A List of Cardio Machines That Work the Legs at the Gym

Couple using elliptical machines

Your legs do the bulk of the work of moving you around as you go about your day, and they contribute significant power to sports such as baseball, tennis and golf. Exercise machines that work your lower body help you improve muscle strength and can make your calves, thighs, hips and behind look more shapely and sexy. Gyms and fitness centers offer a variety of exercise machines that help you work your legs while you burn calories.


A treadmill is one of the most common pieces of exercise machines that work your legs. It’s easy to use, lets you work at your own speed and -- if it comes with an electronic console -- lets you create a variety of cardio workouts. The forward-walking motion you perform on a treadmill starts on an even plane, which you can change, depending on the machine you use. If the machine lets you create an upward incline to the walking surface, you’ll use more calf muscles to propel yourself. If it can create a downward slope, you’ll use your quads to brake you as you walk.


An elliptical creates a motion similar to pedaling while standing on the pedals of a bicycle. It’s a nonimpact workout, since your feet never leave the pedals, and it works your hips, butt, quads, hamstrings and calves with the forward-pedaling motion. Pedaling backward, you can work your calves and hamstrings a bit more than you can on a treadmill, according to Dr. Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic.

Exercise Bike

Using very little resistance on an exercise bike, you can create a spinning workout with fast pedaling. You can raise the resistance to build more muscle while you burn calories. You can stand and pedal on an upright model, but you must stay seated on a recumbent bike as you lean backward. An exercise bike works leg muscles that include the calves, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes. Standing on the pedals engages your quads more. On a recumbent bike, you use fewer core and back muscles, emphasizing your quads and hamstrings more because of the reclining position.

Rowing Machine

A rowing machine, or ergometer, coordinates your arms and legs as you pull and push the machine’s levers or cords. In addition to working all of the muscles of the legs and hips, you engage your chest, back, core and arm muscles. The quads provide much of the power to perform the motion of pushing you backward, with the hamstrings assisting. The quads then brake you as you move forward. You can emphasize your legs more by using less arm effort to move the machine.

Stair climbers and steppers are similar in that they mimic the motion of walking up stairs. Some stair climbers actually look like a series of stairs that move continuously as you climb them, rotating back around as you reclimb them over and over. Stair steppers resemble ellipticals, but create a climbing -- rather than pedaling -- motion. These machines work all of your lower-body muscles, emphasizing the hips, calves and quads more than a treadmill or exercise bike because of the effort it takes to perform the downward motions.

Weight Machines

Weight machines allow you to perform a variety of cardio workouts by letting you decrease the resistance so that you can do high-intensity reps. Universal machines allow you to perform exercises such as leg presses, squats, calf raises and leg adduction and abduction exercises. Move from exercise to exercise every 30 to 60 seconds with a 15- to 30-second break between exercises.