With a stationary bike, you have myriad options for workouts — from self-guided, DIY workouts to a variety of streaming workouts online to instructor-led classes at a gym or studio. You can either have a super-sweaty, heart-pumping interval workout or a slow and steady endurance ride just by twisting a knob and adjusting your cadence.
"The intensity of your workout is defined by level of resistance and your leg speed," says Rhodie Lorenz, cycling instructor and founder of JoyRide Studio in Westport, Connecticut. "Because the resistance can always be turned up, you have the opportunity to continuously push yourself to the next level and do not risk a plateau."
Regardless of the type of workout, the bike delivers an excellent cardio workout and strengthens your legs, upper body and core. The one that works best for you can vary from day to day, or you can pick one and get into a groove up to five days a week to help you build a healthy, consistent workout routine. Whatever type of workout you choose, make sure you remember to enjoy the ride!
Ideal Length and Intensity for Stationary Bike Workouts
As little as 10 minutes of exercise at a time counts toward your weekly goal of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. That works out to 15 to 30 minutes total if you work out five days a week, though at least 20 minutes on the bike is ideal.
Hopping on a stationary bike either at home or at your gym and taking 10 minutes to ride at moderate intensity while you read an e-book, listen to music, enjoy a podcast, watch a video, stream a show or chat with a friend will pass so quickly, you may just go over your allotted time without realizing it.
If you're trying to lose weight, a stationary bike workout jump-starts your body's calorie- and fat-burning processes. In 30 minutes of cycling at a casual pace (5.5 MPH), a 150-pound person can burn 132 calories, according to the American Council on Exercise. Increase the speed to 12 to 13 MPH and that same person would burn 272 calories. But the exact number of calories burned depends on your weight and intensity.
In terms of intensity, you always want to ride with at least some resistance under the wheel for your workout to be worth your time. If your legs are spinning and you don't feel a thing, it isn't doing you much good.
"At JoyRide, we cue on a scale of five to 10 (five being a flat road or it should feel like you are riding into a heavy head wind)," Lorenz says. At an eight to 10, your pedal stroke should be slow and even, and your pace is bound to be slow, as if you're riding through mud or up a steep hill.
After a big climb at high resistance toward the end of class, JoyRide instructors often lower the lights, direct the class to lower resistance to a level-four, downhill feel, close their eyes and pedal it out as quickly as possible to music that hits a crescendo.
Not only does this open up the leg muscles a bit after hard work, it's a great feeling that can be compared to riding a BigWheel down the hill as a kid. "Enjoyment should be an important part of your workout," Lorenz says.
Read more: 8 Impressive Benefits of Indoor Cycling Workouts
Can You Do Indoor Cycling Every Day?
Even if you have a passion for indoor cycling workouts and want to hop on your stationary bike every day, it's healthy to switch up your workouts for at least two days each week for balance and variety. "It is important to balance the body out by cross-training," Lorenz says. "No single form of exercises repeated can address or achieve all of your fitness needs."
She recommends keeping in in mind three key components of a well-rounded fitness program: cardio, strength and flexibility. If you ride for 45 to 60 minutes, four to five times a week, round it out by incorporating strength training and flexibility circuit classes like weight-lifting, CrossFit, Pilates or yoga on the other days.
Is Cycling Good for Your Knees?
Cycling is a fantastic way to ramp up your cardio workout in a low-impact way. Much better than treadmill running, in fact. While both the treadmill and the stationary bike provide a great cardio workout, running can be hard on your knees and lower back. "For longevity and less injury, cycling is a more inclusive form of exercise for all ages and fitness levels," Lorenz says.
If you do feel a strain on your knees, lower back or shoulders while riding, check your form and your bike setup. Your seat should be adjusted to a comfortable height with your weight distributed over the center of the bike, knees facing forward, focusing on pushing and pulling in your pedal strokes. When your foot is at the bottom of the stroke, your knee should have a slight bend, and your front foot should be directly underneath your knee.
Is Buying Your Own Stationary Bike Worth It?
Purchasing a stationary bike for home use doesn't have to break the bank, and it allows you the freedom of working out as often and as long as time allows. While a high-end bike can cost a couple thousand dollars, you can pick up a new indoor bike for less than $200 online or in a local shop. And used indoor bicycles are often listed for sale online and cost significantly less than a new one.
If you don't have the space, however, or if leaving the house to exercise is what gets you motivated, there's something to be said for working out using the commercial-grade indoor cycling bikes with all the bells and whistles at a gym. A gym membership also affords you the use of additional workout equipment and may also include access to indoor cycling classes, which offer a community that motivates you to push your perceived limits.
Indoor Cycling Classes vs. Solo Rides
Whether you choose a group class like SoulCycle or pedal it out on your own depends on what you have available and your personal preferences. For instance, the energy in a group cycling class can motivate you on days your energy is lagging.
"Riding in a room in the dark with loud music and the in person energy of the other riders makes the experience," says Lorenz, whose studio offers a variety of classes, even ones that feature a live DJ and disco lights.
At a gym or a studio, you're more likely to push yourself a bit harder, as you're motivated by your fellow riders. Some indoor cycling classes, like those that use Flywheel technology, or Peloton or Echelon classes which are available live and on demand, offer a competitive mode so you can compare your performance and output to the rest of the class.
But solo rides lets you customize your workout so that you can focus on what you enjoy about cycling. You might even opt to watch your favorite TV show, listen to a podcast or just zone out as you exercise. Create your own workouts based on the time you have. Start by selecting your favorite songs, then either pedal faster or increase resistance at the chorus for an interval workout.
Or you can recreate a outdoor hill workout by warming up with a slow-and-steady first song, increasing resistance at every chorus for the second song as if you're climbing a steep hill, riding at moderate resistance on a plateau for the third song, another climb for the fourth song, then a lower resistance, downhill sprint for the last song before a cooldown.
Low-Impact vs. High-Intensity Rides
While cycling is lower-impact by nature, you can also opt for classes that are lower intensity too. "I recommend lower-impact classes to anyone nursing an injury or hopping on the bike for an active recovery day," says Tunde Oyeneyin, a Peloton cycling instructor.
A low-impact, low-intensity class will keep you in your seat for most of the ride, focusing on varying your speed and intensity instead of varying the amount of time you spend out of the saddle. "Low-impact rides are also a great option for someone just getting back into the swing of things." Or if you need an active recovery workout.
On the flip side, higher-intensity classes will tap into your anaerobic zone, bringing your heart rate to between 85 and 100 percent of your maximum and focusing on maintaining that efforts over a set duration of time.
HIIT and Tabata are both interval-based classes, designed to build endurance and overall athletic performance. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) focuses on all-out effort for a set amount of time, followed by rest periods. Tabata, named after Izumi Tabata (the Japanese professor who authored a study on his method back in 1996), is a type of HIIT that alternates between 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times for a total of four minutes.
Change Up Your Cycling Routine to Avoid Burnout
"Each time you hop on the bike, you have the opportunity to make the journey ahead your own," says Oyeneyin. "Adding variance to your catalogue, whether it's trying a different class type, a new instructor, or a different music genre, keeps you guessing and helps make the workout exciting."
And if you're falling out of love with indoor cycling, give yourself a chance to miss it. Hop on a road bike and go for a ride when the weather permits. You can change it up even more by hitting the treadmill or the trails for a week or more, trying a rowing class or even going to an indoor rock climbing gym.
"Incorporating both indoor cycling and treadmill workouts into your routine is a great way to mix things up," Oyeneyin says. "Cycling is a low-impact exercise with a lower body focus. Running is a universal sport that engages your whole body."
Switch between cycling and the treadmill and adding in other stretching and strengthening practices to your cardio routines to hit every muscle group and keep your body and mind in the groove.