You'd be hard-pressed to find a more convenient and effective home workout than a high-resistance exercise bike. Carefully considering the exercise parameters you use is key, though. Use the proper resistance and pedal for an appropriate duration to fully reap the benefits.
High-Resistance Cycling Benefits
Before you begin to tinker with the settings on your bike, it's important to understand why this type of exercise is so valuable. A closer look reveals that high-resistance cycling has numerous benefits ranging from fat loss and mental wellbeing to improved heart health.
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MD Anderson Center explains that stationary biking is a great exercise for individuals who have problems with their hip and knee joints. People with conditions like osteoarthritis will appreciate the low-impact nature of biking, which allows them to get a proper workout without irritating their affected joints. Plus, by adding tension to your high-resistance exercise bike, you can strengthen the muscles in your legs to take the pressure off arthritic areas.
Stationary biking and cardiovascular exercise, in general, make it easier to manage daily stress. When a person exercises, their body releases "feel-good" hormones called endorphins. These chemicals are your body's way of improving your mood by decreasing feelings of stress and pain. Think about the so-called runner's high — that feeling of mental wellbeing is due to the release of endorphins and other beneficial compounds.
Finally (and perhaps most important), regular high-resistance cycling benefits cardiovascular health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, consistently performing aerobic exercise, such as stationary biking, may lead to lower blood pressure, decreased risk of diabetes and improved lung function.
Furthermore, riding an exercise bike may improve the overall function of your heart. People who regularly perform cardio exercise have lower resting heart rates and reduced odds of cardiac hypertrophy. This condition is characterized by a thickening of the left ventricle of the heart, which may lead to high blood pressure.
To maximize the numerous health benefits listed above, Cleveland Clinic suggests riding for a minimum of 30 minutes each session. This time would not include your warm-up, cool-down and any stretching you complete before or afterward. The clinic recommends performing such a workout between five and seven times weekly.
Modifying the stationary bike resistance levels or the duration of your ride can alter the number of calories burned during your exercise session. Working harder burns more calories.
Burn More Calories
Now that you understand why cycling is so beneficial, it is easier to examine how modifying the time and resistance of your workout affects the total number of calories you burn. According to Harvard Health Publishing, minor adjustments in the time or tension can make a big difference in the difficulty of your ride.
For example, a 155-pound person who rides at a moderate speed for 30 minutes will burn approximately 260 calories during this workout. Increasing the overall time on the bike to one hour would essentially double the number of calories burned to 520.
However, if you are looking to increase the intensity of your workout without extending your time on the bike, modifying the tension during your ride is a good option. By increasing the resistance, you'll make your workout more challenging and burn more calories in the same amount of time.
Read more: Which Burns More Calories: Walking or Biking?
As Harvard Health Publishing notes, a 155-pound individual who vigorously rides a stationary bike will burn about 391 calories in a half-hour. To put it another way, by increasing stationary bike resistance levels, you can burn off an additional 131 calories and get more bang for your buck during your ride.
The same concept remains true regardless of how much you weigh. Harvard Health Publishing suggests that people with a body weight of 185 pounds burn about 311 calories in 30 minutes of moderate stationary biking and 466 calories after a half-hour of vigorous riding. Basically, no matter your body size, adding resistance is a time-efficient way to burn more calories during your bike ride.
Choose the Right Bike
Just as there are numerous different high-resistance cycling benefits, there are also different types of bikes to purchase for your home gym. Selecting the right option helps ensure that you will comfortably and consistently use the equipment during your workouts.
One of the most common types is the stationary, or upright, exercise bike. This device, which resembles a regular bicycle, allows you to pedal in a position similar to the one you would use if you were riding a bicycle outdoors.
An upright bike may also enable to you better activate and strengthen your glute muscles because your hips can extend fully during the ride. Recently, many brands producing upright bikes have launched technologically advanced versions with interactive video displays and wireless access to a library of online classes.
Another type of stationary cycling device is the recumbent bike. This model places the rider in a more comfortable seated position and has a backrest that resembles that of a chair.
While each version allows you to get a good workout, a recumbent bike may be easier for you to mount and dismount if you have poor balance or a limited range of motion in your legs. The American Council on Exercise also suggests that a recumbent bike may be more comfortable if you have back problems.
If you're an avid outdoor cyclist, you may also consider investing in an indoor training stand. This device hooks up to the rear axle of your road bike and uses a roller mechanism on the rear tire to allow you to cycle in place in the comfort of your own home. When using this piece of equipment, riders can add resistance by switching the bike's gears, just as they would if they were riding outside.
Set Up for Success
Before starting your ride, it's crucial to adjust your exercise bike in a manner that is appropriate for your body type. Maintaining a proper cycling posture will ensure a comfortable ride and may help you avoid injury during your workout.
To properly set up your high-resistance exercise bike, the American Council on Exercise recommends setting your saddle or seat height to a level that is even with the top of your pelvis when you are standing next to the bike. Then, move the seat forward or backward until your knees are directly over the bike's pedals when you sit.
Read more: Cycling and Tired Legs
Next, try to modify the position of the handlebars so that you can comfortably reach them while sitting on the bike. Your back should remain tall, your shoulders should be relaxed and there should be a slight bend in your elbows when you assume this posture. Some exercise bikes have several different hand positions available, so be sure to select the most comfortable one.
Finally, place the balls of your feet on the centers of the bike's pedals and fasten the straps so that your feet stay there when you begin to move. Once you have made all of these adjustments, try a five-minute test ride to ensure that the fit of the bike is comfortable. Be sure to stop cycling if you have any pain. Check the instruction manual in case you have any questions or concerns.
Start Your Cycling Workout
Now that you have selected the right type of exercise bike and set it up to appropriately fit your body, it is time to get riding. To harness the benefits of indoor cycling, there are various types of workouts that you can do at home.
One type of cycling workout, which is recommended by the American Council on Exercise, simulates riding a bike over two hills with a flatter portion or valley in between them. This ride mixes in a challenging amount of resistance without unnecessarily extending the duration of your ride.
First, decide how long you want to ride and then divide that time into four sections. For example, if you'd like your workout to take 20 minutes, each phase will last about five minutes. The sections of the ride will include a warm-up phase, the initial hill, a flat or valley phase, and the second hill.
During the warm-up, you are pedaling comfortably with low resistance. The hill phases should be performed with moderate- to high-intensity resistance and may require you to come out of the saddle and stand up if you have a resistance bike. You can remain seated and just dial up the tension if you're using a recumbent bike.
In between hills, you can dial down the intensity to medium resistance and sit back down during the flat phase. When the entire regimen is complete, be sure to turn down your stationary bike resistance levels to easy and finish with a three-minute cool-down.
Another style of exercise bike workout is a high-intensity interval (HIIT) ride. This training technique, which involves short bursts of intense riding combined with periods of moderate-intensity pedaling, is an efficient way to get your cardio in. Not only does it help improve your aerobic capacity, but it also helps you burn more calories.
To do a HIIT-style workout, begin with a four- to five-minute low-resistance warm-up on your bike. Once this is complete, increase the resistance and pedal at a consistently high rate for 30 seconds straight. Next, reduce the tension to a low to moderate level and stay there for three or four more minutes. As you progress, you may reduce rest periods to 30 seconds or so.
Continue to alternate between low- and high-intensity cycling for as long as you want your workout to last. Remember, the higher the resistance, the more calories you'll torch and the harder your muscles have to work to keep the pace. When you have finished the entire ride, complete a three-minute cool-down at low intensity.
- MD Anderson Center: “5 Health Benefits of Cycling”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Calories Burned in 30 minutes for People of Three Different Weights”
- American Council on Exercise: “Indoor Cycling: The Breakdown on Bike Set-Up”
- American Council on Exercise: “Build Your Own Indoor Cycling Workout Routines”
- Mayo Clinic: "Rev Up Your Workout With Interval Training"
- American Council on Exercise: "What's the Best Piece of Cardio Equipment to Use?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Aerobic Exercise"