Cybex ARC Trainer review: my cardio machine of choice

I’m not a huge fan of cardio machines. I find most of them boring and repetitive. I prefer to get my cardio done through metabolic strength training.

I can handle the treadmill and the rowing machine for short bursts. Warmups, cool downs and some HIIT (high intensity interval training) on those days when I’m not teaching step or spin.

If, however, I’m feeling like I need some extra, plain old cardiovascular training on a non-weight training day (like maybe the week after Valentine’s Day…), you’ll find me on the Cybex ARC Trainer.

Cybex ARC Trainer review

Kind of  like a cross between a stair climber, an elliptical and a good old Nordic track. It’s gliding motion is comfortable on the knees and ankles and it provides enough resistance to significantly elevate my heart rate. The Cybex ARC Trainer’s stride length seems to be longer than the average elliptical’s and I never feel like the handles are jerking my arms unnaturally.

It has an adjustable incline, allowing the user to mimic climbing a steep hill and changing the primary working muscled from quads to glutes. The 2:1 and 1:1 interval programs are my favorite.

Cybex ARC Trainer review

Last week, a 20-min interval workout (30 s high resistance, 60 s lower resistance, repeated again and again and again…) at a moderate intensity burned just over 260 calories.

Now calorie burn is not my primary focus when I’m working out (unless I have 1/2 pound of chocolate to ditch). But many of my clients pay close attention to the calorie display on cardio machines. Several of them have told me that they prefer the Cybex ARC Trainer over the alternatives specifically because they feel that it’s the best calorie-burner in the gym.

Usually I remind them that it’s not a good idea to compare workouts across machine types (or even machines; one elliptical may give you a completely different report than another). Bikes, ellipticals, treadmills and ergometers require your body to move in different ways, and as such, each machine uses a particular set of muscles to power the workout. Depending on which muscles are used (big vs. small), a similar length workout on two different cardio machines might be expected to result in vastly different caloric expenditures.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this articleHendrickson, K., Porcari, J.P. and Foster, C. Relative exercise intensity, heart rate, oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure when exercising on various non-impact cardio trainers. (Note: although I did find the article on Cybex’s website, the research was conducted independently and the science seems sound).

Here’s a recap;

Researchers took 16 people and familiarized them with three pieces of cardio equipment; the Cybex ARC Trainer, the Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer and the Precor Elliptical Trainer.

On each of three separate days, each subject completed a 30-minute, high intensity workout on one of the three machines (the order of exercise devices was counterbalanced across all subjects). Every 5 minutes, researches collected three pieces of information; (1) rate of perceived exertion, (2) heart rate and (3) oxygen consumption and calories burned.

The results surprised me.

  • RPE was virtually identical for all three machines (no subject felt that one machine was harder than an other)
  • Heart rate was similar for the ARC trainer and Adaptive Motion Trainer, but lower on the Elliptical. This, despite the same perceived effort as reported by the test subjects.
  • Oxygen consumption was significantly higher on the ARC trainer than on either of the other machines at the same perceived effort.
  • Over 30 minutes of exercise, the ARC trainer burned 16% more total calories than the Elliptical and 9% more calories than the Adaptive Motion Trainer at the same relative workout intensity.

Wow! My clients were right. The Cybex ARC trainer is the champion calorie-buster in the gym!

Note: I have no relationship whatsoever with Cybex. All opinions expressed in the post are mine and mine alone. If however, they wanted to send me an ARC trainer, I wouldn’t say ‘no’ and I’d happily wax poetic about them another time!

Do you do your cardio on a machine? Which one?

Have you ever tried the Cybex ARC trainer?

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Comments

  1. I have yet to try this piece of equipment. When I head to IHRSA in a few weeks I will see if one is there so I can hop on it in your honor. Step classes are my fave, then power walks outdoors, then cardio machine workouts (which I do like). Thanks for the research summary.

  2. I tried it once a LONG time ago but now you have me intrigued… Will try it on Thursday, because I have Zumba tomorrow. I have been using a Octane Fitness elliptical machine that my gym just got. I like that I can change the stride length. Once it gets warm in the morning’s I’m going to walk outside. I just started reading your blog yesterday and I’m in love. I’m excited to find healthy stuff and knitting in one place!! Are you on Ravelry?

    • Welcome Melanie!
      How are you liking Zumba? Looks like a fun, energetic workout! I’m not that coordinated (I teach step but only because I know what’s coming next!).
      I’m fitknitchick on Ravelry. Haven’t been spending as much time there lately though…

      • I’ve learned to love Zumba. Once I got passed the thought that I looked stupid or that I should be able to do everything exactly the way the instructor did (mind you she is super jumpy) I was good to go. I like it a lot :)

  3. Unless there’s a show to distract my attention, I just can’t do machines. I get so bored and watch the clock the whole time. Although, at the next convention, you have GOT to try the Sproing. You will love it and have fun. It’s great for those of us who have pushed out big-headed babies that make landings no fun. I’m going to copy my sis and try out this machine at the IHRSA convention as it sounds easy on the knees & bladder.

  4. I tried the ARC trainer and I couldn’t really figure it out. It just didn’t feel like much was going on. I’ll try it again, probably just need to get used to it. I like the stair climber because it’s hard work for me!

  5. Three words: increase the tension!
    I regularly get my heart rate up to 160 on it and feel my butt and legs the next day!

  6. I have used the ARC :), but not for awhile as I am training to do the sun run with my son (have I mentioned that I am not a runner?). At any rate, what I did find was that the machine wasn’t overly accurate when it came to calories burned. I wore my HRM and found I burned more than what the machine said I did. Treadmill results were even worse. At least the ARC was close!

    Oh, and I will never do jumping jacks in your class – just so you know. Three babies and my pelvic floor is just shot :)

    • Interesting. I’ve been wearing my HR monitor and the calorie count the machine gives me is close to the one my monitor shows. I do find it hard to get the ARC trainer to pick up my pulse though. I promise, I’ll never make you do jumping jacks. Maybe burpees though!

  7. Enjoyed your blog on the ARC Trainer. It backs up my suspicions.
    I’ve been exclusively using the ARC Trainer at our Family Y for 6 weeks and I have lost 13 lb. I didn’t go straight to the ARC Trainer when I decided to keep my New Years resolution. It was actually the last machine I tried. Mainly because they weren’t getting much use. Everyone was going to the ellipticals and treadmills. I guess because there were only two ARCs and they were stuck on the end of the back row. I tried the recumbent bicycle first because it looked like a comfortable way to burn some calories. Wrong! Unlike a regular bicycle, you can’t relieve the pressure on your rump by standing on the pedals. So then I tried the ellipticals. They wreaked havoc on my knees. When I finally got on the ARC Trainer I was hooked. It was so smooth but boy I could feel the burn in my muscles. The next day I went to Cybex’s web site to basically find out what all the buttons did. I found their ARC Trainer Audio Coach and put it on my iPod. After a couple of sessions with the coach I was trying out all the programs. I can’t decide on a favorite program because they all have their benefits. My favorite read out is the calories/hour. I try to keep it around 1000 calories per hour so my 30 min workout burns 500 calories. The highest I’ve gotten is 538 and that was on the Strength training program.
    Oh, I don’t use the treadmill or pound the pavement because I have a lower back problem.

    • Thanks for the comments Matt! I didn’t know about the Cybex’s ARC Trainer Audio Coach. I’ve just been using the programs on the the machine. Have to check it out! Glad you’ve found a cardio machine that you like; if you don’t like it, you won’t do it!

  8. I have used the Cybex Arc Trainer for almost 2 years now as the PRIMARY replacement for my running mileage since knee surgery 2 years ago this April.

    The Arc Trainer was such a successful add to my Ironman Triathlon training that I bought one for my home gym. I don’t have the same issues w/ long cardio sessions that you mention in your blog (although I do agree with you as to the benefits of metabolic strength training) and have done everything from 40 minute HIIT sessions to 3 hour weight loss steady state or cardio profile “long run” days.

    I would recommend the Arc Trainer to ANY of your clients, especially those that might be working toward a multi-sport event like a tri. The Arc Trainer having a longer stride length makes it much closer than the typical elliptical to a running stride and the incline/resistance component of the motion works the Cycling power muscles. I’ve even used the arm levers w/ a specific arm motion to build swim muscles w/ my “Swim Drill” that done on the peaks.

    Thanks for the info re: calorie burn, etc. I’m always posting my usage of the Arc Trainer on the Step2AccountabilityPartners face book page and your blog post and video will help our fans learn more.

    Cheers.

    Step2AccountabilityPartners

  9. I like the old time stairmaster best as a cross trainer to my running.

    • Me too! I haven’t used one in ages though (not since the early 90’s when I frequented the ‘Y’). My gym doesn’t have one :(

  10. Raymond S says:

    Does anyone know where I can buy a reasonably priced climbing machine? I remember finding one in a Sportmart store in the 1990s, but I don’t believe any major chains stock them any longer.

    • Raymond, I’m not sure. My local options for cardio equipment are Fitness Town and Fitness Depot. Have you tried Craig’s List or a website like it? You might have better luck there?

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  12. The gym I use has a large variety of treadmills & ellipticals. There is one Cybex Arc Trainer and I seem to be one of the few who use it. My days and times there are not consistent because of my flexible work schedule, but I never see anyone else use this machine. I don’t use treadmills because I find my knees will ache. I like the dramatic shifts in form/movement I can get with the Arc. Not sure I completely trust its calorie’s burned estimate, but very glad to read the research you shared. I’m 2 months in regularly using this machine; I’m going to stick with it.

    • Thanks so much for visiting and commenting. I never truly believe the calorie burns on cardio machines either. Always take it with a grain of salt and assume that you burned less! Lucky you in not having to compete for the Arc Trainer. We have 3 at my gym and they’re always full!

  13. I’ve just recently started using the Arc Trainer at my gym and would definitely agree with the results of the Cybex study. Using the elliptical trainer for my aerobic workout, with moderate exertion my heart rate hovers in the 145 range. Whereas with the same level of exertion on the Arc Trainer my heart rate is in the 160 range. I’m a guy and normally don’t pay much attention to calories burned readout, but I image a increased heart equals increased calories burned.

    • Jeff, thanks so much for sharing your experience! It mirrors what I’ve noticed myself and with my clients. And you’re right, in general, higher heart rates generate higher calorie burns.

  14. Just seen that all cardio machines at my gym is Cyber Arc Trainer. I’m very please with these sturdy machine with various programs. They are part of my workouts.

  15. Love the Cybex Arc Trainer. I like the Cardio program. That is the program that works best for me. I try to do an hour on it every time I use it. Sometimes if I’m up for it I’ll do 90 minutes. My record is 3 hours and 4187 burned… yeah that was a bit much… just wanted to see if I could do it. I’ll be hitting the Arc tonight too… 2 hours… shoot for 2100-2200 cals burned.

    • The interval program is my favourite; such a great workout. Just one question, why so much cardio? Are you training for an endurance event? I’m curious, because for most people’s fitness goals, splitting their time more evenly between cardio and strength training works wonders…

      • I like endurance tests. I don’t do marathon Arc Trainer sessions all the time. I also do strength training 5-6 days a week. I work on a different muscle group on each day. I am also starting higher intensity shorter duration cardio sessions. I like to mix it up to keep my body guessing. For someone that can go for a long time on Arc Trainer I am not your average cardio guy at 6’1 265lbs… I don’t look it though. People think I’m 200-215lbs. Guess I am an anomoly… :)

  16. i LOVE the arc trainer – they have them at planet fitness. i definitely feel i get a better workout on it than the treadmill. i will be on it later this afternoon!

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  19. I have been taking advantage of the elliptical this winter season to supplement my running, and I dislike to state it, but I’m in love. I feel like I can push a lot more challenging thanks to the lower effect than I can on a treadmill. I still switch over between both (and the stair stepper) when I cannot run or ski outdoors, but I definitely have developed a soft spot for that machine!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] choose a machine you don’t hate; everybody has a preference for one type of cardio machine over another. Even if you don’t like any of them, there will be one that you dislike just a little bit less than all the rest. Time really does fly by (infinitesimally) faster when you choose the lesser of all evils. My cardio machine of choice? The Cybex Arc Trainer! [...]

  2. [...] of movements that I couldn’t perform pain-free. Although I continued to teach and hop on the Cybex ARC trainer daily, I let my weight training slide. Rather than figure out what I COULD do, I worried a lot [...]

  3. […] the resistance stays under 70 (it scales from 0 to 100). Even my heaviest clients happily (?) use the ARC trainer, claiming that it’s gentle gliding motion is more similar to their natural stride than an […]

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