I’ve cross trained with a variety of methods and machines over my time as a runner. There might be more runner-specific cross training methods than the ARC Trainer, but you won’t find one simpler and more readily available in most gyms.
The ARC Trainer is a machine developed in 2003 by a company called Cybex International. Your legs move forward and back on tracking similar to an elliptical, except the motion is more straightforward, and the angle is closer to that of running uphill. On some ARC Trainers the arms may move as they do on ellipticals, but on most (including the ones at my gym) the handles are stationary and only your legs are intended to move.
The ARC Trainers are usually empty at gyms where they’re available (including my current gym), and it’s a bit of a surprise they have stuck around this long given their limited popularity. But they’re still present in many big gyms, and after discovering them recently I quickly discovered that they’re my most effective cross training tool. When the gym’s packed and everyone’s crowding the weights, treadmills and ellipticals, the ARC Trainers are a widely available and welcome training option.
When using an ARC Trainer, I keep the incline set at 7 and the resistance at 16. That seems to be an easily doable but demanding-enough medium. Perhaps in time those levels become easy enough that I increase one or both settings.
But 30-60 minutes on the ARC Trainer challenges me enough aerobically to get my heart rate out of idle fat burning mode and into recovery range, akin to an easy run… but without the physical pounding you get from a run.
The range of motion is like a run, without the step over step impact that produces wear and tear in a regular run. You can lean back into more of an upright standing position for a bit of extra challenge, working on maintaining decent posture plus your range of hip socket motion as you continue.
I get tired during the workout, but the ease of motion makes it easy to keep moving through the rest of the workout. Granted, it helps that I have decent core and hip strength. Leaning back on the machine or even letting go of the handles for a moment isn’t a super difficult task thanks to my strength and overall balance.
I get off the machine feeling tired like a workout, but my legs (while perhaps tired and maybe a bit stiff) still feel strong as compared to worn out or even beat up.
While I won’t burn as many calories or take the same pounding as a run would, the calorie burn comes closer than the other cross training options. My typical ARC Trainer session burns about 75 calories every 10 minutes, akin to slowly running or power walking a 16:40 pace. One hour on the trainer at my typical intensity is akin to running an extra 3.66 miles.
Since I burn more fat than glycogen, the ARC Trainer may be a very useful running substitute on days before and after very demanding workouts, where I want to put in some aerobic volume but also either want to conserve glycogen or give those glycogen stores a chance to restore. It can also help extend a workout by using it right after a run, adding some aerobic work without adding running’s extra wear and tear.
So go figure, since re-joining the gym, that I’ve spent the most time there on the least popular machine there. However, as a runner it might actually be the most effective method for cross training at the gym.