Arm cranks, also known as arm or upper-body ergometers, enable you to pedal with your arms on an exercise machine that resembles an inverted stationary cycle. People recovering from lower-body injuries or those who are wheelchair-bound typically use arm cranks for cardio workouts. Athletes, such as swimmers or triathletes, use upper-body ergometers to complement lower-body training and build the strength of their arms and shoulders.
Types of Ergometers
There are different types of upper-body ergometers, ranging from a simple arm crank that sits on your countertop to a cycle ergometer with electrical brakes. Some ergometers are specifically designed for wheelchairs. Compared to stationary cycles for your legs, the arm ergometers found at the gym typically have a shorter crank arm length. Because of the shorter lever, it takes significant effort to sustain an upper-body workout. According to Joseph Warpeha's article вЂњUpper Body Ergometry: The Most Underused Aerobic ExerciseвЂќ in the National Strength and Conditioning Association's вЂњPerformance Training Journal,вЂќ you'll experience a more substantial rise in your blood pressure during an upper-body aerobic workout when compared to a lower-body aerobic workout.
Set Up to Crank
To perform an exercise on an arm crank or upper-body ergometer, take hold of the handles, which resemble a bicycle's pedals, with your palms facing in or using a neutral grip. Envision the motion of pumping your arms when you run but rotate your hands in circles. You can move your arms in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Begin by adjusting the height of the seat so your shoulders align horizontally with the rotational axis of the machine. If your shoulders are either higher or lower than the axis, it may cause some strain. Also gauge the distance of the seat from the crank so when your arms are at the furthest point in the cycle, your elbows are bent at about a 5- to 10-degree angle. Perform a proper five- to 10-minute warm-up, which can include arm swings, arm circles and shoulder circles, to prepare your upper body for the rigor of cycling.
By pedaling your arms against resistance, it's as if you're pumping your arms with a set of a dumbbells. The purpose of this workout is to strengthen the muscles in your shoulders, arms and obliques, or the muscles that run along the sides of your waist. To set the tension level, you typically turn a knob that controls the level of resistance. Compared to other exercise machines, such as a stationary cycle or elliptical trainer, use a tension that is much lower. For example, crank for 10 minutes at a speed of 50 to 60 rpm, using a resistance of anywhere between five and seven, according to "Fitness" magazine. Every two minutes, change the cycling direction of your arms -- forward to backward or vice versa. As you grow stronger, you can increase the level of resistance, boosting the intensity of an upper-body strength workout.
Workouts for Your Heart and Lungs
Cardio workouts on an arm ergometer are designed to raise your heart rate and improve the fitness of your cardiorespiratory system. Gradually build your endurance until you're able to crank for a 30-minute stretch. If you can maintain a steady pace, you'll burn more than 300 calories per hour. Once you've built a base of strength and endurance, you can do an advanced interval session. For example, begin by cranking with only your right hand at 65 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 seconds. Do another 30 seconds with only your left hand. Increase the level of resistance a notch and crank with two hands for two minutes at 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. Perform three more reps of two-minute intervals, cranking at a maximum heart rate of between 85 and 90 percent. Take one-minute recovery periods between the two-minute intervals, reducing your cadence and slightly lowering your heart rate. Finish the workout with four 30-second intervals, using only one hand and alternating between your right and left hands.
About the Author
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.