Hand Crank Exercise


Hand crank exercises are typically performed on an upper-body ergometer (UBE), which is also referred to as an arm ergometer or an arm-cycle ergometric machine. Once used exclusively in rehabilitation environments, the UBE can now be seen in many fitness facilities and used as a cardio and upper-body strengthening machine. A training program consisting of a variety of hand-crank exercise patterns and combinations can help you maintain and improve your health and fitness.

Crank Machine Basics

  • The UBE can be described as an upside-down bicycle you pedal with your hands. Most can be adjusted to varying degrees of resistance to match an individual's strength. The main console can be set to different heights to provide varying exercise angles and to allow you to crank while standing. The seat usually has a height, forward and backward adjustment and is removable on most crank machines to allow wheelchair access. A typical sitting position has the console adjusted so the axis of the crank is the same height as your shoulders and the seat is set so you can maintain a slight bend in your elbows when you extend your arms.

Exercise Patterns

  • Most machines allow forward or backward patterns. Adjust the machine to a forward direction and grab the handles. Pedal forward with both hands moving together, side by side. An alternate pattern is to pedal forward with just your right or left hand. A split pattern is with one hand forward and the other backward and you pedal in a similar way your feet pedal a bicycle. The same patterns can be performed backward once the machine has been readjusted.

Sample Workout

  • For an intense workout, try interval training, which is where you vigorously pedal for a short amount of time and then recover at a slower pace. For example, set the resistance and pedal forward as fast as you can with both hands together for two minutes. Reduce the resistance and continue at a slower pace for one minute. Reset to the higher resistance and pedal with just your right hand for one minute, followed by one minute at a lower resistance. Repeat with your left hand. Reset to the higher resistance and pedal as fast as you can with a split-hand pattern for two minutes, followed by one-minute at a slower pace. Perform the same sequence of patterns in a backward direction.

Benefits of Cranking

  • Hand cranking burns calories and elevates your heart rate, which helps to improve your cardiovascular system. A study conducted by the American Council on Exercise showed the average heart rate of a study group consisting of 20- to 30-year-old men and women was about 154 beats per minute during a 30-minute session. The same group burned an average of 393 calories. Cranking provides individuals with lower-body mobility issues the opportunity to maintain and build upper-body strength as well as improve their cardio endurance. Working on an UBE can fulfill the exercise requirements set forth by the American College of Sports Medicine -- 30 to 60 minutes of moderately-intense exercise five days each week or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorously-intense exercise three days each per week.

Cranking Precautions

  • Before you begin your workout session, perform a short, light aerobic warm-up to avoid muscle strains and pulls. Joe Warpeha, an exercise physiologist and strength coach, states that hand crank workouts can cause a significant rise in your blood pressure. Because of this, Warpeha advises individuals who suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure to consult their doctor before engaging in crank exercises. Also check with your doctor if you are older, have been sedentary for an extended period, or have diabetes, arthritis or a respiratory condition.

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