The Elliptical Upper Body Workout: Results Depend on Crosstrainer Design

Those moving poles are meant to give you an elliptical upper body workout. But how effective are they in targeting the muscles of the chest, arms, shoulders, and upper back?

Building strength in muscles requires some actual weight lifting, so don’t think that the purpose of movable arms on a trainer is to increase muscle strength; instead, their purpose is to tone and condition the body which in turn helps you to burn calories and lose weight all over, and not just in the legs, butt, and hips where the largest muscles are.

Full Body, Low Impact Workout

The elliptical is considered a superior form of cardio training if your goal is to get a full body (where all the muscle groups are involved) and a low impact (less stressful on joints and back) exercise. The treadmill, in comparison, places more stress on the joints and skeletal frame than an elliptical.

By performing elliptical workouts for 30 to 60 minutes three times a week, you will build not only endurance for your muscles, but for your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) as well. And that’s where having the moving arms for an elliptical upper body workout is most effective, when your aerobic effort is maximized.

Why They Are Called Crosstrainers

Elliptical machines are designed so that, as you are striding in the pedals and your hands are pushing and pulling on the moving arms, you are working the core muscles such as the rectus abdominis and obliques (“abs” and “love handles”) by simulating a natural arm swing, which is what you do when walking or running. This motion enhances stability and balance in your body as well as burns calories which help to flatten the tummy, and strengthen back muscles along the spine.

The upper arms, chest, shoulders, and back are recruited in the movement as well. When you pull the handle back, the biceps and shoulders are doing more of the work, and then when you push the handle forward, the chest and triceps do the work. The goal is to get a full body workout using handlebars … but results depend on the specific design of the elliptical crosstrainer you own.

Not All Ellipticals are Equal

Some cheaper machines have moving arms with high pivot points that are not only uncomfortable to use, they actually don’t do anything to recruit upper body muscles as your hands are simply “holding on” to the handlebars moving in a fixed path. The best crosstrainers, such as those made by Octane and LifeSpan, to name just two, will offer converging path handlebars (moving slightly inward toward the body on the pull motion), to fully engage the core and upper body for an enhanced workout. So if you want an effective elliptical upper body workout, be sure to get a better quality trainer with the correct biomechanics to tone and condition the entire body.

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