What Muscles Does The Elliptical Work Going Backwards?

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Backward pedaling of the elliptical mainly exercises your rectus femoris thigh muscle and other quad and calves. Reversed exercise provides a various range of benefits, including better burning of calories and better cardiovascular health. You can always train better by maintaining a proper, balancing resistance, and strictly avoiding bad workout habits such as slouching, pedaling too hard, etc.

Elliptical machines have become a piece of mainstream equipment in the modern gym. Those who enjoy walking or jogging usually prefer this machine as you wouldn’t have to go running on the pavement, which is pretty much an obstacle course.

You’ll discover that using this machine in reverse can make a more challenging environment as it exercises a whole different set of muscle groups. So, exploring this mode would bring more energy and excitement to your working-out schedule.

But what muscles do the elliptical work on reverse? What other benefits can this backward use of elliptical give? How to compare forward and backward use of elliptical? Are there tips to better train on the elliptical? What should you avoid doing on the elliptical for an effective workout?

What muscles does the Elliptical work on reverse?

When using the elliptical machine the usual forward way, you will be working out your gluteal muscles and hamstrings. However, when you use this machine backward, you will be exercising your quads and calves to a far greater extent.

A man is using the elliptical on reverse, to work out a different part of his legs.

Because of the balance in the core muscles that this machine grants, by using it with proper form, you’ll be able to activate more of your muscle groups than most other famous exercise machines.

2005 study, revealed that the rectus femoris, being the top muscle of the four quads was mostly active during reverse striding on the elliptical.

It also revealed that the muscle activity for the gluteus muscles increased according to the difficulty, and the gastrocnemius (being the larger calf muscle) did not produce a noticeable effect in both reverse and forward ellipticals.

Are there other benefits of using the Elliptical backward?

You can note the below benefits after trying this reverse method.

A young couple is working out on the elliptical together, using it in the reverse motion.
  1. A magnificent calorie burner – Using the elliptical in the usual way would burn only about an average of 386 calories in a 30-minute workout. However, a 2007 study by the University of Wisconsin has revealed that people who make use of the reverse motion instead of the forward motion burn up 7% more calories.
  2. Interesting workout – Over time, your body gets used to the same workout, which is why mixing it up will give you better results. The more you enjoy your workout, the more you will feel challenged and motivated to do your best. So switching from the forward elliptical to the reverse elliptical from time to time will be an eye-opener for you.
  3. Helping injury – Elliptical machines offer even low and no-impact workouts. So, you could use one even when you’re recovering from an injury or suffering from any health conditions. In addition, you can use it on reverse to keep you engaged with the machine for longer and mixing it up even at a slow pace to boost morale.
  4. Boosting Stamina and Cardio – This applies to going both forwards and backward in an elliptical machine as it is ideal for cardiovascular workouts. You will notice that your breathing rates and heartbeat are elevated so that your muscles can be provided with more blood and oxygen faster. For intense training and even boost your stamina, you can always switch from forward to reverse and vice versa.

Using the elliptical frontwards vs on reverse

To compare the differences between both these methods, take a look at the below table.

Forward EllipticalReverse Elliptical
targets your quadriceps at the fronts of your thighs and gluteal muscles.targets your hamstrings at the back of your thighs and hip extensors.
Forward alone can bore you, but can be done faster and with less effort.Backward strides are slower than forward ones and can help improve your balance
Your body may get used to the same motions and provide lesser results.Increases cardiovascular health when including reverse elliptical strides.
Forward VS Reverse

Tips to better train on Elliptical exercising

A young woman is exercising on the elliptical at the gym.

Having no distractions is crucial to your elliptical workout. If you’re training properly, you wouldn’t have time to read a book during the workout. The more focused you are on your workout, the more it boosts your momentum.

An ideal intense elliptical training session would last around 30 minutes. Make sure you take intervals in between an intense workout. However, if you prefer going slow, it’ll be no issue at all as long as you lengthen the period.

If burning calories is your main goal in this workout, resistance is equally important. If done properly, elliptical training could even be the fastest way to burn up calories. So, make sure you use the resistance function in your machine to suit your fitness level.

Positioning yourself well is another technique to improve your overall exercise.

While standing straight on the machine, hold on to the hand-bars gently without leaning towards or backward from it. Also, be cautious that you don’t stay on your tip-toes as you move to and fro in the machine.

If you don’t follow this proper method, you might hurt yourself.

What not to do on Elliptical?

  1. Don’t pedal too hard – If you pedal hard, it’ll just be a tiresome process for you. Instead, you should try to pedal smoother and faster. When you pedal faster, you generate more momentum so that your legs have to spend less energy on every rotation. You can always turn the resistance up if you want more effective results.
  2. Don’t ignore your upper body – The elliptical is supposed to be a full-body workout. So, you will want to keep your core engaged the entire time. For this, you can swing your upper body and move your arms as much as possible.
  3. Don’t slouch – Slouching is something you should completely stay away from during your workout. If you slouch, you might be putting your low back at risk of injury. If you need to slouch to go ahead, then your resistance function is probably set too high. So, you need to discover your ideal balance of keeping your body upright while managing resistance.
  4. Don’t do the same routine all the time – This is the main reason why using the elliptical on reverse is important to your workout. If you do the same exercise on repeat, after a while your body becomes used to it and burns up fewer calories each time. So, it’s recommended to use versatile features such as reverse pedaling to make sure you progress in your workout.


Efficiency, calorie-burning, versatility, stamina, cardio, interest can all be boosted through mixing up forward and backward pedaling on an elliptical.

Depending on your level of training and goals, you can easily add reverse pedaling sessions on your elliptical machine to complement your forward striding session. This would result in a higher quality muscle strengthening process which you can look forward to and implement each day of your workout.

So, say goodbye to your old stagnant workout plan and say hello to a brand-new core workout session.

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Kavisha Rodrigo
I'm a sports person that enjoys researching into pushing the limitations of the human body. When it comes to health, I'm a big fan of working out and staying healthy. For hobbies, I'm a big fan of Pokemon and Coldplay.

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