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Some think of strength training in terms of maximum strength, or how much weight a individual is capable of lifting (Bench Press or Back Squat Max), while others might be thinking more about functional strength, or the amount of strength necessary to efficiently work through your daily activities.
However you define strength training, one thing we can all agree on is that there are a great number of strength training philosophies out there, and programming for strength training can cover a very broad spectrum. For the purpose of this post, we’ll consider the Cybex Arc Trainer’s capabilities for those individuals who want to increase their lower body strength enhance all aspects of performance, from the ability to walk up stairs, to the ability to get through plateaus in maximum strength development.
When adding Arc Trainer programming to your strength training arsenal of exercises, what you really need to focus on is the ability to improve power. Increasing power can benefit many areas of your fitness and performance.
Power is the rate of doing work. Rate involves velocity; the faster you move, the less time it takes, and the greater the rate at which you’re doing it, and visa-versa. Work is force applied over a specified distance W=F*D. So power is: P=(F*D)/T.
There are several ways we might choose to increase the power component in a strength-training environment. We can increase force by adding resistance without allowing a decrease in velocity. We can also increase the velocity at which we move a constant resistance. Or, in the case of the Arc Trainer, we can increase both the resistance and the velocity at which we push the foot pedals. By increasing both the resistance and velocity we set up the program to increase power (and therefore improve strength) from both ends of the spectrum.
Maybe one of the most unappreciated capabilities of the Arc Trainer is its ability to create conditions which require a great deal of power. The Arc Trainer has a unique program called Constant Power, which maintains a constant level of power (displayed in Watts), regardless of stride rate.
In this mode, the user may choose to exercise at 250 Watts, and may start off fast, say at 150 strides per minute. As fatigue sets in though, the user may slow down to 110 strides per minute. When the velocity decreases, the Arc Trainer automatically increases the resistance to keep the user at 250 Watts, otherwise, the power output would decrease.
Where most resistance training exercises will have a variable velocity around a constant resistance, the Arc Trainer accommodates the variation in velocity by increasing and/or decreasing the resistance to hold the user at the desired power output.
I have to tell you, I started off as a non-believer. Strength and power from a cardio machine? I did not think this was realistic, and I was convinced that it was just hype from the manufacturer. Little did I know, my thoughts and concepts regarding strength and power training on the Arc Trainer were about to take a turn in a very positive direction.
I took the skeptic’s approach and tried it out myself…
I am a 36 year old, recreationally active male with a history of back pain, and I have been trying to increase my back squat max to pre-injury levels. After a major low back injury that caused a complete degeneration of the disk between L5 and S1, I began to get back into strength training 2-3 times per week for a period of 12 months. After this time, my squat max was hovering around 265 pounds, and although I was not having any discomfort at this load, any additional load seemed to cause discomfort in the lower back, which had seemed to cause a plateau in my strength improvements. So I decided to try out this 3 week - 3 days per week, Arc Trainer intervention.
During a 3-week period, I replaced my normal lower body strength-training regimen with a 25-30 minute training program on the Cybex Arc Trainer. This program consisted of only 3 days per week of power training on the Arc Trainer with no additional strength or fitness training during off days.
Day 1: Constant Power Mode
2 sets of 5 repetitions, in a 20 seconds on and 100 seconds off format. I manually increased the power level (increasing level of resistance and therefore Watts) after every repetition as fatigue allowed. 5 minutes of recovery was taken between sets. Power output ranged from 400-700 Watts per repetition.
Day 2: Managing Average Velocity with Constant Resistance
1 minute on 1 minute off for a 30-minute workout, with a focus on increasing the resistance every working minute as long as I was able to hold a pace of 120 strides per minute for the entire minute. Resistance was increased from 80% on the first week to 90% by the end of week three.
Day 3: Power Endurance
3 minutes on and 1 minute off for 24 minutes. The resistance started off at 35% and was increased to between 50% and 60% by the end of each session. This was a scheduled lighter day in the training, but by the end of week three, I was having trouble maintaining the 120 strides per minute required pace at 50% resistance and was approaching an over-trained state. This reinforced the need for the Constant Power mode, as my fatigue caused a reduction in velocity and therefore a loss of power as the workout progressed.
I went into the program with the expectation that my strength would most likely decrease and although I might see some gains in muscular endurance, I would probably not get improvement in max strength. I also expected that once I returned to my strength training program, which involved heavy back squatting, I might feel discomfort in the lower back due to the lack of any core work during this three week period.
The results were quite the opposite. Over the three-week period, my back squat max improved from 265 to 285 as seen in the chart below, and I experienced no soreness in my back during, or following, the return to lifting. In fact, I noticed that the loads felt much better on both my legs and lower back. I wanted to continue training on the Arc Trainer following this study 1x per week for the next few months, and although not as substantial, I continued to notice increases in one repetition back squat max at a rate of around 5 lbs every 3 weeks.
After about 2 months I was convinced that the results I had seen in the 3-week program block were purely coincidental, and I wanted to go back through it to see what results I could achieve. The second time through the protocol I noticed a 15-pound increase in squat max (going from 310 to 325), and again no discomfort in the legs or lower back from the max test.
If you notice in the graph below the trend line indicates just under a 5-pound increase every 3 weeks except in the shaded areas (2 Arc study 3 week blocks) where my max increase at a rate above this trendline.
After noticing the effects of this program first hand, we have used the Arc Trainer in our strength programs on a “Dynamic” (lighter, faster, more explosive power) day with great results. We have combined our explosive strength program with sprints of 10, 15, and 20 seconds on the Arc Trainer with multiple populations, and have seen great results.
In our opinion, the Arc Trainer is an awesome resource for training lower body strength because of its ability to improve the rate at which you perform the work or power. Although more research needs to be performed on this application, we have seen it work repeatedly in our sports performance, return to sport and adult fitness populations. I would highly recommend this protocol to anyone who is experiencing strength plateaus.
We will discuss the muscular endurance and functional strength benefits as well as the benefits for power and speed in subsequent blog posts.
Founder and CEO AthleteFIT
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