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How to get the best out of stationary bike workouts
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How to get the best out of stationary bike workouts

A stationary bike workout or indoor cycling is easier on the joints and provides a milder form of cardio compared with, say, treadmill running or working on a cross trainer 
Stationary bike workouts enhance cardiovascular strength.
Done with the appropriate intensity and for the right duration, stationary bike workouts help to reduce body fat and improve lean body mass. (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

Cycling puts less strain on the load-bearing joints while also providing a good cardio workout with a fair bit of strengthening of the leg muscles. It strengthens the cardiovascular system and improves endurance. An indoor cycling workout, done on a stationary bike, brings the best elements of this much-loved activity into a gym set-up. Many people use it as a warm-up or incorporate it into their cardio routine. 

A stationary bike workout (or indoor cycling) is great as an activity that is easier on the joints and is a relatively milder form of cardio compared to a treadmill or a cross trainer. However, one should be mindful about not overdoing it, say experts, stressing on the importance of keeping tabs on the duration spent on the bike. 

Studies have tried to ascertain the effectiveness of stationary bike workouts over the years. One research on the health benefits of indoor cycling found that it can be effective in enhancing VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can utilize during intense exercise). The combination of indoor cycling and diet was recommended for improving the lipid profile, losing weight and reducing blood pressure. Another research concluded that indoor cycling and a low-calorie diet help fight obesity and control serum lipids.  

Cardio intensity in stationary bike workouts 

“A stationary cycle is for people who have back pain or aren’t able to walk for a long duration,” says Deepak Ramesh, an ACE certified fitness, strength and conditioning specialist from Chennai. “Stationary cycles do help for warm-ups in strength training. However, to improve cardiovascular fitness in the gym, other cardio machines are more effective. So, other activities such as swimmingrunning or cycling can be considered too.” 

Indoor cycling is not an intense form of cardio activity, explains Deepak. However, intensity notwithstanding, it has its plus points.  

“If a person can run, then they should undertake running as their primary form of cardio instead of a stationary bike workout,” he says. “But if someone has back pain and is unable to run, or is aged, then they should go for stationary bikes. Other than this, stationary cycling is done by cyclists who want to improve their cycling form or biomechanics.”  

Pradeep Soni, a fitness trainer from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, feels if one is keen on adding cycling to their cardio routine, then doing it outdoors is better. “For a cardio workout, an individual can use any cardio machine,” he says.  

Precautions for stationary bike workouts 

It is commonly observed that people just hop on to stationary bikes and start pedaling for an arbitrary amount of time. Adjusting the setting of the bike to suit one’s size, activating the muscles involved and monitoring the heart rate are among the key aspects that should be kept in mind during a bike workout. 

“The first thing one must consider before starting to work out on a stationary bike is their fitness goal and medical conditions, if any,” adds Soni. “If someone has some extreme health issues, then a medical clearance from the doctor is essential. The second aspect is a trainer’s guidance. Though the equipment seems simple, a trainer’s guidance is important.” 

Cycling is easy on the joints but adjusting the seat is of the utmost importance to avoid lower-back, shoulder and knee pain while cycling.  

“While pedalling, the knee is not supposed to extend completely,” says Deepak. “For this, the seat needs to be adjusted. [Apart from adjusting] the height, the seat can be moved forward or backward in most stationary bikes. Though stationary cycles are a low-intensity exercise and won’t harm much, adjusting the seat height negates any chance of injury or strain.”   

Workout duration 

Monitoring the heart rate is important while using stationary bikes for a workout. This also has a bearing in deciding the duration of the workout. 

“The duration depends on an individual’s capacity,” says Deepak. “If someone wants to cycle for an hour, they can do it. So, with a heart rate of around 60%, an individual’s max, they can do cardio for up to two hours. And as the heart rate keeps on increasing, the duration of the cardio should be reduced.” 

Deepak also endorses monitoring the RPE (rate of perceived exertion), a common metric used to check the intensity of aerobic exercise. It is even more important for those with hypertension, he adds.  

Takeaways 

  1. A stationary bike workout (or indoor cycling) is a low-intensity cardio exercise compared with, say, treadmill running or a cross trainer workout. 
  1. While using stationary bikes, make sure you adjust the seat height as per your body’s parameters. The knee is not supposed to extend fully while pedaling and there should be a soft bend in the knee. 
  2. Monitoring the heart rate is important while deciding the duration of stationary bike workouts. 

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