Recumbent Bike Exercise

How to Get an Effective Workout on a Recumbent Bike

senior woman on a recumbant bike

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Recumbent bikes remain a popular choice for cardiovascular and lower body workouts. Some people prefer them over upright stationary bikes because they feel more comfortable. Others simply enjoy them more than other cardio equipment and activities.

What Is a Recumbent Bike?

A recumbent exercise bike is a bike in which you ride in a reclined position. This allows riders to read or watch television while exercising, encouraging them to stay on the bike longer without getting bored.

This is important because you want to exercise for a long enough time to get the full benefits of your workout. However, don't let these distractions diminish your workout intensity. Continue to push your body to keep progressing with your fitness program.

Many feel that recumbent bikes are more comfortable than other exercise equipment because of their reclined position. So, if you're a first-time rider or new to cardio in general, recumbent bikes are a great way to get started, whether using a stationary version or one that allows you to go out on the road.

But recumbent bikes are suitable for experienced exercisers too. Varying your pedaling speed, upping the resistance, or cycling backward can make a recumbent bike more challenging. You can easily tailor your workout to meet your fitness level and goals.

Recumbent Bike Benefits

The recumbent bike is a useful piece of stationary equipment to improve cardiovascular fitness, promote muscular strength, and restore your range of motion. These bikes provide comfort with a back rest and are easy on your joints. Plus, you can customize the workout using different speed and incline settings and may be a better choice for people with cardiac limitations. Here is a closer look at these specific benefits and more.

Comfort

The use of a recumbent bike provides full back support during the workout. The larger seat is also typically more comfortable and reduces “saddle soreness” that can be experienced with smaller bike seats. And if the weather is bad, a stationary recumbent is an excellent indoor workout.

Customization

The varying resistance and speed levels on a recumbent bike allow for a custom workout. Using a stationary bike, you can also change its incline settings to simulate riding up and down hills, making the workout easier or harder. This exercise equipment can be modified for your fitness level.

Safety

Another benefit of recumbent bikes is that they place less stress on the joints. The reclined body position is easier on the low back (lumbar spine), making it a great option for individuals with low back injuries. It's also beneficial for people with cardiac limitations.

If you struggle with balance, you may find that a recumbent bike is safer to use because there is less of a risk of falling off than when using an upright bike or other standing cardio equipment (such as a treadmill or stair climber).

Recumbent Bikes vs. Upright Bikes

Stationary bikes come in an upright (traditional) position or recumbent (laid back) position. Both bike types have less impact on your joints than most other cardio equipment, like treadmills. Whether you choose an upright or a recumbent bike depends on your comfort level. Here are a few differences to consider.

Recumbent Bikes
  • Reclined body position

  • Pedals positioned in front of the body

  • Larger seat

  • Full back support

  • Comfortable sitting position

  • Reduced upper body tension and muscle fatigue

  • Focused lower body and cardiovascular exercise

Upright Bikes
  • Upright body position

  • Pedals positioned under the body

  • Smaller seat

  • Limited upper body support

  • Upright seated position may cause upper body fatigue/tension

  • More consistent workout similar to outdoor riding

  • Whole body and cardiovascular exercise

Are Recumbent Bike Workouts Effective?

Recumbent bikes may seem like easy cardio, but looks can be deceiving. The following small research studies show that recumbent bikes can provide a serious workout.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Regular aerobic exercise strengthens your heart, improves lung capacity, decreases resting heart rate, and reduces high blood pressure over time. It also can be a great way to relieve stress and boost your mood.

Research involving a group of healthy males shows that using a recumbent bike offers these same benefits. This study involved performing four 60-second sprints on the bikes, with pedal speeds between 80 and 100 repetitions per minute.

Another study found that combining a bike with an online platform dramatically increases cardiovascular fitness in youth by making exercise fun. This piece of research involved youth with cerebral palsy and reported that they had "significant" fitness improvements after cycling.

Muscle Strength

Muscles worked in a recumbent bike workout include:

A small study indicated that healthy older women improved their muscle strength, power, and functional abilities after using a bike for eight weeks. These programs were shown to improve strength and power in a way similar to resistance training.

Other research compared the energy use and muscular output of upright versus recumbent bikes. Participants included 10 non-cyclist males. No differences were identified in muscle workload regardless of whether the participants were riding on an upright or recumbent bike. However, pedaling a recumbent bike produced greater activity in two of the four muscles being studied (the semitendinosus and tibialis anterior).

Range of Motion

If you are looking for an exercise that increases your range of motion, thereby improving your flexibility—which makes it easier to move around more freely—the recumbent bike does this too.

One study involving 24 males and 20 females found that using a stationary bike helped improve the range of motion in the hips. It also noted that the stationary bike was more effective for enhancing this range than heat packs or whirlpool treatments.

Research suggests that using a recumbent bike helps improve flexibility and range of motion by increasing circulation and making bodily tissues more elastic or easier to move. This enables the body to stretch more freely.

Alternating a recumbent and upright bike during rehabilitation and exercise programs can offer a range of fitness benefits since each tends to activate slightly different muscles. (The recumbent increases activity in the hamstrings and shins. An upright works the quads more.)

Recumbent Bike Interval Workout

Try this interval-based recumbent bike workout. You can choose the interval lengths and intensity based on your fitness level or preferences. You can also check if your bike provides interval workout programs in its software.

  • Warm-up for 5 minutes at a leisurely pace
  • Raise the pedal resistance and speed to perform vigorous-intensity cardio at an 8 or 9 level of intensity out of 10. Do this for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Reduce the resistance and speed to a moderate pace for a 30-second recovery interval.
  • Keep alternating between high and moderate intensity for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Cool down for 5 minutes.

A Word From Verywell

Recumbent bikes provide an effective cardiovascular and lower body resistance workout and are a safe and versatile way to challenge individuals at every fitness level. That makes this workout suitable for beginners and experienced exercisers alike.

Regardless of which cardio equipment you use, your workout is only as effective as the effort you're willing to put into the session. Bring your best to every workout to maximize the physical, mental, and emotional rewards of physical activity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long should I exercise on a recumbent bike?

    How long you exercise on a recumbent bike depends on your fitness level and what other activities you do. For a warm-up, you can aim for 10 to 15 minutes before training. For a sustained cardio workout, start with 20 to 30 minutes and add time each week as you progress. For a HIIT style interval workout, you may aim to perform intervals for a maximum time of 10 to 15 minutes.

  • What muscles does a recumbent bike work out?

    Recumbent bikes work your quads, hamstrings, calves, shins, and glutes. You'll also fire up your core muscles including your abs a bit while you work since the action of peddling comes from your abs, obliques, and hip flexors.

11 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.