The hamstrings, located on the back of the legs, are involved in leg flexion movements. Leg flexion and extension play a major role in elliptical aerobic exercise. Some elliptical exercise machines have a mechanism that allows you to increase its incline, which simulates hill climbing. This will cause increased flexion of the legs, providing even greater use of the hamstring muscles. Elliptical machines that allow you to move in reverse will put more emphasis on the hamstrings.
The quadriceps are the muscles in the front of the thigh. They are activated during leg extension. Since the elliptical machine involves straightening the legs, it works the quadriceps, but don't be surprised if you don't feel them. Unlike the stationary bicycle, which puts most of the work in the quadriceps, elliptical machines provides an equally effective workout for the hamstrings, gluteals and , in some cases, the upper body. Because the other muscle groups are sharing the load, you are less likely to feel a considerable amount of work in the front of your thighs.
The gluteus maximus, also known as the butt, is actively involved in hip extension. Hip extension is actively used in elliptical workouts, especially when the machine is placed at an incline.
Triceps and Chest
Some elliptical machines have upper body levers. These machines activate the "pushing" muscles when the arms are straightened. The triceps, found in the back of the arm, and the pectoral muscles, which are the muscles supporting the chest, are considered pushing muscles.
Biceps and Back
If the elliptical machine has upper body levers, the "pulling muscles" will be activated when the arms are bending. Pulling muscles include the biceps, which are involved in elbow flexion, and the rhomboids, which pull the shoulder blades together in the back. Using the machine in reverse mode puts a greater emphasis on these muscles.
The Deep Core Muscles
Some elliptical machines do not have levers. If you avoid holding on to the machine for balance, your deep core muscles will be active during your workout.
The heart is a muscle. Since elliptical exercise is aerobic, it also works your heart.