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Elliptical trainers are one of the most popular cardio machines, thanks to their ease of use and low-impact calorie burn. But if you’re looking to change your body composition using the elliptical’s stride pattern, you may have thought to yourself, “Does the elliptical build glutes?”

The short answer is: not really. If you truly want to grow your glutes, cardio exercise (and even bodyweight exercises) won’t do the trick—you need resistance training to add lean muscle. 

That said, elliptical exercises can contribute to fat loss and trigger some glute muscle activation, which can strengthen your glutes and give them a more conditioned appearance. Let’s crack into it.

RELATED: 3 Beginner Elliptical Workouts

How the Elliptical Works the Glute Muscles (and How It Doesn’t)

An elliptical uses a gliding movement that’s a cross between walking, running, and stair climbing—which is why it’s sometimes called a cross-trainer. This motion activates all your major leg muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, calves, and (of course) glutes.

According to longtime fitness writer Shane McLean, CPT, the primary function of your glutes during this pedal stroke is the concentric contraction of the gluteus maximus (the largest of the butt muscles), which creates a hip extension and some hip hyperextension.

RELATED: Gluteus Maximus Exercises

The glute muscles can help you overcome the resistance and push through the pedal stroke. This movement can also help strengthen the muscle but won’t build it the same way as resistance training. 

glutes highlighted on muscular system

For true muscle-building, you need to cause damage to the muscle fibers—often called microtears—by lifting heavy weights, according to GGR Head of Content and certified personal trainer Nicole Davis, CPT, PN1-NC. After your workout, your body will use protein and other nutrients to rebuild these fibers, leading to increased growth in muscle size (aka muscle hypertrophy).

While they have many other benefits, cardio workouts just don’t provide enough force to cause the microtears needed for muscle growth. Even using a weight that’s not heavy enough won’t give you the results you want. “If you aren’t picking a weight that truly challenges you, the damage caused to the muscle fibers will be minimal, and thus, new growth won’t happen easily, if at all,” adds Nicole.

RELATED: How To Build Muscle

Other Muscles Engaged During Elliptical Workouts

While elliptical training won’t make a drastic difference in the size of your glutes, it’s still a full-body workout, meaning it activates muscles in your lower and upper body and core. 

This full-body engagement can help you burn more calories, contributing to weight loss, reducing body fat percentage, and helping improve your overall body composition. And all of this can change how your glutes look relative to the rest of your body. 

Essentially, the loss of fat will make you look leaner, which can make your glutes more prominent, but it won’t “build” them.

RELATED: What Muscles Does An Elliptical Work?

Here’s how an elliptical machine works the rest of your body.

Lower-Body Muscles

In addition to the glutes, the main muscles you’ll work in your lower body are the hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), and calves.

NordicTrack 14.9 Commercial Elliptical

The hamstrings push the elliptical pedal down to assist the glutes, while the quads work with the hips to give you downward power during the pedal stroke, according to Shane McLean, CPT. The calf muscles assist the quads in the downward power of the elliptical stroke.

RELATED: Calf Exercises

Upper-Body Muscles

While the lower body is the star of the show, there’s some upper-body activation, too, as long as you’re using the handlebars. Elliptical machines can work your triceps and rhomboids (the muscles in your shoulders), which activate when you’re pushing and pulling on the handlebars. 

Core Muscles

Elliptical workouts also activate the three muscle groups in your core: the rectus abdominis (or the “six-pack” area), the obliques, and the transverse abdominals. These abdominal muscles work together to help you maintain your posture and transfer power between your upper and lower body.

6 Tips for Targeting Your Glutes on an Elliptical

While you can activate several muscles during an elliptical workout, there are some things you can do to target the glutes specifically. 

Again, you probably won’t see significant gluteal growth from elliptical training alone, but it can be part of a more comprehensive workout routine to grow your glutes. 

Here are our six tips for targeting your glutes on the elliptical.

1. Maintain Proper Form

Proper form ensures that you’re engaging the correct muscles. If you’re slumped over the elliptical, you might not be targeting the muscles you want to. Engage your core, keep your back straight, and look straight ahead.

2. Increase the Incline 

Increasing the incline mimics the effect of pedaling uphill, which maximizes your effort and engages your glute muscles more. You don’t have to keep the incline up the whole time, but you should feel like you’re exerting yourself and getting your heart rate up for the most effective aerobic workout.

person using schwinn 470 elliptical

RELATED: Best Elliptical With Incline

3. Up the Resistance

Like resistance training, increasing the resistance on an elliptical gives you more force to work against, thus making your muscles work even harder. This can contribute to some muscle growth and also helps improve body strength.

4. Pedal Backwards

While the glutes are activated no matter which direction you pedal, going backward requires more effort from your glutes and hamstrings. When you pedal forward, the quads are the stars of the show. You can also alternate between the two directions to switch things up.

5. Try a HIIT Workout

Instead of steady-state cardio, try high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which maximizes calorie burn and has been shown to increase muscle mass to some degree1. As an added bonus, HIIT allows you to alternate periods of maximum effort with cool-down periods that let you catch your breath. 

6. Include Other Types of Exercise

Combining elliptical workouts with compound exercises, like squats and lunges, can maximize muscle building2. Try an elliptical HIIT workout that alternates between time spent pedaling and time spent doing these types of exercises off-machine. Or use the elliptical machine as your warm-up, and then finish with weightlifting.

Woman lunging with the Core Home Fitness dumbbells

Other Exercises You Can Do To Build Your Glutes

While all of these elliptical tips may help you target your glutes, you should really be incorporating other types of glute exercises if you want to see substantial booty gains. You also don’t need too much equipment for the majority of these exercises—a barbell, some dumbbells, and resistance bands should do the trick. 

RELATED: Best Resistance Bands For Glutes

Another beautiful thing is that these exercises work for all fitness levels. Beginners can start with no weights and work their way up, while advanced lifters can add more weights and/or reps.

There’s a big payoff, too, since the benefits of training your glutes go beyond aesthetics. Strong glutes can improve lower body strength3, power generation, speed, and agility, ultimately boosting athletic performance. Training your glutes can also help improve your balance and reduce injury risk.

resistance band glute bridge

Some of our favorite glute-building exercises include:

  • Glute bridge
  • Hip thrust
  • Clam shell
  • Fire hydrant
  • Standing kickback
  • Donkey kicks
  • Reverse lunge
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Goblet squat
  • Single-leg deadlift
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Step-up
  • Deficit sumo squat

If you want a step-by-step of how to do each movement, GGR senior staff writer and certified personal trainer Lauren Strong walks you through these exercises in our guide to the best glute exercises at home. Additionally, a certified personal trainer can help develop a workout plan specifically for your fitness goals.

Does the Elliptical Build Glutes? Final Thoughts 

An elliptical machine doesn’t build glutes like weightlifting, but it can help strengthen and condition this muscle, especially at higher incline and resistance levels. Regular cardio can also contribute to fat loss, which gives you a leaner look. That said, if you want to see significant growth in your glutes, you’ll need to lift weights.

Does the Elliptical Build Glutes? FAQs

Is running or the elliptical better for glutes?

It depends on what you mean by “better.” Both types of exercise activate your glutes, but studies suggest that muscular effort is about 60% lower on an elliptical4 compared to running. That means your glutes get a more intense workout when you’re running, but an elliptical is a low-impact workout that’s easier on the glutes (and other muscles) and better for rehabilitation.

RELATED: Elliptical Vs Running

What cardio machine is best for growing glutes?

The stair-stepper or stair climber is the best cardio machine for growing your glutes as the climbing motion targets the glutes, hips, and thighs. You can also get a similar workout by using a treadmill on incline, but you don’t have to max it out. An older study5 shows that a 5-degree incline may be best for glute activation.

What’s the number one exercise to grow glutes?

If we had to pick one exercise to help grow your glutes, it would be barbell hip thrusts. But there are many others you can do, too, like weighted Bulgarian split squats (don’t hate us), barbell sumo deadlifts, dumbbell glute bridges, banded abductors, and Romanian deadlifts. The bottom line? If you want to build muscle, strength training is the key. 

References

1. Youssef, L, Granet, J, Marcangeli, V, et al. Clinical and Biological Adaptations in Obese Older Adults Following 12-Weeks of High-Intensity Interval Training or Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training. Healthcare (Basel). 2022;10(7):1346. doi:10.3390/healthcare10071346

2. Brown, EC, Hew-Butler, T, Marks, CRC, Butcher, SJ, Choi, MD. The Impact of Different High-Intensity Interval Training Protocols on Body Composition and Physical Fitness in Healthy Young Adult Females. Biores Open Access. 2018;7(1):177-185. doi:10.1089/biores.2018.0032

3. McCurdy, K, Walker, J, Yuen, D. Gluteus Maximus and Hamstring Activation During Selected Weight-Bearing Resistance Exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(3):594-601. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001893

4. Eken, MM, Withers, A, Flanagan, K, Burger, J, Bosch, A, Lamberts, RP. Muscular Activation Patterns During Exercise on the Treadmill, Stepper, and Elliptical Trainer. J Strength Cond Res. 2022;36(7):1847-1852. doi:10.1519/JSC.00000000000037435.

5. Jeong, DE, Lee, SK, Kim, K. Comparison of the activity of the gluteus medius according to the angles of inclination of a treadmill with vertical load. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014;26(2):251-253. doi:10.1589/jpts.26.251

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