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A Runner’s Guide to the Arm Bike

August 6, 2009

Because I couldn’t find anything like this when I got hurt, I figured it may benefit someone to dedicate a post to how to get a workout on the arm bike.

I have done many types of cross training during the long months I’ve been unable to run: Stationary bike, Elliptical (gag), Pool Running (the best out of all of these!), and ultimately the dreaded arm bike. At first I was very intimidated. My arm strength, like most runners, isn’t exactly the best. I neglected arm workouts when I was un-injured, and I don’t believe that was entirely wrong. One can only workout so much, you should be doing as much quality running as possible and then supplement it with cross training when healthy… I digress.

Here’s how you do it: adjust the chair so your shoulders are at the same level of the axis, and move the seat to a position where your feet would be flat on the ground. When I began, I tried 15 minutes pedaling forward, then 15 minutes backward. I HATED it, and felt like I was getting nowhere (well, duh!). After a couple attempts I realized several things:

  1. You need to put it at a resistance that is only slightly challenging to start. If you’re looking for cardio, too high of a resistance will make you go too slowly to get your heart rate up.
  2. 5 minutes, my friends. 5 minutes forward, 5 back, 5 forward, 5 back. It is short enough to keep your focus, and breaks up the workout
  3. Don’t get discouraged after the first couple tries.

This was not a cardio workout for me at first, but once I got better I started to go faster and actually work up a sweat. If you work hard enough, the evil arm bike can actually leave you panting! (Ooh! I missed that!) I started with 30 minute workouts, which is shorter than I usually do cardio for, but was all I could take. Eventually, those faded into 45 minute sessions and the 60 minute workouts. I defiantly, after 3 weeks, see a huge improvement in my biceps, shoulders, and even back.

Probably one of the most boring pieces of cardio equipment, the bike discourages many first timers. What can you do?

  • Listen to music… iPods become more crucial during injury!
  • Watch the TV of a nearby elliptical (he he, this is what I do…)
  • Visualize a track workout, a practice or a long run. You’ll be back there soon and QUICKER if you keep it up!

Find some benchmarks and goals, for example in 30 minutes you typically cover ½ a mile… Next time, try to beat that. Or play the 10 minute game where you see how far you get in 10 minutes, and then beat it the next time and the next time, repeating until your workout is done. Keep an eye on your watts and don’t let them slip.

So where would an injured runner find one of these bikes?

  • Most gyms have one
  • YMCAs almost all have one, as they cater to members with handicaps
  • Physical Therapy offices almost always have one

Just remember: don’t give up, make the best of it, and laugh at yourself. (Because everyone else is laughing at you… you look like you’re reeling in a fish for God’s sake!!) J

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