What Muscles do Cross Trainers work

How Do Cross Trainers Work?

These days, Fitness is becoming more popular than ever. It seems everyone you meet is discussing their last workout, how hard their personal trainer pushes them, what macro-nutrient split they are using for their diet and of course, which areas of their bodies they are most looking to change. With the latter being the most common.

Everyone wants to know how to most effectively combat their ‘trouble’ areas. The true answer to this question is consistent hard work, consistent clean eating and consistently making smart choices when life throws those unavoidable challenges at us. What to order from the menu of your favourite restaurants? Whether or not to have an ice cold lager while on a hot summer holiday? Do I get out of bed 2 hours early for my morning fasted cardio session?

The truth about trouble areas is that the popular myth of ‘spot reduction’ is actually that, a popular and warming myth which wraps our worries comfortably in a nice woollen blanket, giving us the impression that we needn’t worry about that extra beer, extra-large serving of fries or naughty late night snack as long as we do an extra set of sit-ups or dreaded burp-ees the following day. The sad story is that we should worry, the answer to our prayers lies not in pseudo-science but in the aforementioned hard work and consistency.

But it’s not all bad news, while we can’t focus on certain spots to pin-point fat burning, we can make use of certain exercises that target muscular growth and toning, that, when used alongside consistent diet, will give us the results we need. So whether its eradicating those bothersome bingo wings or blasting belly fat to get bikini ready in time for the beach, help is at hand.

The gym is a whole universe of useful tools just waiting to be explored and taken advantage of in our mission of pursuing aesthetic perfection. The different tools use the body in different ways  in order to help us achieve our fitness goals. The area in most commercial or corporate gyms that is often most busy with fitness fanatics is the cardiovascular area. Generally lines and lines of treadmills and cross-trainers facing out of the window, giving you a healthy reminder that while you are in the gym working hard at looking and feeling good, the other 95% of non-gym goers are obliviously going about their lives, expanding their waistlines and ignoring their health.

Today I’m going to discuss one of the tools at our disposal. The Cross Trainer. The Cross Trainer (or Elliptical Trainer) first entered the market in the 1990’s, produced by a company called Precor. They were made popular by capitalising on the segment of the exercise crowd looking for something a little less challenging than the treadmill. That’s not to say the Cross Trainer can’t be a real challenge in itself, it absolutely can, especially with custom workouts, but it is a lot less hard on the joints and gives the user a much gentler option for their daily workout.

Gym mythology would have it that the Cross Trainer, being an easier option for total workout difficulty, works our muscles less effectively than some of the more robust and challenging machines. I’m going to debunk that myth by giving you a full list of all the primary muscles worked by the cross trainer during an average workout.

Starting from top to bottom here goes..


The cross trainer has handles that swing in rhythm with the force produced by the legs. If we grab these handles we can exert push/pull force that can increase the total energy expenditure of the workout. The origin of this force comes from one of our engines, the shoulders. The push and pull may seem like it is being created by the arms but really the arms are just the work horse of the shoulders. Next time you jump on the cross trainer and use the upper handles (which should be all the time) I want you to really focus on the force creation and stabilisation being generated by the shoulders. Because of the Push/Pull nature of the upper handles you not only work the front of your shoulders, but also the centre and the rear. For those of you that like a (small amount) of technical knowledge here are the names of the different primary shoulder muscles being worked.

  • Anterior Deltoid.
  • Medial Deltoid.
  • Posterior Deltoid.

For those of you left perplexed by the anatomical terminology

Anterior = Front

Medial = Middle

Posterior = Back

Deltoid = Shoulder

So for strong, sexy and toned looking shoulders, remember the Cross Trainer and remember to squeeze your shoulders as you push and pull hard on the upper handles as you train.


We’ve covered the shoulders being the engines that drive the arms but now let’s take a closer look at the arms themselves. For the purpose of this article all we need to learn about are the biceps and the triceps. The biceps, the bulging tennis balls that can be seen on the regular patrons of the weights area, are engaged when we pull the handles towards us, the more vigour with which we pull the more we will fire up those biceps. The triceps are actually a group of three muscles that are on the back our arms. The area that is known by many a sad soul as ‘bingo wings’. Just as the pull phase will work the biceps, the more powerful triceps are focused on the pushing phase.

  • Biceps = Group of 2 muscles on the front of the upper arm that focus on pulling.
  • Triceps = Group of 3 powerful muscles on the back of the arm that push.


We don’t traditionally think of cardiovascular work, especially the Cross Trainer being an effective method of training the chest, usually leaving the chest for the aspiring hercules’ grunting away on the bench press. However as with all muscles, none are the exclusive to the bodybuilders and figure athletes alone. That same pushing, which is so effective at working the triceps also hits the chest. Try it now, place you right hand on your left upper pectoral (chest muscle) and with the left shoulder tight and engaged, push hard with the left arm under tension, you can feel the chest muscle squeeze right? This works much the same with the Cross Trainer, except with the cross trainers added resistance the chest muscle is working even harder.

  • Pectoral = Chest.


The body, or rather the muscles are one big chain, firing one muscle will fire the next in the chain. The same relationship that sees the triceps firing the chest, also sees the pulling of the biceps firing the back. The back for all intents and purpose is split into two different action areas. I refer to these as the row and the pull. The Pull is dictated by the muscles that attach near the armpit and run down the flank and then connect up around by the lower back. We call these the Latissimus Dorsi (lats). If we purposefully depress our shoulders while pulling back on the handles we can get achieve an adequate squeeze on the lats. The lats give us that much desired v-taper of wider shoulders descending down into a narrow waste. The second main action is the row. The muscles responsible for the row are the muscles of the mid-back. These include the Trapezius and the rhomboids. These are excellent postural muscles as well as giving a nice toned appearance to our backs. We activate these muscles by ensuring on the pull back of the upper handles we really force our shoulders back and squeeze our upper back muscles together.

  • Latissimus Dorsi = V-Taper
  • Trapezius and Rhomboids = Mid-Back

The Core

The Core, or more commonly known as the Abs, are perhaps the most important area that any exercise incorporates. To Activate the core while exercising is simple. We just have to squeeze our stomach area, making it reasonably tight. This won’t produce abs of steel, rather something far more important, a safe and a solid foundation that will help protect the spine and better transfer force through to the limbs.

  • Abs = We all know what, and where, they are.

The Glutes

The glutes, the bottom, has over the past few years risen to the pinnacle of physical achievements. It is now the main goal of most women and even though they won’t so readily admit it, most men, to have pert and even large behinds. The Cross Trainer is probably the most effective of all cardiovascular equipment at putting focus on the glutes. As with other muscle groups the way to hit them is to actively activate them during exercise. On the Cross Trainer as you push your leg forward and down squeeze your bottom tight, this will ensure maximum engagement of the glute.

  • Glute = Bottom


The quadriceps are a group of 4 muscles that sit on the front of our upper legs and amongst other things dictate producing force off the floor, raising our leg towards our hip and extending the hip at the knee. All three of these motions are used during use of the cross trainer and again, the harder you squeeze these muscles, the more you will engage them, and the stronger and more functional they will become

  • Quadriceps = Upper Legs (front)


Much like the Quadriceps of the front of the upper leg, the hamstrings are a large and very powerful group of muscles on the rear of the upper leg. Just as you push with the quadriceps to create the forward motion required to move the leg forward during Cross-Training, you pull with the might of the hamstrings to get the legs back into position ready to again engage the push of the quadriceps. The hamstrings are extremely important for keeping knee pain at bay and training of them needs to be at least equal if not twice as much as the quadriceps.

  • Hamstrings = upper legs (rear)


The last muscle group we are going to cover are the small group of muscles that work to produce force and stabilise the ankle joint. During Cross-Training you can place emphasis on different parts of the feet in order to work certain areas of the calves harder, however this is not a sensible approach. The calves can become very tight, very easily, and this can lead to all kinds of problems further up the muscular chain. It’s far more judicious to keep the feet flat and allow the constant even flow of energy passing through the lower leg maintain a stable and fully mobile ankle area.

  • Calves = Lower leg

In Conclusion

We can see that Cross Trainers are a great exercise choice that are low risk, challenging and in terms of muscles worked are all-encompassing. There is a reason since their inception they have gained and maintained to this day such a following among men and women alike. If you are looking for a total body workout without too much wear and tear on the joints then you know that Cross Trainer is the equipment for you.

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