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

indoor cycling composite

Verywell / Zackary Angeline

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.

Correct Posture on Your Bike

To get the best workout on your stationary bike—and to avoid injury—it's important to follow proper form. Follow these steps to help you get the most out of your workout when using a stationary bike.

  • Sit on the widest part of the saddle: Once seated, hinge forward at the hips to reach the handlebars. Engage your abdominal muscles as you do. Your knees should be in line with your hips and feet.
  • Keep a straight spine: Your upper body should be aligned, with a long spine (no slumping) and shoulders relaxed and neutral. As you ride, your elbows should be slightly bent; keep them close to your body.
  • Avoid leaning on the handlebars: If you do, you're off-loading your weight onto them, instead of the pedals. This puts stress on your wrists and forearms, and your lower body isn't doing as much work as it should, so you miss out on some of the benefits of the exercise.
  • Keep your feet flat: Do not point your toes down as your pedal, which can put pressure on your knees. Instead, drive through each pedal stroke from the ball of your foot. Your feet should stay flat on the upstroke, too.
  • Hold your head up: Keep your head aligned with your neck and spine to avoid neck strain and keep blood and oxygen flowing to your head. Flopping your neck forward can cause lightheadedness or dizziness.

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.

Health Benefits of Using an Exercise Bike

There are many benefits to adding a stationary bike to your home gym (or visiting an indoor cycling studio). When you incorporate stationary bike exercise into your workout routine, you may experience a number of health benefits. Here are a few health benefits from using an exercise bike.

Provides Opportunity to Increase Cardio

Cardio exercise (or aerobic exercise) are those that raise your heart rate. The American Heart Association recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week. Stationary bike rides can be a great way to meet that goal.

Promotes Weight Loss

Research examining the effects of an indoor cycling protocol (or routine), and found that a regular cycling program helps in decreasing body weight and burning body fat, even without any additional dietary changes.

Allows For Injury Rehab

If you're recovering from a knee strain or injury, the stationary bike can be a helpful rehabilitation tool. The bike distributes stress among the quadricep muscles, calves, core, glutes, and knees, so that the knees don't take the brunt of the workout. To protect your knees, ensure that your seat is at the right height for you.

Biking and indoor cycling also are low-impact exercises. For this reason, your exercise bike can be beneficial for recovery training days or healing from an injury.

Encourages Muscle-Building

An indoor cycling workout engages all the major muscle groups. Expect your core, glutes, quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, and even your upper body to feel the effects. A consistent indoor cycling routine can help strengthen these muscles over time.

Provides a Safe Alternative

An indoor stationary bike lets you avoid roads, cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists—things you often have to prepare for and navigate when you are cycling outdoors. You can also avoid severe weather and other unfavorable conditions.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding how to design a safe and effective cycling workout is important, whether you are going to exercise on your own or join a class. Components such as frequency, intensity, and length of an exercise session will set the foundation for your training.

If you are new to exercise, be sure that you talk with a healthcare provider first. They can assess your medical history and fitness level to determine what is right for you. You also might want to consider meeting with a certified personal trainer who can design a exercise program program just for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you lose abdominal fat by working out on a stationary bike?

    While spot reduction (choosing where on your body you will lose weight) isn't possible, a stationary bike workout can help you lose fat and burn calories. One study examined the effects of a 12-week indoor cycling program on 14 women and found that after 36 cycling sessions, the subjects had a 5% decrease in fat mass.

    Adding intervals, speed training, and Tabata-style workouts into a cycling session can further boost calorie burn. So, even though you won't be able to specifically target abdominal fat with indoor cycling (or any workout), using your stationary bike can help you lose fat all over your body, including your stomach.

  • Is working out on a stationary bike good exercise?

    Working out on a stationary bike can be a good form of exercise with many health benefits. It elevates your heart rate, helps burn fat, and builds muscle. Because it is a low-impact workout, it is also beneficial for injury recovery and rehabilitation.

  • How much time should I spend riding an exercise bike?

    Adults should get 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week. Doing a 30-minute cycling workout five days a week will help you achieve that goal. However, if you are just starting out with indoor cycling, it's important to start slow and work your way up to higher intensity and longer rides.

    Additionally, if you are new to exercise, be sure to talk with a healthcare provider. They can assess your medical history and your fitness level to determine what is right for you.

9 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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