For my cardio, I’m usually a running & spinning devotee (unless body pump and vinyasa yoga can be counted as cardio as well).  Never could get into the elliptical.  I joined a new gym recently, and they have arc trainers.  I’ve heard these are fantastic in terms of maintaining a high heart rate, working multiple muscle groups, and getting a great CV workout.  How do you feel about them?  Can you recommend good workouts to do on them.  Never having used it, I wouldn’t want to be totally clueless and not use it well.

Thank you!!


The arc trainer and the elliptical are pretty similar,  but it’s funny, because usually people only like one or the other.  The key difference is the motion of your foot, which travels in an arc, as opposed to an ellipse on the elliptical (clever, huh?)  Think of the movement on the arc trainer as cross-country skiing, and on the elliptical, riding a bike standing up. Arc Trainers also have adjustable inclines which is why people say they are more intense of a workout.

The claim with arc trainers is that the motion of the arc trainer lessens the stress torque on the knees and hips, and is a more natural motion for your body, reducing your chance of discomfort and possible injury.

Personally, I experience knee pain on the elliptical as the foot holders are a bit too wide apart to be natural for me, which causes soreness after a while.  However, I find the foot pattern of the arc trainer less natural, so I have to focus on each step more, which when doing cardio, is not ideal for me- I like to zone out.

The claim that it is easier to raise the heart rate using the arc trainer over the elliptical is because the arc has adjustable inclines (think cross-country skiing uphill). With an elliptical your only variables are speed and resistance, with arc, it’s speed, resistance and incline, which gives you more options. Heart rate is a matter on intensity, thought, and not what machine you are using, so it is possible to reach the same heart rate with each piece of equipment, you just have to adjust the levels.  Incline is, however, a sure-fire way to crank up the intensity of your workout.

Most people just have a preference of one or the other, and as long as you are doing something, you’re fine in my book.  One is not better than the other- as long as you have your heart rate up and you are doing it consistently, you’re fine.

Cross training is always a good idea, though, to avoid plateaus and boredom.

If you want to try out the Arc Trainer, try one of their already preprogrammed workouts stored on the machine, or take advantage of the inclines to get the most out of it on your own.

Everyone is different, depending on ability, injury, goals and age, so I cannot recommend a specific workout, but a 30 minute interval workout should give you the most bang for your buck.  Warm up for about 5 minutes, then slowly increase the level and incline every 5 minutes.  You should peak around the 20-25 minute mark (heart rate at about 85% your max) and then slowly bring down the incline and level to cool down.  How high your incline and level is up to your fitness level, but push yourself.

You can also experiment with pedaling forward and backwards to target different muscle groups and adjust your RPMs (how fast you are peddling) to focus on speed.  Some Arcs have both moving handles and stationary handles.   Despite popular belief, the moving handles don’t do too much for your arm strength or calorie burn, so use whatever helps you feel the most steady.

Tips for both Arc Trainers and Ellipticals:

  • Try to keep your body as stationary as possible (avoid bobbing up and down).  This ensures you are targeting your leg muscles instead of relying on momentum.
  • Keep your weight on your heels.  This prevents numbness in the toes.
  • Keep good posture to avoid knots in your neck and back.
  • Always completely stop the machine before attempting to get off.

If you have a question you would like me to answer, just email!