Get the Most Out of Stationary Bicycle Workouts

Man on a spin bike

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Stationary biking has been an exercise staple for decades—and for good reason. Bicycle exercise offers one of the best ways to work out indoors, providing low-impact, high-intensity cardiovascular exercise while building both strength and endurance. Here's what to know to get the most out of your ride.

Types of Stationary Bikes

There are several different types of stationary bikes, including:

  • Traditional upright bikes: Upright bikes have a higher-set upright handlebar and a wider padded seat. Because of their more vertical frame, you will remain seated while cycling on this bike. These upright bikes typically feature an LCD display and a magnetic resistance system.
  • Spin bikes: Spin bikes have a lower-set handlebars, which means you'll be leaning forward more—and occasionally standing—while on the bike. The spin bike operates using a flywheel and friction resistance, which adjusts to higher or lower difficulty.
  • Street bike trainers: If you have a street bike, you can use a trainer or a roller bike stand, which keeps your back wheel locked. This allows you to use your outdoor bike as a stationary bike.
  • Recumbent bikes: Recumbent bikes allow the rider to sit in a reclined position, which may prevent lower back pain. The seat is positioned lower than an upright bike and has a wider cushion for a more comfortable ride.

How to Set Up Your Bike

Your riding position determines your comfort, but also your pedaling efficiency. Most stationary bikes allow for adjustments in handlebar and saddle height, and some allow you to move the seat forward or backward or change the seat's angle. Setting up your bike in the proper position helps avoid injury and ensures a safe workout.

The more specific you make these adjustments, the more comfortable you will be, so it’s wise to spend the time getting just the right set-up for you.

Saddle Angle

Your bike seat should be level to support your full body weight and allow you to move around on the seat when necessary. Too much upward tilt can result in discomfort. Too much downward tilt can make you slide forward while riding and put extra pressure on your arms, hands, and knees, which can lead to injury.

Seat Height

To adjust the seat height so it's right for you, wear your biking shoes and place the balls of your feet on the pedals. When your front leg is fully extended, there should be a slight bend in your knees—about 5 to 10 degrees.

You should be able to pedal comfortably without pointing your toes to reach full extension. If your hips rock side-to-side, the seat is too high.

Seat Fore/Aft Position

You can also adjust the seat forward and backward (the fore/aft position). With your feet on the pedals, your forward knee (more specifically the patellar tendon) should be directly over the pedal axle.

Adjusting the Handlebars

If the handlebars are too high, too low, too close, or too far away, you may have neck, shoulder, back, and hand pain. A proper reach allows you to use all the positions on the handlebars and to comfortably bend your elbows while riding. A general rule of thumb is that the handlebars should obscure the front wheel axle; however, this is not a hard and fast rule.

Pedal Clips or Straps

Most stationary bikes have straps that hold your feet in place on the pedals. Spin bikes have clip-in pedals that allow cyclists to use their cycling shoes and cleats to clip into the pedals for a secure fit.

Having your feet strapped into the pedals allows you to push down and pull up on the pedals in a circular motion, which creates a smooth and efficient pedal stroke. There should be a little space between the top of the strap and your shoe, and your ankle should move only slightly as you pedal.

Resistance

Once you're set up, you can manually control your workout intensity, resistance, and speed, or you can try one of several programs that some bikes offer. Adding resistance simulates hills and inclines and engages your hamstrings and glutes more than riding with light resistance.

Correct Posture for Your Stationary Bike Workout

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.

Always warm up before beginning your bike workout. A proper warm-up can increase blood flow to the muscles, which results in decreased muscle stiffness, less risk of injury, and improved performance.

Benefits of Stationary Bike Exercise

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 see advantages such as:

  • Increased cardio exercise: 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.
  • 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.
  • Knee 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.
  • Low-impact workout: Biking and indoor cycling are low-impact exercises and are therefore beneficial for recovery training days, or if you're healing from an injury.
  • Muscle-building: A 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.
  • Safety: An indoor stationary bike lets you avoid roads, cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists. You can also steer clear of dangers such as potholes or rough roads, along with weather extremes.

Preventing Stationary Bike Injuries

Plan your exercise session to avoid injury, have fun, and get the best workout you can. Always maintain correct positioning, go at your own pace, and take breaks when needed. Learn how to protect these vulnerable areas.

Knees

Common causes of knee pain associated with stationary biking include:

  • Seat too high, resulting in pain in the back of the knee
  • Seat too low or forward, leading to pain in the front of the knee.
  • Improper foot position on the pedal (or improper cleat alignment) can cause pain on the inside or outside of the knee
  • Gear setting too high, leading to stress on the knees. Use a gear that allows you to pedal quickly, from 70 to 100 strokes per minute.

Individual anatomy may also result in knee pain. Cyclists with slight differences in leg length may have knee pain because the seat height is only adjusted for one side. Shoe inserts or orthotics can help correct this problem.

Neck

Neck pain is another common cycling complaint and is usually the result of riding a bike that is too long or having handlebars that are too low. Tight hamstring and hip flexor muscles can also cause neck pain by forcing your spine to round or arch and your neck to hyperextend.

Feet

Foot pain or numbness is often the result of wearing soft-soled shoes. Shoes designed for cycling have stiff soles that distribute pressure evenly over the pedal. This also helps you pedal more efficiently. Foot pain can also be caused by using too high a gear, which results in more pressure where the foot meets the pedal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the correct positioning of a stationary bike?

The correct positioning of a stationary bike will depend on the type of indoor bike you're riding. Always follow the bike manufacturer's instruction on proper bike set-up.

Always make sure you're locking into and sitting on your bike properly and maintaining good posture. Once you clip in and sit on the saddle, hinge your hips forward, engage your core, and keep your back straight. Allow for a slight bend in your elbows while holding the handlebars. Keep your feet level and push down and pull up as you're cycling.

How high should the handlebars be on my stationary bike? 

Position your handlebars at a height that feels comfortable to you and allows you to cycle without straining, overreaching, or placing too much weight on your wrists. You'll know you've found the perfect handlebar height when you're able to ride with a slight bend in your elbows and with no discomfort in your lower back.

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

While spot reduction (choosing where on your body you'll lose fat) 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 you won't be able to specifically target belly fat with indoor cycling (or any workout), using your stationary bike can help you lose fat all over your body, including your belly.

Is working out on a stationary bike a 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 is enough to work out on a stationary 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.

How can you improve your spin technique? 

The best way to improve your spin technique is to focus on your form. Avoid slumping or leaning on the handlebars and pedal with your feet level. Even if you plan to use your bike only at home, it might help to take a few classes in a studio with a instructor who can evaluate your form.

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. You might want to consider meeting with a personal trainer who can design a exercise program program just for you.

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4 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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