How to Work Out on an Arc Trainer

By Lisa M. Wolfe

The arc trainer is a stationary, cardiovascular exercise machine. When you change the incline, you change the workout. The lower inclines resemble a cross-country ski motion, the midlevel inclines mimic an elliptical trainer and the higher inclines compare with stair climbing. You can match the intensity and workout to your fitness level as you enhance your cardiovascular health. For an optimal cardiovascular workout, aim to use the arc trainer for 30 to 60 minutes at least five days a week.

Resistance Levels

The arc trainer's resistance levels change how fast you pedal the machine. The resistance controls the amount of force that you push against as you exercise. Most arc trainers have resistance levels between zero and 60. Select a resistance level that allows you to exercise at a steady state between 30 and 60 minutes. At the end of your workout, you should feel fatigued, so avoid selecting a resistance level that is too easy. You can vary the resistance level as you exercise to create an interval workout. For example, exercise for two minutes at a light resistance of 15 and then exercise for one minute at a heavy resistance between 50 and 60 before returning to a level 15 resistance.

Incline Levels

The resistance isn't the only variable on an arc trainer. The incline level of the arc trainer also changes the intensity of your workout. Most trainers have 21 incline levels. The crescent-shaped movement of your legs in the pedals gets more intense the higher you place the incline. Leave the incline at one level throughout your 30- to 60-minute session or increase and decrease the inclines to create intervals. For example, exercise for two minutes at an incline between zero and three and then exercise for one minute at an incline of seven to 10 before returning the incline between zero and three.

Pre-Set Modes

If you do not want to think about changing the resistance or incline, which is known as manual mode, and just want to get on the machine and go, select one of the pre-set workouts on the arc trainer. Different models of the arc trainer offer varying workout modes, but most include pre-set workout options such as weight-loss, strength-training, cardio and power. You input the maximum pace, resistance and incline and the machine create an interval workout based on your weight-loss, strength, cardio and power goals. Some of the arc trainers have movable handrails. When possible, if it doesn't feel too taxing, use the movable handrails to burn more calories and increase the workout's intensity.

Cardio Workouts

When 30 to 60 minutes at a time is too much exercise, begin with 10 minutes and aim to use the arc trainer three times a day. Gradually increase your duration until you are able to maintain your workout for at least 30 minutes. Once you are able to perform a workout at a steady state, with no change in the resistance or incline, add intervals to increase your endurance. Start with small changes in the resistance and/or incline and for short durations such as 30 seconds, and then return to a comfortable pace to recover. When this becomes easy, use high-intensity intervals to boost your power. For example, increase the resistance and incline to a level that feels the most difficult and remain there for 30 seconds. Then, return to a comfortable resistance and incline for one to two minutes for recovery before you pick up the pace again.

Workout Reminders

Begin your arc trainer workout session on a light resistance and low incline. Pedal at a slow pace for three to five minutes to warm your legs and arms, if using the handrails. After your cardiovascular workout, return to a light resistance, low incline and slow pace for three to five minutes to cool down and lower your heart rate.

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