Hand Bike Exercises

A hand bike -- also known as an upper-body ergometer or increasingly as a Krankcycle -- is essentially a stationary bike with pedals for your hands instead of your feet. The exercises you perform with a hand bike focus on upper-body cardio work. Hand bikes started to show up at many fitness centers early in the 20th century and Kranking classes soon became a staple at many gyms.

Bicycle ergometers in a gym.
Credit: amriphoto/E+/Getty Images

Upper-Body Strengthening

In the same way a stationary bike works your legs, a hand bike works your upper body. As "Shape Magazine" states, a hand bike doesn't challenge your legs, but does work your arms, shoulders, chest, back and core. Although Kranking won't build your upper body in the same way as weight lifting, it will make you stronger. As the American Council on Exercise states, " Because the average person lacks upper body endurance and strength, most who try Kranking will experience noticeable strength and endurance gains."

Traditional Aerobic Exercise

Pedaling a hand bike for an extended period of time builds up your heart and lung capacity. As with all other types of aerobic activity, Kranking burns calories as well, helping you maintain or lose weight. A University of Wisconsin study, reported by ACE, found that a 30-minute Kranking class burned an average of 269 calories. Overall heart rate averaged 154 beats per minute, which is considered high-intensity exercise. Be sure to warm up and cool down for five to 10 minutes before and after aerobic workouts.

HIIT It Hard

You can also use a hand bike for HIIT exercise, interspersing bursts of all-out pedaling with periods of slow pedaling. A number of studies, including one reported in 2013 in the "American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal," indicate HIIT training appears to be just as effective as traditional aerobic training for building your cardiovascular system. In fact, just seven minutes at a high intensity on a hand bike can produce a complete aerobic workout. The resistance levels on the hand bike enable you to match the effort you need to pedal in all-out bursts to your particular fitness level.

Change it Up

Some hand bikes, including the Krankcycle, allow you to either sit or stand as you pedal. Since standing engages different muscles than sitting, you can enhance your workout by pedaling in different body positions. Some hand bikes and all Krankcycles feature independent pedals, so you can pedal with one arm at a time. As ACE points out, Kranking instructors vary tempo and technique in their classes, as well. Hand bikes are excellent cross-trainers for runners, who can lack upper body strength. They also are excellent choices for people with disabilities or injuries that keep them from running or walking. As with all aerobic exercise programs, if you are out of shape or have underlying health problems, get your doctor's okay before starting a hand bike program.

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