You don't have to skip a cardio workout just because your legs feel like lead or your knees are creaking. The arm bike, also called an upper-body ergometer, gets your heart pumping while giving your legs a rest. Once found mostly in rehab centers, arm bikes are showing up more regularly in standard fitness centers because they are a solid cross-training alternative that adds variety to any fitness routine.
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Cardio and Calorie Burning
In 2010, the American Council on Exercise sponsored a study of a class that features pedaling arm bikes to the beat of music. The researchers concluded that using an arm bike in a group setting can provide a high-intensity, calorie-burning cardio workout. Participants burned an average of nine calories per minute while pedaling the bike and maintained a heart rate of about 86 percent of maximum during a 30-minute session.
Cardio for Leg Injuries
You participate in cardio to strengthen your heart and respiratory system, burn calories and build stamina. Most cardio workouts involve the large muscles of the legs. If you have a leg injury or are confined to a wheelchair, even low-impact options such as swimming or traditional cycling are off limits. The arm bike keeps you off the sidelines. A study published in the October 2010 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" found that the arm crank, or bike, was as effective at measuring physical fitness as a bicycling ergometer -- meaning that people who are temporarily or permanently disabled can still evaluate their physical fitness level.
Cross-training helps athletes prevent overuse injuries while still training to achieve a high-level of fitness. People who participate in a sport that requires a lot of work from the legs -- such as cycling or running -- have few options for cross training that provides aerobic conditioning but rests the legs. The arm bike offers true cross-training because it enables you to use your arms to build cardio endurance and improve your oxygen usage during exercise.
Upper Body and Core Strength
An arm bike works your chest, shoulders, back, arms and core muscles without the use of free weights or weight machines. Instead of having to do a separate cardio and strength workout, you can get them both done simultaneously on the arm bike. This saves time at the gym without compromising your results. University of Wisconsin exercise scientist John Pocari, author of the American Council on Exercise study, notes that most people don't do activity in daily life that builds a lot of upper-body strength but do a fair amount of leg-centric activity. The arm bike helps correct this imbalance.
Doing the same workout every day leads to boredom and diminishing results as your body becomes efficient. The arm bike offers an alternative to the health club standard--issue treadmills, stationary bicycles and elliptical trainers. Because most people aren't accustomed to pedaling with their arms, a workout on an arm bike can be more challenging than a slog on the treadmill. You don't have to possess a lot of coordination to join a class that features arm bikes -- but can still benefit from the motivation of an instructor and group environment.