Increasing the tone of the muscles in your legs requires you to consistently overload those muscle groups and then provide periods of rest in between training sessions. An elliptical machine and a bike both require your leg muscles to propel the machines, and provide some toning benefits; however, neither is the most efficient exercise for developing muscle tone.
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Although the upper body and core are involved in keeping you stabilized when you ride a bike or an elliptical, it’s the lower body that’s doing most of the work. The primary leg muscles used in both elliptical and biking exercises include the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles.
Toning, or increasing lean muscle mass, is developed by consistent and progressive weight training. As you break down and overload your muscle groups, you create minor tears within the muscle fibers. Your body responds by healing the fibers back stronger and at an increased size. Weight training, as well as calisthenic exercises such as squats and lunges, are the most effective toning choices.
Elliptical and Bike
Riding elliptical machines and bikes are cardiovascular activities that do require activation by the major muscle groups of the legs. Cardiovascular exercise is done at a submaximal intensity, typically over a longer period of time. The major muscle groups of the legs are significantly used to pedal, and using the machines at a high resistance level may stimulate the muscle toning process.
Biking or riding the elliptical at a lower resistance is unlikely to provide much toning. If the workouts are completed at a high enough intensity, such as riding up hills or pedaling against a difficult enough resistance, it is possible to adequately overload the muscles for toning. To increase muscle tone, increase the resistance of the machine for short periods, and then recover at a lower intensity. For example, after you’re finished warming up, raise the resistance so that you’re struggling to pedal for one minute, and then lower the resistance so that you can pedal with greater ease for the next three minutes before increasing the resistance again.
The Fat Factor
Consistently riding an elliptical or bike also facilitates muscle toning by promoting weight loss. Muscle definition is increased when you’re at a healthy body composition, as it limits the fat layer that is located over the top of the muscle. To most effectively tone your leg muscles, complete your cardiovascular activity of riding an elliptical machine or bike for three to five days per week, and also incorporate two days of strength training.