Is an Exercise Bike Good for Cardio?

If your stationary bike cardio workout consists of leisurely pedaling while paying more attention to the overhead TV than to your heart rate, level of intensity or speed, then an exercise bike will not provide a good cardio workout. On the other hand, if you pedal briskly, with a medium to high resistance level, an exercise bike provides excellent cardio exercise. Intensity and frequency make a world of difference in increasing your cardio fitness.

A stationary bike is a good cardio workout. (Image: Thomas Barwick/Taxi/GettyImages)

Tip

Using a stationary bike for cardio can provide an excellent workout — but not if you only use the bike as a clothes hanger. The benefits you get from your stationary bike workout will depend on how much effort you put into it.

Benefits of an Exercise Bike

If you have knee, hip or ankle joint problems, such as bursitis or arthritis, riding an exercise bike allows you to exercise your heart and lungs without putting additional stress on weak or injured joints. The Arthritis Foundation says that stationary cycling is an excellent cardio workout that doesn't stress weight-bearing joints.

Moreover, a bike offers exercise for those with balance problems, which can occur with older exercisers or those who have been inactive for a period of time. Recumbent bikes provide a larger, broader seat and support for your back, which makes them a good choice if you have back pain or aren't comfortable on an upright bike seat.

Comparisons With Other Equipment

Stationary bike cardio is just one of many options for a great cardio workout in the gym. The best piece of equipment to use depends on your workout goals, and any injuries you are working around.

A stationary bike and an elliptical machine are both excellent options if you are looking for a low-impact workout that will not stress your joints. A rowing machine is better if you're looking for a full-body workout. A StairMaster is a good option for a lower body workout, and a treadmill offers you the natural movement of running or walking that you're already used to.

Intensity And Frequency

Choose a bike with adjustable resistance levels to get the best cardio workout. Begin with a five-minute warmup and spend 150 minutes a week of moderate cycling or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, spaced out so you exercise almost daily. The American Council on Exercise advises that interval training is an excellent way to maximize a cardio workout.

For instance, cycle for one or two minutes as fast as you possibly can, followed by a one-minute rest interval. Repeat the cycle of short, energetic bursts followed by recovery for 10 minutes. Work up to 20 or 30 minutes of intervals as your fitness level increases.

Precautions to Consider

Position the handlebars and seat correctly to minimize back, shoulder or groin pain. The bike seat should be level with the floor and just high enough so that your knees bend slightly at the bottom of the pedaling stroke. Adjust the seat so that your hips do not rock back and forth as you pedal. If you are taking an indoor cycling class for the first time, Harvard Health Publishing recommends asking the instructor to help you set up your bike.

If you are at risk for bone density loss, alternate your low-impact biking with weight-bearing exercise such as stair climbing or running. Finally, vary which exercise machines you use to avoid overuse injuries that can lead to tendonitis or bursitis.

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