A hand bicycle workout may not burn many calories, but it has other benefits. Over time, it may increase your flexibility and range of motion while improving overall fitness. If you're trying to get leaner, incorporate intervals into your routine or add other exercises to the mix.
Why Use an Arm Ergometer?
The arm ergometer is widely used by physiotherapists and medical professionals worldwide. Also known as an upper-body ergometer, hand bike or arm crank, this machine works in the same way as a traditional exercise bike. The difference is that it comes with two pedals for your arms, not your legs. All you need to do is to sit down, grasp the handles and turn them with your arms.
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According to the Mayo Clinic, peak oxygen consumption on a hand bicycle machine is about 70 percent of the maximum oxygen consumption on leg cycle ergometers. Therefore, the arm bike places less stress on the cardiovascular system and doesn't require as much physical effort as a leg cycle.
Read more: How to Calculate Your VO2 Max for Cycling
Generally, health professionals use this device to measure arm working capacity or oxygen consumption during exercise. They may also recommend it to those who want to improve their upper body aerobic fitness or recover from injuries, reports a small study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science in January 2012.
The hand cycle machine may also benefit individuals with certain disorders that limit their range of motion (ROM). For example, a small study has found that that upper body training with a hand bike may help preserve and improve muscle strength, endurance and arm function in patients with early-stage muscular dystrophy to a greater extent than ROM exercises alone. These findings were published in the May 2015 issue of the journal Muscle Nerve.
Hand Bicycle Workout Tips
If you see a crank machine in the gym, you may use it to work your arm muscles. Although you won't burn as many calories as you would on a stationary stationary bike, there are some things you can do to engage more muscles and raise your energy expenditure.
Sitting on a stability ball while using the hand cycle machine causes the core and leg muscles to work harder to stabilize your body, which may help increase cardiovascular fitness. According to the International Journal of Exercise Science, this method is particularly effective at activating the rectus femoris, one of the quadriceps muscles, especially if you position your feet more forward and further apart.
For a steady workout, you can just sit on a chair or stability ball and pedal with your arms for 30 minutes or longer. Most machines allow you to set the desired speed and intensity level, so you can adjust these settings to make the exercise challenging.
Try high-intensity interval training (HIIT), for example. This way, you'll not only improve your cardiovascular fitness but also torch more calories.
A small study featured in Frontiers in Physiology in December 2017 has found that men who incorporated HIIT into hand cycling had greater improvements in maximum oxygen uptake and peak power output compared with the moderate-intensity continuous training group. Their hand cycling performance improved too.
Read more: The Truth Behind 5 Common Myths About HIIT
Furthermore, HIIT is clinically proven to reduce abdominal and visceral fat mass. Visceral fat wraps around your internal organs and may put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer, warns Harvard Medical School.
Wondering how to incorporate HIIT into your workout? All you have to do is to alternate between intense bursts of exercise and periods of rest or low-intensity training.
For example, you can increase the speed and intensity level on the arm bike for 30 seconds, slow down for another 30 seconds and repeat. Continue to do it for 15 to 20 minutes. As you progress, you may try Tabata, a four-minute workout that requires 20 seconds of high-intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest.
- Mayo Clinic: "Arm Ergometer Provides Alternative to Conventional Stress Testing"
- International Journal of Exercise Science: "Stability Ball Sitting Versus Chair Sitting During Sub-Maximal ARM Ergometry"
- Muscle Nerve: "Different Types of Upper Extremity Exercise Training in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy: Effects on Functional Performance, Strength, Endurance, and Ambulation"
- Frontiers in Physiology: "High Intensity Interval Training in Handcycling: The Effects of a 7 Week Training Intervention in Able-Bodied Men"
- Sports Medicine: "Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis"
- Harvard Medical School: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
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