A stationary exercise bike is a familiar piece of cardiovascular equipment that is generally easy to use. Bikes provide a no-impact aerobic workout that can strengthen and tone the muscles of the legs and buttocks.
- See our full article about Exercise Bikes for a Low Stress Work Out
The popularity and durability of exercise bikes have increased over the last few years, driven in part by 'spinning' classes - group cycling classes offered by many gyms - and as an aging public has looked for lower-impact forms of exercise. New stationary bike models are fairly sophisticated, and now go beyond counting miles and tracking speed to having multiple programs that manage and change exercise pace, count calories burned, and measure heart rate. Some exercise bikes can connect to the Internet, allowing users to maintain an online record of exercise sessions to chart progress.
There are two main types of exercise bikes: upright and recumbent. An upright exercise bike looks like a regular road bike, with a vertical orientation and handlebars out front. On a recumbent bike, the rider is seated against a backrest, with legs out in front. Experts differ about the comparative health benefits of upright versus recumbent models, and most agree that selection is a matter of personal preference. For back pain patients it may depend on comfort while in a leaning forward position sitting on an upright stationary bike, or in a reclining position on a recumbent bike.
- Upright exercise bikes allow for more variety of movement, such as riding while standing or in a racing position, so more muscle groups can be exercised as a biker changes position. Also, users with conditions such as spinal stenosis or osteoarthritis may find the forward-leaning position of the upright bike to be most comfortable.
- Recumbent exercise bikes may be somewhat easier to use for some people because the backrest provides additional balance. Users with mechanical low back pain (such as degenerative disc disease) sometimes find the back support and reclining position of the recumbent bike more comfortable. However, some fitness experts also warn that recumbent bikes encourage a slower, less intense workout and which may deliver less cardiovascular benefit.
Most exercise bike manufacturers will offer both styles of bike, and the recumbent bikes are typically more expensive. Trying out both types of home exercise bike in a store or gym will make the decision easier.
Advantages to Using an Exercise Bike
- Bikes generally require very little maintenance; keeping the chain clean and oiled takes care of most potential problems
- Basic exercise (pedaling) is not difficult, so learning the exercise is very easy
- No/low impact exercise lessens risk of injury or strain
- Popularity of biking and spinning means users can add variety to workouts by using spinning videos
- Upright (traditional) exercise bikes and recumbent exercise bikes allow users choice in deciding which type of stationary bike is most comfortable.
Disadvantages to Using an Exercise Bike
- Bikes are exclusively focused on exercising legs, so users will need to balance bike exercise with upper body and core exercise for a balanced workout
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What to Check Before Purchasing a Stationary Bike
Checking the following features and testing bikes at a gym or store first will increase the chances of finding the right bike for an exercise program:
- An easily adjustable seat. The seat should be at hip height to ride comfortably. On a recumbent model, the back should feel fully supported. Pedals should be wide with a strap to keep feet in place.
- A covered wheel and chain will prevent fingers from getting pinched and minimize the amount of dust that could settle on and clog the mechanism, and also buffer the noise from the machine
- A readable monitor within easy reach to adjust resistance and see displays such as distance, speed, time, calories burned and resistance level.
- Enough space between the seat and handles to easily get on and off
- A heavy front wheel, which makes for a more stable bike
- A heart-rate monitor that will allow users to measure whether they are at the right level of exertion. More expensive machines have cordless chest straps, which are more accurate than a hand-grip monitor.