Many Americans have been flocking to gyms to work on their health and overall well-being. Whether the reason is a doctor’s recommendation, weight-loss goals, self-image improvement or building muscle, going into the gym for the first time ever or first time in a long time can be intimidating. The front desk attendants are all smiles, welcoming you in, but scanning your eyes over all the equipment fuels a twinge of intimidation. Most men gravitate towards the free weights, and women usually gravitate toward the treadmills and elliptical cross trainers. Their reasons for their go-to could range from being in their comfort zone to most needed work for results. Today we are going to focus on how to use an elliptical machine.

This guide will arm you with knowledge of gym equipment basics. Additionally this manual will include best practices and workout tips to help you overcome your gym-phobia!

The variety of programs, path of motion and supplemental features on the elliptical has changed since their introduction in the mid-1990s. The most recent models now feature plug-ins for Apple and Android products, Wi-Fi capabilities, built-in TV screens, landscape simulations and custom programs created by the user or personal trainer.

The elliptical is a multi-function piece of equipment that has the ability to combine cardio and resistance training. It intertwines running with lunges and squats. It is no wonder why men and women are so drawn to using this particular equipment.

The following body parts and muscle groups are impacted and strengthened through the use of the elliptical:

  • Glutes and Hips
  • Thighs, Knees and Calves
  • Arms and Upper Torso
  • Abdominal Core

Glutes and Hips:
If you are looking to work on those saddlebags—the outer part of your hips, thighs and buttocks, then the elliptical will help firm and reduce those areas for you. This machine gives you the choices to increase/decrease resistance as well as move in a forward or reverse motion. Both of these options help target those areas. Your stance also makes a difference. Make sure your weight is mostly being applied to your heels. If you start to feel like you’re running on your toes and begin having cold or numb toes, your workout is not being as effective. Switch-It-Up Tip: Modify your body from standing straight up to bending your knees slightly when peddling in reverse. This will target a different angle of your hip flexors, hip abductors, hamstrings and gluteus maximus (glutes).

Thighs, Knees and Calves:
Your thigh muscles, which are called quadriceps, are your main propeller when peddling forward, since they move your knees forwards and backwards. Instead of running on rocky or hard terrain, your knees will appreciate the zero-impact from the movement on pedals. It is common for your heels to pick up when peddling forward, but if you notice a tipping of foot where most of your pressure is on your toes, it is time to change body position to shift more toward the heels. The slight heel pick-up is what triggers your calf muscles to be engaged. Switch-It-Up-Tip: Bend your knees slightly while pedaling forward. This will engage your quads (thighs) more intensely. Also if you want to work on your calves, pick up your heels and “run” on your ball of foot during a higher resistance interval. Alternate this movement with regular pedaling in one minute to one or two minute intervals.

Arms and Upper Torso:
When pedaling forward with use of the moving handlebars, you are engaging your chest (pectoral) muscles, shoulders (deltoids), latissimus dorsi and upper back (teres major). The moving handlebars also work your biceps and triceps. Naturally your elbows will be in movement as long as your biceps and triceps are pushing and pulling. Switch-It-Up-Tip: Use your upper body to push and pull harder than moving the machine with your lower body. You can apply more intensity with your upper body in 30 to 60 second intervals then let the upper body “rest” while you push the machine with the lower body.

Abdominal Core:
Your abdominal core is consistently engaged while you are on the elliptical. When standing up right and not slouching, you are more effectively contracting your abdominal core. Both short, higher resistance intervals and longer, lower resistance intervals work your back, which is supported by your abdominal core. Switch-It-Up-Tip: Try not to use the fix or moving handlebars. Place your hands on your hips or free stand to force yourself to maintain balance while pedaling forward. This will allow you to feel and concentrate on your abdominal core contracting. For a deeper contraction, try pulling in your core even further in one minute intervals.

Perhaps now the elliptical cross trainer will not be as intimidating and be inviting to you as part of meeting your fitness goals. After reading our guide on how to use an elliptical machine, try it out! Be on the lookout for guides exploring treadmills, bikes, free weights, free weight accessories and stationary strength machines in future posts.


Advanced Exercise is a Littleton, CO based commercial exercise equipment distributor to gyms, schools, athletic performance facilities, country clubs, multi-family facilities, hotel/resorts, therapy organizations and more. With a selection of acclaimed brands, they also offer layout and design assistance, equipment consultation, delivery and installation and product training, service and maintenance.  Contact us on the web or call us at 1.800.520.1112 to see how we can improve the lives of the people in your facility!