with a varied range of resistance levels which will dictate the intensity of your workout and in turn how much calories you lose. Obviously, the more the resistance level, the more intense the workout is going to be.

Which muscles does a cross-trainer target?

Cross trainers were invented to give consumers a full body workout as the machine targets a wide group of muscles at once. So, for a more effective fitness regime, it is imperative to know how to work a specific muscle group per session.

To help you do so, here is a list of the muscles that a cross trainer works and how;

-Biceps and back muscles

When working out on a cross trainer, it is imperative to ensure your arms do all the work as opposed to letting your legs carry the whole weight. You can do so by pulling and pushing the handle bars as hard as you can whilst in the pedaling motion.

When you pull the lever towards your body, you get to engage your biceps and rhomboids. The biceps come into play during elbow flexion whilst the rhomboids are responsible for bringing your shoulder blades close together towards the middle of your back.

Since most cross trainers’ pedals and handle bars can be set to move backwards, you get to alternate your workout for a more comprehensive back and biceps workout.

However, if your fitness goals contain a fully toned back and biceps, you will need to supplement the cross trainer workouts with lifting weights. But if you are aiming for a low intensity regime, then solely using the cross trainer will do just fine.


First off, flexion is used to refer to the angle that two muscles form when two muscles fold. So when you pedal, you tend to straighten your leg hence engaging the three hamstring muscles namely- femoris, semitendinosus and semibranosus.

The constant straightening and flexion of the aforementioned is what results in toned legs.

For better results, you could opt to change the incline settings of the pedals every time. A low incline angle gives you a semblance of cross country skiing, a medium incline is akin to riding a bicycle and a high incline mimics the feeling of climbing a staircase.

Alternatively, you could pedal in reverse so long as you take care not to hurt your knees as the reverse pedaling tends to strain your joints.

Professional trainers advice only those who have use the cross trainer for prolonged periods to try the reverse function. If you are one of them, slouch back slightly and keep your knees bent at a right angle.

To make it even more challenging, try to increase the resistance level while you are at it.

-Glateus Maximus

Gluteus Maximus is the fancy medical name for the butt muscles that support the hips. Also in this category is the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus as they are constituting of the muscle group that extends down your back and the upper thighs.

While using a cross trainer, the hip movements greatly engage the glute muscles resulting in a peachy butt and perkier hips. To put more emphasis on this muscle group, try raising the incline as you will have to strain a little more to pedal hence achieving your glute goals faster.

-Abdominal muscles

In as much as an elliptical trainer will not specifically target your abdominal muscles, it definitely helps you modify your posture hence strengthening your core after a while of constant routine.

If strengthening your core is a top priority in your fitness goals, try pedaling without supporting yourself on the handlebars. This way, you will be forced to depend on your core for full support hence taking you closer to your goals.

Additionally, you should try and squeeze your abs inwards as this will force you to maintain a straight posture as you pedal. Naturally, your abdominal will contract and enlarge when you follow the above pointers and this technique has proven to be an effective way of building more defined abs.

-Heart and lung muscles

One of the main advantages of a cross monitor is that it is perfect for improving your cardiovascular health. Since working out on an elliptical is a tiring affair, you will find that both your heart rate and breathing rate will increase.

This in turn increases blood flow to your muscles as the heart contraction rate improves hence greatly reducing the risk of contracting cardio vascular diseases. However, it is important to give your heart and lungs time to repair themselves after each intense session.

You could easily do this by skipping a day in between workouts. Otherwise, you will have the reverse effects.


The quadriceps are a muscle group consisting of; rectus femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus intermedius and vastus medialis. If you are familiar with various workout routines, then you know how intense the burn and aches can be after working out this specific muscle group.

However, with a cross trainer, the burnout is not as intense but the results are just as good making it a perfect equipment for beginners. With every pedal motion, your quadriceps work to push the body forward and the cycle continues.

In short, it gives you the illusion of running but since its generally a low impact exercise, you do not overwork your glutes, quads and hamstrings. Perfect for those runners who are on active recovery and are still looking to get their daily workout in.

Yu should be careful not to overwork yourself as you typically won’t feel the burn until long after the workout is over.

-Triceps and chest

Triceps are basically the muscles at the back of your upper arms which are in turn connected to the pectoral muscles on your chest. You can easily distribute the work between your arms and legs by actively moving your arms on the handlebars as though you are on a skiing trip.

So if you plan on working your triceps and chest, you do not have to worry about which direction the pedals are in or the incline angle, the work done on the aforementioned muscle group will still be the same.


As the gym saying goes, never skip leg day.  Cross trainer is a perfect equipment to that effect as it exercises all the muscle groups in your legs and in this instance it’s the calves or otherwise known as gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

Pedaling in whatever direction with whichever resistance level will guarantee a good workout to your calves. However, a cross trainer is not the best option if at all you were planning on increasing your calf muscle mass and making them bigger.

If this was your goal, then you will be better off supplementing your elliptical trainer workout with weight lifting.

Advantages of an elliptical machine workout

As seen above, an elliptical trainer has variety of advantages both to the physical body and your mental health. Here are a few of the main ones;

1.Burns a lot of calories

On average, a successful workout on an elliptical burns 9 calories per minute. Mind you, you do not need to crank the resistance all the way up for these results.

This makes it perfect for those people who are trying to lose weight. If you want to lose more calories than it is stated, then a higher incline angle on the pedals and a high resistance level will do the trick.

2. Does not put pressure on your joints

One of the main reasons why the elliptical trainer came to be was because designers were trying to create a machine that can be used with injured runners or those suffering from joint diseases. So it is a guarantee that with this machine, you can lose all the calories you want, maintain a constant routine whilst still taking precautions to not hurt your recovering joints and muscles.  

3. Ideal for both upper body and lower body workouts

An elliptical machine is a worthy investment as it is one of the few equipment that can deliver both an upper body workout and a lower body workout. Of course, in order to reap the full benefits of this feature, you need to know the different positions to place your body, the different incline angles to use, whether to use the handle bars, the balancing, body posture, etc.

4. Helps improve your balance

By letting go off the handle bars, you will be putting all the pressure on your core which in turn helps you improve your balance. Additionally, pedaling without the help of your arms helps build abs and greatly tones the abdominal muscles if the routine is right.

To make it even more challenging, try and pedal backwards and crank up the resistance level to the best of your ability.

5.Improves your cardiovascular health

Nothing better to get your cardio workout with than an elliptical trainer. Its mere functions mimic a full aerobic exercise routine.

As you know, aerobic exercises increase your heart and lung contractions which in turn increases the rate at which blood is pumped into your blood stream and the amount of oxygen going to your brain. This is a great way to prevent the risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases whilst also increasing your body stamina when doing other tasks.

In conclusion

Cross trainers work wonders on your workout routine if at all you are targeting low impact workouts. In as much as you will define your muscles, you will lose a huge chunk of calories and greatly improve your cardiovascular health.

So for a perfect routine, try and vary your cross trainer workouts with other equipment. the fact that it does not put a lot of strain in your muscles and joints makes it a good investment for those who suffer from diseases such as arthritis or those who are recovering from accidents.

The best part about an elliptical is that you get to work out a variety of muscle groups all at once.

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