Fitness Articles

How to Use the Stationary Bike

A Revolutionary Approach to Fitness

45SHARES
If you’ve never tried a stationary bike, you’re missing out on a fantastic cardio exercise that strengthens your legs and lungs at the same time. A stationary bike is a low-impact option that's easy on your joints.

Types of Bikes
Not all stationary bikes are alike. There are two main types, an upright bike and a recumbent bike:
  • The first option, an upright bike, is like a regular bicycle (your legs extend below your torso and your back is not supported), only stationary.
  • Recumbent bikes offer a more relaxed, supported sitting position. Like a chair, they have seat backs to support your back, and instead of pedaling below, your legs usually extend in front of you.
The Set-Up
Proper bike set-up will give you an effective workout and reduce your risk of injury. Adjusting a bike to fit you usually involves three to four variables:
  • Seat height: On an upright bike, start by adjusting your seat to about the height of your hip. Have a seat, placing your feet on/into the pedals. With one leg fully extended (foot flat and parallel to the floor), you should have only a small bend in your knee—about 5-10 degrees. You should be able to pedal comfortably without having to point or flex your feet to reach full extension. Adjust your seat again if necessary to reach this position. On a recumbent bike, your legs should almost extend fully, keeping a small bend in the knee. Recumbent bike seats adjust forward and backward along a track.
  • Seat fore & aft (for upright bikes): Once you have adjusted your seat to proper height, some bikes allow you to move the seat forward and backward for a more comfortable position. When pedaling, your knees should be closely aligned with your ankles. If your knees are coming forward close to your toes or beyond, adjust the seat backward.
  • Handlebar height (for upright bikes): Adjust the handlebars so that you are in a comfortable position. Raising the handlebars higher will alleviate lower back stress that occurs when you learn forward. You should be able to reach the handlebars easily, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  • Foot straps: Most bikes have straps that you can place your feet into when pedaling. Take advantage of this feature, which allows you to both push and pull the pedals, creating a much more efficient pedal stroke. The straps should fit snugly but not too tightly.
The Workout
Once you're set-up, you can manually control your workout incline, 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. For more workout ideas, check out these SparkPeople workout programs:

Stationary Biking for Speed
Stationary Biking for Endurance
Stationary Biking Intervals
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • Interesting how some people indicated they went to a recumbent bike due to back or hip problems. I had to switch to an upright stationary bike because the recumbent bike caused me to have hip surgery. Unbeknownst to me, I had a very small hip capsule, and the use of the recumbent bike eventually contributed to tearing my hip cartilage, as my hip bone kept bumping against the hip capsule in this position. I did not have this issue with the upright bike.

    My point? Everyone is different, and what works for one person, doesn't necessarily work for another. If anything is causing you pain or extreme discomfort, or you find yourself trying to "realign" yourself after you remove yourself from a piece of equipment to alleviate pain or discomfort, you most likely should follow up with a doctor or physical therapist to make sure you should be using that particular type of equipment. - 10/21/2013 12:37:24 PM
  • I have a stationary bike (upright) that I love to use. It is called a Fit Desk. I ordered it from Amazon and it has an attached foam(styro??) desk that can be removed. It has a mileage calculator with all the hoopla. It also has a intensity dial. I got it about a year ago and use it all the time. It cost about $100-150 including shipping. The company is very responsive also.
    Just saying.... - 4/16/2013 9:15:44 PM
  • I love my recumbent bike - I can ride like the wind - 10/16/2012 11:15:14 AM
  • sone helpful information. thanks - 2/18/2011 6:41:28 AM
  • Feel like I'm missing something really basic here - how can you NOT lean forward on a stationary bike? You wouldn't be able to hold the handle bars without leaning forward. Anyway, at the moment (I weigh 185 and should be more like 150!) my stationary bike is the only form of exercise that DOESN'T hurt my back. I've never had lower back pain before - but now when I walk for even ten minutes I have lower back pain. It's very frustrating because I used to love walking. Even walking up stairs with a few bags of groceries will hurt my back. So, this information that leaning forward on the bike could be causing my back pain is both interesting and confusing. Suggestions and comments welcomed! - 3/27/2010 11:15:12 AM
  • Thanks so much for the bike information. Because of a disability I can no longer ride a regular bike. - 9/28/2009 2:12:05 PM
  • Thanks so much for the bike information. Because of a disability I can no longer ride a regular bike. - 9/28/2009 2:11:59 PM
  • GIANT-STEPS
    I'd add a few points to this article.

    For beginners a recumbent exercise bike is the better choice because it is easier to pump blood to your legs when they are closer to the level of your heart. Trained cyclists have the ability to supply more blood to their legs than most people can supply to their entire body but beginners often have trouble reaching high heart rates on upright bikes. Another advantage of recumbent exercise bikes is that you can exercise your upper body while pedaling. Using a pair of light dumbells to exercise your upper body while pedaling can allow you to train at higher cardio output.

    Upright bikes do not have seats, they have saddles. On Bike saddles you sit on your ischial tuberosities or "sit bones." Women have wider hips than men since a baby has to be able to pass through the birth canal so for most women men's saddles are uncomfortable because the end up sitting on the soft tissues between the bones. Women's saddles are slightly wider than men's to fit the female anatomy better. Even the best fitting and designed saddles will be uncomfortable at first; it takes a few rides to toughen up your posterior until it can comfortably support your weight. Excessively wide saddles feel comfortable at first but their width causes extra friction that will make long sessions more painful. - 1/27/2009 4:14:38 PM
  • anyone have a recumbent bike workout routine? i don't have uphill on my bike. I have to adjust myself manually. - 11/11/2008 10:49:56 PM
  • Because of lower back issues, I use a recumbent at the gym, and am looking into to get one for home use..I do interval training on it, just as one would on a reg stationary bike; I just don't have to worry about throwing my back out, yet still get the cardiac benefit..The one I use at the gym has workout programs just the same; hills, difficulty levels, etc.. - 8/8/2008 9:18:29 PM
  • I don't like those skinny seats either! A wide derriere and skinny bike seat just don't match! Luckily, my fitness center has different size seats on different bikes. - 7/31/2008 8:53:11 PM
  • STILLWATER7
    I love my recumbent bike! I was sporadically using it from January thru the summer last year. But in August I got serious. My middle son had moved into his first apartment, and had just finished school to be a personal trainer, so he was on me about exercise for therapy. So, I brought the bike up form the basement, and made his empty bedroom into my home gym. I started with 1-2 miles a day for a few weeks, then every 2 weeks I added 1 mile- with my goal to be at 10 miles a day by Christmas Day. I set my schedule for the same time every day, when a favorite tv show was on, and determined not to let ANYTHING interrupt that time-including the phone. I reached my goal on Christmas Day! I've been continuing every day, and I can finally feel the muscles, even as I'm walking through the house and doing every day chores. It's so encouraging to feel my body responding. For anyone who does not yet have a bike, I've used both kinds, and the upright with the smaller seat was somewhat harder, and would sometimes cause tingling in the hip joints. With the recumbent bike, it has a seat more like an office chair, so it's more comfortable, and you're more likely to stick with it then. I highly recommend going to the store and really try out a few models for 5-10 minutes each model. We went to an actual fitness equipment store, and the staff knew how to fit you for each piece of equipment. I had had a hip replacement, and had nerve damage, so my range of motion was very limited, and found only one bike that I could actually get on and off without injuring myself. I did spend about $800 on it ,but it was an investment in my recovery, and lifelong health. It does have a computer screen which shows rpm, miles biked, pulse , heart rate, calories burned, and time it took from start to finish. It also figures your BMI. Even if this is out of your price range, buy the best you can afford, use what is available, but set your schedule, and love yourself enough to stick with it.! - 3/27/2008 2:15:22 PM
  • Thanks for the Stationary Biking Intervals program. I use it everyday and the time just flies by. Perfect for beginner to expert.
    - 3/24/2008 5:30:31 PM
  • Great article. I still don't like that skinny little racing seat, so I'll stay with the bike that has the big, wide one! - 2/13/2008 9:27:06 PM
  • I'm considering getting my first stationary bike. This article provides some rather helpful insight. - 1/29/2008 12:31:49 PM
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