Elliptical machines are a great way to get an effective, low-impact cardiovascular workout. Ellipticals primarily target your glutes and the muscles in your legs by simulating stair-climbing, walking or running. By adjusting the machine's stride length, you can shorten the distance between your front and back feet at full extension, giving your calves a more thorough workout.
Gastrocnemius and Soleus
The two primary muscles in your calf are the gastrocnemius and the soleus, both of which stretch from your knee to your heel down the back of your lower leg. The gastrocnemius is the muscle responsible for the drumstick-like shape of your calf, and has a role in both knee and ankle flexion. Your soleus also plays a role in ankle flexion, primarily when the knee is bent.
Elliptical machines target your lower body, specifically your leg and gluteal muscles. Ellipticals are similar to treadmills in that they mimic the movements of running, walking or stair climbing. Unlike a treadmill, ellipticals can provide a smooth, steady workout without the jarring that normally comes from jogging. This allows for an impact-free workout for your quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles.
Nearly all ellipticals come with an adjustable stride length. This feature is included to allow people who are very tall or very short the ability to adjust the pedals to more comfortably fit their stride. You can also use this feature to focus on the different muscle groups in your legs. A longer stride will mimic the movement of running and keep your knees fully extended, which will primarily target your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. A shorter stride will force you to step more vertically and put more focus on your calves and ankles.
Remember to change up your stride lengths. Taking shorter strides can force you to lean too far forward as you step, ruining your posture and possibly leading to back and joint pain. Always warm up and cool down before and after working out on the elliptical. Warm up by doing light jogging in place, toe touches and hamstring stretches to loosen up the muscles in your legs. For a more intense workout for your calves, try walking backward. Many ellipticals have settings that allow you to switch the direction of the pedals, and stepping back forces your calf muscles to work harder.
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