Get the Most Out of a Stationary or Spin Bike Workout

Man on a spin bike
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The spin bike craze isn't just another fade. Indoor cycling has been a favorite and effective workout for decades and for a good reason. it works. Stationary or spin bikes are one of the best ways to get and incredible indoor workout because it offers a low-impact, high-intensity cardiovascular workout while it builds both strength and endurance. 

Types of Stationary Bikes

There are many different types of stationary bikes. Traditional upright commercial bikes, spin bikes, street bikes mounted on an indoor trainer, and recumbent bikes are the most common forms of stationary pedaling. Getting the most from your workout, however, depends upon getting the right bicycle position before your ride.

How To Set Up Your Bike for a Great Workout

  1. Bike Position Overview
    1. Your riding position can determine not only your pedaling efficiency but also your comfort. Most stationary bikes allow for adjustments in handlebar and saddle height, and some allow for more specific adjustments such as moving the seat forward or backward and even changing the seat angle. The more specific you make these adjustments; the more comfortable you will be, so it’s wise to spend the time getting the right set-up for you.
  2. Adjusting the Saddle Angle
    1. Your bike seat angle 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 pressure points. 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.
  3. Adjusting the Seat Height
    1. To adjust the seat height, wear your biking shoes and riding shorts and place your heels on the pedals. As you pedal backward, your knees should fully extend in the down position. If your hips rock side to side the seat is too high. Now when you move your foot into the proper pedaling position, with the balls of your feet over the pedal, you'll have a slight bend in your knees—about 5-10 degrees. You should be able to pedal comfortably without pointing your toes to reach full extension. The same positioning guidelines are used for the recumbent bicycle.
  1. Adjusting the Seat Fore/Aft Position
    1. You can also adjust the seat forward and backward (the fore/aft position). With your feet on the pedals and the crank arms parallel to the ground, the proper position will put your forward knee (more specifically the patellar tendon) directly over the pedal axle.
  2. Adjusting the Handlebars
    1. 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 comfortably 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 far rule. Raising the handlebars higher reduces neck and lower back stress. There are other, more advanced adjustments you can make, such as changing the handlebar width or height.
  3. Adjusting the Pedal Clips or Straps
    1. 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" right in 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.
  1. Warm Up Before Your Workout
    1. A proper warm-up can increase the blood flow to the working muscle which results in decreased muscle stiffness, less risk of injury and improved performance. Additional benefits of warming up include physiological and psychological preparation for exercise.
  2. Adjusting the Resistance
    1. Once you're set-up, you can manually control your workout intensity, resistance, and speed, or you can try one of several programs that bikes offer. Adding resistance simulates hills and inclines, and engages your hamstrings and glutes more than riding with light resistance. Pedal with very little ankle movement, and remember to both push and pull up on the pedals for a better ride.
  3. How to Design an Exercise Program
    1. Understanding how to design a safe and effective cycling workout is important whether you are going to exercise on your own or join an exercise class. Components such as frequency, intensity, and length of an exercise session will set the foundation for your training. For more specifics, consider meeting with a trainer and having a personal exercise prescription designed just for you.
  1. Plan a Safe Workout
    1. There are certain things to keep in mind when planning your exercise session to avoid injury, have fun and get the best workout you can.

Safe Spin Biking Tips

  1. Avoiding Knee pain
    • A seat that is too high can result in pain in the back of the knee.
    • A seat that is too low or too far forward may cause 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 your knees.
  2. 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.
  3. Another cause of knee pain is using too high a gear. Try to use a gear that allows you to pedal quickly, from 70 to 100 strokes per minute.
  4. 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.
  5. Foot pain or numbness is often the result of wearing soft-soled shoes. Special 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.
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