What’s This, and What’s It Do?

By Andy Rivadeneira, C.P.T. – April 1, 2014
photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

Now that we find ourselves well into the new year, I hope that all of your fitness endeavors are moving along with a full head of steam. Some may be pleased with their results while others may be frustrated to the point of throwing in the towel. The bottom line is, whether you are succeeding or falling short, exercise will play a major role in your fitness karma.

It is very likely that you have heard or read that nutrition is the most important component to weight reduction but, if you’re looking to slim down for your new bikini or fluorescent board shorts, that juice diet can only get you so far. At some point, your efforts in the gym or outdoor boot camps have to pick up the slack. What you may not realize or even understand is that the fitness equipment you’re using—as well as how you are using it—could have a significant impact on your weight loss goals and your overall fitness experience.

I’ve compiled a review of cardio and strength equipment that may help with accelerating weight loss, alleviating your joints, and making your cardio experience a little less of a grind (pun intended!).  So let’s get to it and learn a bit about the Cybex Arc Trainer, Concept 2 Rower, and Ab-Carver Pro. I’ve also included a review on one of my more recent preferred fat-torching devices, the Prowler sled.

Cybex Arc Trainer

With so many cross-training cardio machines stacked across today’s gym floors, it is hard to find one that meets all needs. While elliptical machines have their place in the health club scene, some fitness experts believe they might not be as rewarding as initially perceived. The Cybex Arc Trainer offers a form of cross-training that is similar, yet distinctive, from the conventional elliptical machine. With a familiar stride motion as its cross-training competitor, the Cybex design team did their homework on this unique machine. The Arc Trainer allows for a stride motion that is not only effective in burning calories, but also friendly on joints.

I was excited to formally review the Arc Trainer because I use the machine on a regular basis. Aside from serving as a great option for a low-impact cardio session, I find it to be a great way to warm up on resistance training days because of the option to integrate upper-body work. One thing to watch out for: shoulders tire more easily, so users should keep this in mind if planning upper-body workouts that same day.

Encouraging for newcomers is how welcoming the Arc Trainer can be. It doesn’t take a cardio machine connoisseur to enjoy a workout on the Arc. But don’t be fooled by the easy stride motion; there is still a challenge awaiting even the most experienced cardio buffs.

A few things to keep in mind before giving this cross-trainer a go. Always stretch hip flexors (front) and extensors (rear) before and after using any cross-trainers. This is especially important for professionals who spend a lot of time at a desk and for people with hip tightness. The Arc Trainer can be a great option for those coming off an injury who are looking to slowly increase workout intensity. Similarly, for those with weight-loss goals, the Arc Trainer will save you time and money as a machine specifically designed to burn fat without the wear and tear of other cross-trainers.

Easy on joints (knees, hip, ankle)
Great workout with less perceived effort
Great option for those who cannot use elliptical

High cost
Requires a lot of space as a home option

Concept 2 Rower

What if I told you there was a piece of equipment that comes close to perfection in the fitness world? And what if I told you there was a fitness device that not only offers relief to joints but also engages an array of muscle groups for a high level of fitness efficiency?

The machine commonly known as an ergometer (a rowing machine) offers a plethora of fitness benefits. Some have specifically called the Concept 2 Rower the “ultimate cardio machine,” and as a personal trainer, I can speak highly about it. Through simulating the movement of watercraft rowing, users get a workout that really packs a punch. While there are quite a few versions of indoor rowers on the fitness market today, the classic Concept 2 Rower stands the test of time.

I have found the Concept 2 Rower to be the gold standard in cardio exercise, mainly because of its benefits and impact on aerobic fitness. In my HIIT cardio sessions, I occasionally incorporate the row machine after lifting workouts, while others may choose to use the Concept 2 Rower for longer cardio bouts. However you use it, “erging” is one of the top calorie-burning and cardio-based methods in fitness due to the involvement of so many high-demand muscles. It makes sense; as the larger muscles engage, they increasingly require more oxygen, which elevates your heart rate and pushes you harder.

Using the proper technique for an indoor rower can seem difficult at first, but when broken down into two phases—the catch (pulling) and recovery (rest)—it is relatively easy to use. There is a lot of hip flexion and shoulder protraction involved during the catch, so I recommend doing hip and shoulder stretches before your workout to avoid discomfort. If you’re doing the strokes correctly, the mechanics should be very fluid and, as you master the stroke, your experience on the machine improves right along with your endurance and efficiency. Beginners and those with back or knee tenderness should start with a light test for the first few tries. Remember: Form is your friend.

Superior cardio workout
Low impact on joints
Occupies little space, easy to store
Great for weight loss

Takes time to understand proper form
Can be a bit tedious during longer rides

Ab-Carver Pro

How do I get six-pack abs? If there were a Hall of Fame for fitness-related questions, I am sure this may be the first enshrined. It should come as no surprise that most—if not all—fitness enthusiasts strive to have that chiseled midsection. Well, I have good news (and, of course, not-so-good news). The good news is we all have abdominal muscles that can be trained to look as appealing as you’d like. As for the bad, well, you still have to regulate what you eat and shed the layer of adipose tissue (fat) that covers those abs. I know; it’s a sad truth, but it is the truth nonetheless. So if you want to make a commitment this year to getting that washboard stomach, cleaning up your diet would be a great start.

The Ab-Carver Pro is a more evolved and husky version of the ab wheel. The Ab-Carver Pro comes from the same company that launched the Perfect Pushup handles, which turned out to be an excellent product. This more recent creation targets all who would like to use an ab wheel as a method to strengthen abdominals. The ab wheel rollout can be a very difficult exercise if you do not have the necessary strength to perform the movement correctly. This product claims to have addressed many of the previous ab wheel flaws, with a few enhancements, to include a wider audience.

One of the noticeable differences between the Ab-Carver Pro and the original is the wheelbase. This husky wheel frame was developed to improve stability, a quality lacking in the older model. This important feature assists with proper form while minimizing the potential for wrist injury. The husky wheels also have a slight slant so you can easily maneuver to target oblique areas. The wide handles and rubber grips create another unique trait; the downward angled handles engage proper supporting muscles while limiting overuse of the shoulders. My favorite aspect of this product is the internal spring, a pleasant surprise for those who once felt the ab wheel was impossible to master. The spring, by far the best feature for those who want to progress slowly in developing core strength, assists in controlling pace and maintaining form.

I took the Ab-Carver Pro for a spin and there is a big difference in the level of difficulty. The spring assistance made it so much easier to control and allowed me to perform more reps. The grips, made from high quality material, felt very comfortable and should last, if durability is a concern. Still, I felt a little shoulder action when I was going through reps but that may have been user error. After a few adjustments to my form, I quickly felt less shoulder involvement as more of my core region took over. I really liked the large wheelbase and its ability to maneuver fluidly. The Ab-Carver Pro also included a set of floor pads to place under your knees during your workout. The workout followed through and was tough as advertised. A big plus for me was how little my shoulders worked throughout the sets. Overall, I can say this is a great find.

The spring support is a great feature, easy for beginners
Wide wheel track to assist with stability
Handles allow comfortable grip
Durable product
Hardly occupies any space

Cost (but worth investment, in my opinion)
Not much lower back support for those with back injuries

The Prowler

From throwing chains to flipping tires, staying in shape is no longer centralized around high tech equipment. This is especially exemplified in the growing number of boot camp and CrossFit communities that are less focused on tech-based equipment. It is with this in mind that I’d like to dedicate this review to all the former high school football heroes out there with more memories of pushing sleds up and down the field than spending time in the conventional gym.

The Prowler, a sled that increases lower body strength while challenging cardio endurance, is a hidden gem in the minimalistic fitness community. At the risk of losing readers’ interest, I should say that I’ve found people of all fitness levels find the Prowler to be somewhat intimidating. To be clear, though, all fitness levels have the ability to push the Prowler sled, and the form that one uses is less important than the dedication to pushing through a bit of temporary discomfort.

The Prowler has a small following due to its requirement for physical space and the “kicks my butt” factor. It is far from being a new fitness invention; most men who have played football or rugby at any level in the state of Texas have likely used a sled at one time or another. The Prowler has also become popular in women’s fitness, as it provides leg and glute work in addition to weight-loss benefits.

I will admit that I have a few years of experience “on the prowl,” from high school football and as a personal trainer. Personally, I find this low-impact/high-return method of training very rewarding, and I use the Prowler in my own circuit training and with my clients as a way to end a great workout. Sled work does not discriminate on fitness level, and as long as you stay within your limitation, there is very little chance of injury.

If you are looking for a workout to blast your legs and test your mental toughness, dig those toes in and take off.

Great form of cardio exercise
Great method for strengthening legs
Easy learning curve
Low impact on joints

Expensive product (some cost-effective options exist)
Requires open or outdoor space and flat ground
Sound cardiovascular fitness baseline needed


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