Stationary bikes (or exercise bikes) are easy to use, can be found in almost every gym, and are usually reasonably priced and requiring minimal space if you’re thinking of buying. Exercise bikes offer a simple and massively effective workout. If you like cycling but don’t want to risk a confrontation with a speeding car or getting drenched in a torrential downpour, or just prefer to switch off and zone out during your workout sessions, consider an exercise bike.We lift the lid on this popular form of exercise so you can get the most from your workouts
If you don’t have an exercise bike but still want to do some indoor cycling, you can convert your regular bike into an exercise bike by using a so-called turbo trainer or putting your bike on specially designed rollers. Both methods allow you to use your regular bike indoors which is great if you prefer to cycle out of doors but winter weather or heavy traffic means you can’t.
Cycling is predominantly a lower body workout. The following muscles are your “main movers” responsible for pushing your pedals around and around:
- Front and back of thighs (quadriceps & hamstring muscles)
- Butt (gluteus maximus)
- Calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus)
When you get up and out of the saddle to sprint or replicate climbing a hill, your core and upper body muscles also get in on the act but they are not working against an especially heavy resistance so any benefits to these muscles are limited.
The Benefits of Exercise Bikes
Exercise bikes are a great way to get and stay fit, and have a boatload of advantages:
- Cycling is a non-impact exercise which means it is especially suitable for heavier exercisers and anyone who finds running is too hard on their joints
- Riding a real bike at night or in traffic can be dangerous – there are no such risks with stationary cycling making it safer
- You can multitask and catch up on TV, as you don’t have to concentrate too hard on what you’re doing
- Develops aerobic and anaerobic fitness depending on how you program your workouts
- Workouts can be as hard or as easy as you like as most machines are easily adjustable
- Exercise bikes can torch a lot of calories and are great for weight loss or weight control
- Exercise bikes are very quiet in use making them ideal for home use
- Exercise bikes are simple to use and require very little in the way of special techniques
How to Work Out Better
Get the most from your workouts by following these handy tips!
Saddle comfort. A lot of exercise bikes are fitted with a wide saddle and wide saddles can place pressure on the tendons on the upper inside of your thighs which can become very uncomfortable over time.
A wide saddle may look like it is going to be comfortable and initially probably will be but while it takes a while to get used to a narrower saddle, they are usually better in the long run. If you intend to buy your own stationary bike and use it a lot, consider fitting a narrower saddle.
If you are doing a lot of stationary bike miles, consider wearing padding cycling shorts for additional comfort
Muscles targeted. Exercise bikes work mostly the lower body. The lack of upper body involvement means that to develop a good level of all round fitness you will need to supplement your workouts with upper body exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups
Temperature. Because there is no air flow, something you get when you ride a bike outdoors, it can get very hot and sweaty on a stationary bike.
If you are exercising in a warm room, especially at home, set up a fan and direct it at your bike to help keep you cool and comfortable.
At the very least, set your bike up near and open window. Keep a bottle of water handy to make re-hydration easy. Many stationary bikes have specially designed bottle holders so you can attach a drinking bottle to your bike
Flooring. Getting hot and sweaty also means that the floor under your bike and the bike itself may suffer water damage. This is not a problem at your local gym but may be an issue if you work out at home:
Place a towel under your bike to catch the inevitable sweat deluge and have a towel handy to mop your face during your workout.
Proper setup. Long workouts on exercise bikes can leave you with numb feet and a sore butt – especially if your bike isn’t set up properly. This discomfort can mean that you cut your workouts short or, if you are already a little de-motivated, don’t even start. So, it’s important that you set up your exercise bike well.
How to Set Up An Exercise Bike
A badly setup bike can be very uncomfortable and most are only adjustable to a degree. If you are very tall or very short, you may find that your bike simply does not fit you properly.
The key to a comfortable and effective exercise bike workout is making sure your bike is set up properly. Follow these tips to ensure your bike is set up right for you. (Exercise bike designs vary a little, so not all adjustments may be available for your model):
- Seat height. Stand next to your bike and adjust the seat so that the saddle is roughly in line with your hips.
- Handlebar height. Adjust your handlebars so they are roughly level with your saddle. A lower handlebar setting may make you more aerodynamic but as you are indoors that doesn’t really matter much and will probably just make you very uncomfortable. Raising your handlebars above saddle height means you’ll be more upright and may make for an even more comfortable workout
- Pedals. Sit on the bike and put your feet on the pedals. Push one leg down to the bottom of the pedal stroke. Without leaning to the side and with your foot flat, your leg should be bent to around 10-15 degrees. Adjust the seat as necessary to get it to the right height. Slightly too low is better than slightly too high
- Straps. Position your feet so they are directly over the pedal spindle. If you have toe straps or clips, tighten them up to your feet are held snugly in place
- Posture. Sit up tall and lean forward from your hips rather than your lower back
- Rhythm. Try to pedal smoothly and without bouncing up and down on your seat. Aim for around 70 to 90 rpm. If you are bouncing up and down, you are probably pedaling too fast or don’t have enough resistance
- Movement. Don’t just stomp on the pedals – push the pedals forward and down and then pull them back and up. Use your ankles as well as your legs. Cyclists call this active pedaling
How to Prevent Bike Numbness & Pain
Here is how to prevent or cure some of the more common problems associated with exercise bikes:
Sore butt: Your saddle maybe too high and you are rocking side to side at the bottom of each pedal stroke or your seat may be too wide. Make the necessary adjustments and consider getting a different saddle and wearing cycling shorts. You can also get gel seat covers that fit over regular saddles to provide extra padding
Nub feet: Your saddle may be too high, your toe straps maybe too tight or your shoes maybe laced too tight, be too small or too narrow
Back pain Try to lean forward from your hips rather than round your back and make sure your saddle is not higher than your handlebars. You may also have tight hamstrings or a pre-existing back condition so get checked out by a qualified physical therapist
Knee pain: Your saddle maybe too high or too low. Your toes might not be properly aligned to your knees. Adjust your saddle height and make sure your toes and knees are pointing the exact same way
Neck pain: Your handlebars are probably too low which is forcing you to lift your head higher than normal. Raise your handlebars and then you should be able to look forward more easily
Hand pain: You have too much weight on your hands – the likely cause it your handlebars are too low. Raise your handlebars and consider wearing padded cycling gloves or, if it’s your bike, using padded handlebar tape.