You want to buy a stationary indoor exercise bike. That’s a great choice.
The Many Advantages of Owning Your Own Indoor Exercise Bike
When you have your own bicycle, you can ride it whenever you like. No matter what time it is. How dark the night. Or whether there’s a thunder rain storm or a blizzard outside.
You don’t have to leave your house and drive to a gym and hope the piece of equipment you want is free.
Even if you buy a $2,000 deluxe model (and most are far less expensive), you eventually save money because you don’t have to pay for a gym membership.
It’s a lot safer because you don’t have to compete for road space with sixteen-wheelers and motorcycles.
When you can jump on and off your bike at your convenience, it fits into your current lifestyle with the least strain, and so you are more active.
Indoor bicycles provide a place for you to sit and pedals to push. You can perform any kind of workout on them. It’s up to you to determine whether you want to cycle easily for thirty minutes to an hour or more or perform High Intensity Interval Training repeats. Even Tabata cycles.
That is, you can vary indoor exercise bike workouts just as runners and swimmers and outdoor cyclists. You can go for a long time at low speed, emphasizing cardio fitness. Or you can work out with more intensity for shorter periods.
If you’re really serious and in great condition, you can spend long periods at 80% or so of your maximal heart rate.
Cycling is close to a full body workout. Obviously, it works your legs the most, and they contain your largest muscles. However, you also use your abdominal muscles, your abdomen, back and your buttocks. When you grip the handle bars, you work your arms and chest as well.
You can adjust the indoor exercise bike’s resistance level so riding it is more difficult than either running or cycling outside (unless you’re going uphill). And, because you’re not subject to the variability of the terrain, you get a more even workout. Going uphill intensifies your stress, but eventually you also go downhill.
But, all that still leaves open the question: What kind of indoor bike should you buy?
Where are You Now? What are Your Goals?
There are two basic kinds of stationary indoor bicycles: recumbent and upright.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), both kinds are safe. They both give riders a way to get a low impact workout. And they can be effective depending, of course, on how you use them.
Because the quality of your workouts depends on you, not the bicycle. You can obtain good results from both types. However, there are important differences.
About the Upright Indoor Exercise Bike
These indoor bicycles feel similar to regular bicycles. You sit upright without any back support. The seats are similarly small. And they come with handle bars. The pedals are directly below the seat.
You operate the pedals as though riding an ordinary bike. You can sit up or lean forward, onto the handlebars. You can sit up and pedal from a standing position.
The main differences are that you stay in one place and you can vary the resistance, making the pedals harder to turn than they would be in real life, without cycling up a steep hill. Which you might not have where you live.
Other Advantages of Upright Bicycles
Upright exercise bikes normally take up less space than recumbent models. Some can be folded when it not in use. Therefore, in general they cost less than equivalent recumbent bikes.
Because you’re sitting up, this types makes your back and abdominal muscles work harder, strengthening them.
However, this makes upright bicycles less beneficial for people with weak or painful backs.
Because the seat, or saddle, is so small, upright bicycles are also less comfortable and more difficult for people with large rear ends. And sitting on it for longer than you’re used to can give every rider saddle soreness.
Upright stationary bikes give more of a whole body workout than do recumbent bikes.
The hunched over position can cause muscle soreness.
Upright indoor bikes have a relatively high center of gravity. Therefore, they’re easier to fall off from than a recumbent bike.
And there are more difficult to get up onto.
Of course, because they are resting on the floor supported by steel tubing, they are a lot more stable than regular bicycles.
But everyone riding one needs to retain awareness of their balance and body position.
Also, make sure that where you place the bike remains clear of all its moving parts.
Position the seat height so when you foot reaches the bottom your leg and knee form a 25 to 35 degree angle.
Dual-Action Upright Exercise Bikes
Dual-action bicycles include handle bars that move in sync with your pedaling. You hold on to the bars, and this gives you an upper body workout as well.
Almost all true dual-action models are upright bicycles. Recumbent models are rare, and are usually called elliptical machines instead.
Spin Exercise Bikes
These are upright indoor bikes that have heavier flywheels with connected pedals. Many serious sport and exercise fanatics believe they more closely feel like a bicycle on the open road than do conventional upright bikes.
With many models you can program changes in resistance levels and your workouts.
“Spinning” is a trademarked term referring to a specific type of indoor cycling workout. However, many other gyms and sports companies have their own variations.
Choose the type of bicycle that feels best for you and your workouts. If you’re not sure, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take classes and learn firsthand. However, from all accounts, spinning is not for the fainthearted.
Who are Upright Exercise Bikes Best For?
If you don’t need back support.
If you prefer the feel of a regular bicycle.
If you are a serious cyclist training for competition or for long recreational bike tours.
If you need an indoor bike only due to darkness, inclement weather or safety concerns. If, given good weather and enough daylight, you’d be riding outdoors instead.
If your rear is small enough you can sit comfortably on the small seat.
If you mentally focus more on the exertion and movement than on outside entertainment. You can watch TV or listen to music or podcasts while riding an upright bike, but not as easily as with recumbent bikes.
You want to strengthen your core, glutes (buttock muscles) and upper body at the same time as your legs.
The Benefits of Recumbent Exercise Bicycles
These indoor exercise bikes are designed for ease and comfort. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a good workout with one. With both kinds of indoor bicycles, that depends on the amount of effort you put in.
However, recumbent bikes have padded seats designed for long-term comfort. They have back rests that incline backward. They’re not quite as cushy as a lounge chair, but you can sit in one for hours for hours if you like. This encourages people to spend more time and effort exercising. They can fit it into their evening at-home recreation routines.
The back rests are designed to provide ergonomic support to people with weak, injured or painful backs. The larger seats accommodate people with large rear ends.
The pedals are in front of you. While you sit back in a comfortable position, your legs are extended in front of you, and you turn the pedals.
This makes recumbent indoor stationary bikes important for people who are elderly, disabled and overweight.
If you fall into one of those categories, you need proper physical activity more than anybody else to improve your heart and lung fitness levels. You also want to burn calories to support a weight loss program.
When my mother had knee replacement surgeries, her doctor and physical therapists ordered her to spend time every day on a recumbent bicycle to keep her knees strong and flexible. Even after she healed, they told her to keep up with frequent cycling.
If you’re elderly, overweight or disabled, you need to increase your activity, but not to push your heart to the max. Without proper supervision that could even be dangerous.
But it’s also dangerous to just sit motionless.
Some recumbent bikes come with built-in televisions, speakers and computers. Other models don’t provide those things, but users can watch their usual TV or sound playing equipment, read, knit, talk on the phone, text, check their Facebook account with a mobile device or laptop and play video games.
All while spinning the pedals of the bicycle.
It wouldn’t be accepted in a typical class, but it works for many people who know they need to improve their physical conditioning and yet have no ambition to win races.
Many overweight users of recumbent exercise cycles report losing weight over time. And many of them do it just by pedaling the cycling while engaging in their favorite leisure activities. That burns up extra calories.
Recumbent models do come with handlebars at the side, and this gives users the opportunity to work their arms and chests a little. But many others prefer just to work their legs.
However, if the recumbent bike user wants to raise the resistance levels, they can. They can sprint hard for a short but exhausting workout of High Intensity Interval Training.
Because recumbent exercise bicycles have large seats and back rests, they’re safer than upright cycles. Of course, you should still be careful of where you are, especially if you have balance problems. And especially when getting on and off the bike.
Because you can’t stand up while still riding, there’s much less risk of falling.
Look for a model which has adjustable pedal straps and counter balanced pedals.
If you foot happens to slip off, the counter balance keeps the pedal in the same position.
And the straps around your shoes help hold your feet onto the pedals so they don’t slip off.
Some models come with heart rate monitors. Or you can wear one of your own. Follow your doctor or physical therapist’s advice about keeping your heart rate in a safe zone.
And remember to pay attention to your body. If you begin to feel stressed, back off and rest for a while.
Especially in the beginning, don’t expect to get in instant shape.
Start out slowly. Focus on fitting cycling into your daily routine so it’s a habit you do without thinking, like brushing your teeth and bathing.
As you strengthen your heart and your muscles, gradually build up the effort or the amount of time you spend cycling.
Keep everything away from the moving parts. Don’t let children play on it.
Who are Recumbent Exercise Bikes Best for?
If you have any kind of back weakness, injury, arthritis, pain or other vulnerability.
If you need to rehabilitate one or both knees.
If you are too overweight to sit comfortably on the small seat of an upright bike.
If you want to burn calories for as long and comfortably as possible.
If you have trouble setting aside a special time to work out.
If you’re elderly, frail or have problems with your sense of balance.
You like the idea of exercising and losing weight even while you watch a movie, read a book or talk to a friend.
If you didn’t ride a bicycle as a kid or if you are not attached to the feel of those cycles.
Both Types of Stationary Bicycles
Depending on the model, they come with a lot of options. They often have timers, trackers to tell you how many miles you’ve traveled, displays of how many calories you’ve burned and another display of how fast you’re going.
They may come with Bluetooth and Apple connectivity so you can upload the information to a mobile app to track your goals. Some have holders for beverage cups or bottles of water. Some will hold a laptop. Others have USB chargers. Some have screens that will display landscape going by in case you want to pretend you’re really outside.
Many of these extras raise the price you pay for the indoor exercise bike. However, they may be worth it to you if they help you remain motivated and active. So consider and choose carefully.
Both types of exercise bicycles allow you to burn calories. That depends on the amount of effort you exert, not on the bicycle.
Both types rest on the floor. Get a model that is sturdy and well-constructed so it remains flat on the floor. It shouldn’t wobble. If you place it on a hardwood or laminate floor, consider placing it on a tough mat to protect your flooring.
Both types take up space, but many upright models fold up. Recumbant models do not. Therefore, they are more likely to wind up occupying a permanent spot in your den or living room.
However, that’s a good thing. Every time you put an indoor exercise bike away and out of sight, there’s risk you’ll never take it out again, leaving it buried in the closet.
Therefore, keep it out of storage, ready for use. Sell your lounge chair on Craig’s List if you need to.
In the long run, the best type of exercise bicycle is the one you’ll keep on using year after year.