What Muscles Does a Cross Trainer Work?

You have a limited amount of time throughout your busy day — so you want to make this workout count!

If you’re leaning towards buying a cross trainer (AKA elliptical trainer), here’s some great news. The machine works a huge variety of muscles!

Man using a cross trainer and working most of the major muscle groups

If you’re curious about what muscles the cross trainer works, and how it can help you get into great shape, read on!

A Great Full Body Workout

People, from personal trainers to fitness newbies, love the cross trainer for its efficiency and the fact that it is joint friendly. It works several muscles simultaneously while offering a healthy cardiovascular workout as well! If you only have thirty minutes to spend at the gym, give this machine a try.

Here are some of the main muscles it works and why you should often train these areas of the body.

Upper Body

Let’s start with listing all the upper body muscles. Firstly, the handles on the machine provide a decent workout for your biceps. Working out the biceps is critical if you want to improve your upper body strength — working out your biceps can also help your athletic abilities. Think about the last time you threw or caught a ball. You’re mainly using your biceps to perform this action!

However, the benefits of training with a cross trainer don’t stop there. After all, the upper body is made up of several unique muscles.

Don’t worry, it certainly doesn’t leave your triceps out of the equation. This muscle group is located on the back of your arms. The triceps are responsible for pushing movements. Therefore, even if you struggle to do a simple push-up off the ground, working with the cross trainer can help you improve in this area!

Lastly, a cross trainer also works out of one of the largest upper body muscles — the lattisimus dorsi. This muscle is the large, fan-like muscle that protects your spine. In easy to understand terms, it’s your upper back. You want to strengthen this muscle, as it’s also responsible for extension, adduction, and transverse extension. All of these are significant to everyday, functional movement.

Lower Body

This cardio machine also strengthens the lower body! Moving the pedals with your feet works the large muscles located in the front of your legs — the quadriceps. However, using the elliptical regularly can also help strengthen the glutes, which are responsible for keeping your body balanced and stable.

But the machine doesn’t leave the calves or hamstrings out of the equation either. Due to the cyclical motion of the machine, it hits every part of the leg — even the hard to reach muscles like the hamstrings and calves.

Keep in mind; a cross trainer will not help you add significant size to your legs. Strength training is the best option for growing your muscles, however, if your legs are quite weak, using the machine regularly can strengthen and prepare your legs for more rigorous, mass-building exercise later on.


Did you know that a cross trainer can also help strengthen your core? While training with this piece of cardio equipment alone won’t give you a shredded six-pack, it can help strengthen your abdomen to prepare you for more difficult and taxing exercises, such as squats and deadlifts!

Using an elliptical to work your core can also help you improve your posture. Slouching and ‘hump neck’ can occur when the core is weak. If you don’t exercise these muscles, these issues will get worse over time, especially if you work a sedentary job. Training with a cross trainer regularly can counteract this.

Make sure you activate your core while using it. Suck your belly button in towards your spine, or brace your midsection while performing the movement.

Brilliant for Your Heart

While the motion of an elliptical trainer may seem simple, it’s actually a great cardiorespiratory workout. Many people believe that you must sprint for miles to get a decent cardio workout, but that’s not true at all. You can improve your endurance by performing any rhythmic, steady exercise for a prolonged amount of time.

This process is called LISS cardio, and it’s been shown to improve heart and lung function over time. Performing this form of cardio on an elliptical trainer is easy. Simply hop on, find a steady and rhythmic pattern that you can sustain for 45 minutes and get your sweat on!

As a good rule of thumb, you can also measure your LISS exertion rate by using only 65% of your maximum heart rate.

Or train until you’re pushing a 6 out of 10 in terms of difficulty.

Not only is this form of cardio great for your heart and lungs, but it can aid in weight loss too.

Low Impact Machine

If you typically see older individuals using a cross trainer religiously, there’s a good reason for this. This machine is low impact, which means it does not take a toll on your joints over time like some other exercises and machines. Take the treadmill — the rough and jagged motion can wear away at your joints if you’re not careful.

The cross trainer, on the other hand, is a smooth ride.

Don’t mistake this for an easy workout, however.

If you want to crank things up a notch, increase your time on the machine and decrease your rest periods. There are certainly many ways to make your workout more difficult so you’re burning calories and blasting away fat!

Another great factor about this machine? You don’t have to worry about nailing the form, like with treadmills. Running requires you to take on a specific stance for best results and to avoid injury. You don’t need to learn strict form with a cross trainer, as it sets you up for success with the easy-to-use pedals and handles.

How to Make the Most Impact With Your Cross Trainer Workout

If you wish to add more intensity to your cross training workout, consider adding strength training supersets to round out the workout. Include exercises like:

  • Squats or jump squats
  • Push-ups
  • Mountain climbers
  • Bicep curls
  • Dips
  • Chin-ups
  • Crunches

You can do 30 seconds of exercise on the machine and switch to one of the exercises above for another 30 seconds. Keep your rest intervals short if you want to create a High-Intensity-Interval-Training workout.

You can also increase the resistance and intensity of your workout by upping your speed on the machine.


In conclusion, using a cross trainer is a wonderful way to get fit if you’re new to exercise. This cardio machine is fool-proof! You won’t have to learn and memorise a complicated list of exercises. You will also get a killer cardio workout. Depending on the intensity level, you can also multitask and catch up on your favourite TV show, or podcast while exercising.

Why not give the cross trainer a try the next time you’re at the gym?

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Team MT

Team MT is the editorial team of MuscleTalk. With over 20 years experience we write quality, evidence based, articles. In addition to creating original content, we also edit and fact-check any articles we feature by external writers.

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