How to Use a Stationary Bike and Add It to Your Workout Routine

Portrait of smiling woman on exercise bike

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Stationary bikes have become a fairly common piece of workout equipment, no longer only found within boutique spin studios. Most gyms have a few bikes to choose from, and if that's not your speed, adding a stationary bike to your home workout environment is one internet sale away.

Stationary bikes provide an effective workout with the convenience of being indoors, whether at home or the gym. They are also a great way to experience bicycling, even if you have never learned how to ride a traditional bike.

An indoor bike allows you to feel like you are on a bicycle without worrying about the weather or safety issues that riding on the open road brings. That being said, before you jump on any new-to-you piece of equipment, it's crucial to understand the basics of how it works and what it can do for your exercise goals.

Types of Stationary Bikes

There are two types of stationary bikes: computerized and non-computerized. They both provide a great workout, but a a computerized bike can track your exercise time, distance, cadence, and heart rate. These models tend to have preset workouts you can choose, and will most likely be what you find at a studio or gym.

There are three different styles of bikes—recumbent, upright, and spin.

Recumbent Bike

A recumbent bike is the most comfortable, allowing you to sit as you would in your office chair. The pedals are below you instead of in front of you, making recumbent bikes perfect for someone with back problems. In the recumbent bike, your back will be supported as you exercise. It’s also easier on your knees, ankles, and shoulders.

Upright Bike

An upright bike is similar to a traditional, outdoor bike. There’s no back support, and the pedals are under you. Instead of sitting up straight or reclining, you have to lean forward to reach the handles and hold this position throughout your workout. You can also stand while riding, to engage more muscles.

Spin Bike

If you decide to take a spin class at the gym, you’ll find rows of spin bikes. The one thing that makes these bikes different is that they have a weighted flywheel, which is connected to the pedals. This provides a similar feel to mountain bikes.

Resistance and Cadence

Exercise bikes have different levels of resistance. You can increase the resistance level to create a more challenging workout. Non-computerized bikes have a knob you can turn up or down for more or less resistance. Computerized bikes have the settings on the touch screen display.

The resistance should be challenging without feeling too difficult. Sydney Eaton, lead fitness instructor, recommends rating the difficulty of your workout from one to 10, with 10 being the most challenging. For example, you should be at a five when biking on a flat surface (no hills). Adjust the resistance accordingly.

Cadence refers to how fast you're pedaling and is measured by how many times you pedal in a minute or revolutions per minute (RPM). Beginners should be at 80 to 90 RPM. Cadence can help you find your proper resistance level. If you can't pedal fast enough to reach at least 80 RPM, decrease the resistance.

How to Adjust a Stationary Bike

Using a stationary bike that isn't properly adjusted can be uncomfortable and lead to injuries. Start by standing next to the bike. Adjust the seat up or down, so it's at your hip. Loosen it and move to find the center of the adjustment, which will fit most people. Your leg should lengthen when your feet are near the floor, and bend with your knees over your feet when your feet are up.

The handlebars can be modified forward and back and up and down. Sit with your back straight, arms extended but bent slightly, and shoulders relaxed. Most handlebars have more than one place for your hands. Use the spot you find most comfortable. If you're looking for a starting point, measure a forearm's length between the front of the seat and the middle of the handlebars; adjust from there.

Place your feet on the pedals with the center of your feet at the center of the pedals. Tighten the straps around your feet. Pedal a few times to make sure everything feels okay. Adjust anything else you need to before you start your workout.

Adjusting a Recumbent Bike

A recumbent bike is slightly different because your feet are in front of you rather than below you, and there are no handles. Avoid leaning forward. The seat should support your back. When your legs are extended, they should be bent slightly. Adjust accordingly.

If you are taking a spin class, ask your instructor any questions you have about adjusting the bike. Making sure your stationary bike is at the appropriate height can make a big difference in your comfort and safety during a ride.

Stationary Bike Workouts

Any level of physical fitness can find a skillset-appropriate workout on a stationary bike. Simply adjust your speed and resistance to match what you need. Push yourself, but never feel as though you have to risk injury to meet a certain metric.

If you are new to exercise, or have a pre-existing health condition, talk through any questions or concerns with a health care professional before adding something to your routine.

Exercise Bike Workouts for Beginners

  • Hill climb: Warm up with a slow, steady-state ride for five minutes, and then increase the resistance. Keep increasing the resistance level every five minutes, which will mimic the feel of climbing a hill. While you're pushing harder to keep up your cadence, your muscles will work harder. Start with 10 to 20 minutes and work your way up if you want to.
  • Leisure ride: Choose a resistance level that puts you at a level five for difficulty, and pedal away for 15 to 60 minutes. This steady-state cardio workout is good for heart health.
  • Speed intervals: Warm up for five minutes and then increase your pace for two minutes. Switch between a faster pace and a slower pace every two minutes. Repeat for 15 to 30 minutes, ending with a slower pace to help you cool down. This high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can contribute to a lower resting blood pressure.
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6 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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