Elliptical trainers are exercise machines fitted with foot pedals and handles that move back and forth in a synchronized motion. These machines are a great way to get a cardiovascular workout by working your heart and lungs as well as major muscle groups. The different muscles that you work will depend on which direction you are going.
Muscles Worked Pedaling Forward
When you pedal forward on an elliptical machine you are working the biceps femoris muscle. This muscle is a part of the hamstrings muscle group at the back of your upper leg. The forward movement calls this muscle into motion, and working it regularly will lead to a strongly defined hamstring. In addition, the muscles of your chest, back, and arms will be worked by the motion of the handles. Your lower legs will also get a workout, as well as your core muscles, which work to stabilize your body while you are on the machine.
Muscles Worked Pedaling Backward
When you pedal backward on an elliptical machine, you are primarily targeting your rectus femoris in the quadriceps. Your quads are the muscles in the front of your upper leg. The reverse motion puts the tension on this leg muscle, conditioning it for a toned and lean look. As with the forward motion, the muscles of your arms, such as your biceps, triceps and deltoids, will be worked by the motion of your arms on the handles. Your core, calf, back and chest muscles will also be toned by a reverse workout on the elliptical.
Because forward and reverse elliptical workouts tend to work opposite muscles in your upper leg, practicing both as part of your routine leads to a complete and balanced leg workout. Some machines will even direct you through a workout, instructing you when to pedal forward and backward.
Safety and Health Concerns
Pedaling in reverse takes some coordination and practice. When beginning, try holding onto the stationary handles before using the moving handles in conjunction with your legs. Once you feel comfortable with both the forward and backward motion, you can add the arm motions.
Joelle Dedalus began writing professionally for websites such as PugetSoundMagazine.com in 2009. She received her B.A. in English education at Iowa State University and is currently a M.F.A. candidate in creative nonfiction writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she is developing a manuscript on literary travel. Her areas of expertise include travel and literature, the outdoors and the arts.