Stationary bikes are becoming more and more common to a point where you can see one in almost every household. They are a great way to stay in shape and are excellent for people that have certain limitations stopping them from training outdoors or doing more dynamic exercises. Knowing how to get the most out of your stationary bike, however, takes some preparation and, in this article, I will give you all of my best tips and recommendations for a healthy workout!
In this article, we will talk back positions, possible warm-up routines, tips on how to position your bike better, and a ton more! If you want to learn more about recumbent bikes and see which the best models for this year are, head over to my full Buyer’s Guide…
Every workout must always start with getting your body up to speed with what’s about to follow. This is why properly warming up is the first step to maximizing your gains from the stationary bike.
While some experts argue that warming up on-the-go is a good approach to acclimating your body to what it is about to go through, there are still some static stretches that you can do in order to conditions your joints and tendons better. Some of those include stretching your legs, more specifically the quadriceps and abductor muscles. Calves are also important in cycling, so don’t forget those. Lastly, stretch your back, shoulders, neck, and ankles, as these will also take a beating in case of an intense workout.
After you’re done warming up, it is time to set up your bike for the workout…
Setting Up Your Stationary Bike
This step is geared more towards people that go to the gym and use a different bike all the time (or a single bike that has been used by others). If you’re reading this in order to get some tips for your home workout, then feel free to skip to the next part!
Now, let’s get started with adjusting the bike! There are three key parts that you have to go through and adjust to your needs. Those are:
With the stationary bike’s seat, you can adjust the height, angle, and fore/aft. The angle of the seat should allow the seat to support your whole body. Having the seat lean forward will make you slide while leaning backward can create pressure points across your body. Having it leaning too much forward will also put pressure on all your joints in your hands and shoulders.
The seat height should be adjusted according to your leg’s length. When your leg is at its lowest point pedaling, it should have its knee slightly bent.
Lastly, when you’re adjusting the fore/aft position (forward and backward) of the seat you should be positioned carefully to match your knee’s tendons. What I want to say is that your forward knee should be directly on top of the pedal’s axle.
Handlebars that aren’t adjusted can lead to all sorts of neck, shoulder, or hand trauma. This is why you should make sure that both handlebars are at the correct height and distance from your body. The handlebar position should allow you to comfortably ride at all holding positions and should also allow you to bend your elbows in a comfortable manner when riding. With road cycling, it is a rule of thumb that the handlebar should block your view of the front wheel axle but that is impossible to work with on a stationary bike.
Pedals either have clips or straps that should be adjusted before you start training. Some stationary bike will have a special clip-in type of pedals that work with your cycling shoes. That adds to the realism of the workout but it is still a rare option. Having straps will allow you to both push and pull on the pedals, working out around the whole circular motion of the pedals. Stationary bikes without either of those can typically adjust the height of their pedals.
You can also adjust the resistance of the bike at this stage but we will play around with workout programs in a moment, so leave that for later…
If you haven’t yet decided where to put your bike, a basement is an ideal location. These stay warm during the winter and relatively cool during the hotter months. the goal of the bike placement is to provide a good climate for your body to workout in. Avoid extremely hot or very cold places as these can either overwork your cardiovascular system or prevent you from warming up your muscles and joints properly.
Choosing Your Training Modes
Playing with the resistance levels of your stationary bike can allow you to simulate different types of roads you’re riding on. It also allows you to have different types of workouts like uphill, HIIT, regular interval training, warm-up rides, and more. Increasing the resistance manually will feel like going up a hill all of a sudden and will actively engage some of your muscles (glutes and hamstrings mainly).
If your bike doesn’t provide any default training programs, you can use a few examples based on the cadence, Watts, and other factors. In terms of the cadence, try keeping your pace at around 80 to 100 rpm. If you’re using Watts as your primary training indicator, start off at 50 Watts, and increase this with 10 Watts every 2 minutes peaking at 120 Watts (4 minutes) and then repeating the pyramid’s steps on the way down.
If you’re into HIIT, here is a high-intensity interval training workout example:
- 15 minutes warming up (normal pace and resistance)
- HIIT section (14 minutes): 1-minute high-intensity pedaling with 1-minute recovery repeated 7 times
- 15 minutes recovery pedaling
The high-intensity parts should be primarily in your 4th Heart Rate Zone (80-90% of your HR Max).
Keeping A Good Form
The form you maintain while riding your stationary bike primarily relates to your back position. Still, the general recommendation is to have your knees slightly bent (up to 10 degrees) at their lowest pedaling point. Your back should be at different angles depending on what you want to emphasize:
- Keeping a straight back (180 degrees) – This position is very comfortable but gives you the least amount of pushing power on the pedals
- Having your back slightly tilted forward (225 degrees) – This is a neutral position that gives you some amount of power when pedaling and is also fairly comfortable.
- Having your back inclined forward (275 degrees) – This is the least comfortable position possible but gives you the most amount of power at your feet.
Whatever you do, keep your back straight and your elbows bent when holding the front handlebars. There are different holding positions possible but all of those depend on the type of stationary bike you have and its handles. Try not moving your ankles too much when pedaling and always remember to push and pull on the pedals instead of just pushing.
All those angles are between your back’s line and the seat.
Mix In Some Interval Training
Interval training has shown the most promising results when it comes to health benefits from stationary bikes in multiple studies. It improves cardiovascular health in a much more pronounced way than regular bike riding and has a longer-lasting effect on our fitness levels.
What it consists of is basically mixing in short bursts of hard pedaling with prolonged periods of more relaxed pacing. You can control the resistance levels for the high-intensity bursts in order to make it as hard as possible and then select some of the easier resistances for the wind-down phase. Start with 5 repeats and see how you feel at various resistance settings before you personalize it to your capacity.
Stationary bikes are awesome for their intended purpose but they are also super good at keeping you entertained while you’re breaking a sweat. While most advanced models come with huge screens and have internet and whatnot, you can put your bike in front of your TV at home or use a tablet or a phone to watch your favorite show or listen to your favorite podcast. For all of you music-lovers out there, this is the perfect moment to listen to your favorite workout playlist!
The Recovery Process
Even after you’re done with the stationary bike, there are still things that you can do to maximize your results. Apart from restoring your glycogen stores, you can stretch out and begin your recovery process by normalizing your heart and breathing rates. Do some static stretches of your legs, since they were the ones that took the hardest hit during the workout. Don’t forget stretching your back, shoulders, and neck.
After you’re done stretching and relaxing, go prepare yourself your favorite post-workout meal. Protein shakes work great, especially when they are combined with some high-glycemic-index carbs.
If you want to find out more stationary bike workouts, make sure you check out my dedicated article on that topic!
Learning how to make the most out of your stationary bike can be separated into a few different stages – warming up your body properly, setting up the bike’s parts to be as comfortable as possible, keeping correct posture during the workout, and cooling down after you’re done training. To reap the most benefits, you can also throw in some interval training and pay attention to what you eat before and after the workout!