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Exercise Bike Benefits – Pros and Cons [Expert Guide]

Exercise bikes were popular long before COVID19 struck.  When the pandemic hit, they basically flew off the shelves.  That shows how much regular gym-goers valued their benefits.  There are lots of excellent reasons why exercise bikes are popular.  At the same time, they’re not the only choice out there.  Here’s what you need to know to decide if they’re right for you.

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What are the benefits and disadvantages of exercise bikes?

The benefits of exercise bikes all hinge on the fact that they offer a whole lot of workout for very little space, noise and money.  The disadvantages of exercise bikes all hinge on the fact that they need to be set up properly to be safe and effective.

If you think about using an exercise bike in a gym, the first thing you do is adjust it to suit you.  The first time you do this, you may need some help.  Most people soon get the hang of it and do it instinctively.  If you are setting up your own exercise bike at home, then you’ll be on your own.

That said, decent exercise bikes tend to come with decent setup instructions.  They also tend to be the more popular models, so there’s usually a fair bit of help online.  Even if there’s not, you can look up the general principles of setting up a bike and then apply them to whatever model you have.

It’s really important to do this thoroughly so you’re cycling in the correct posture.  If you don’t, then you may be setting yourself up for back pain.  If you’re sharing a bike, then you can save time in future by using a permanent marker or similar to mark each person’s settings on the exercise bike.  This can usually be taken off with nail polish remover if need be.

How easy are exercise bikes to use?

Once you have an exercise bike set up, it really is absolutely straightforward to use.  Even if you’ve never cycled before, you’ll be fine.  Remember, most of the basic skill of cycling is staying upright, starting, stopping and turning.  None of that matters on an exercise bike.  You’ll be held safely in one place.

What are the advantages of riding a stationary bike?

In simple terms, exercise bikes give you all the benefits of cycling, but in a safe environment.  This means you get all the “happy serotonin” from a good workout without the terror-fuelled adrenaline of the open road.

You also get total control over your workout.  Exercise bikes don’t (yet) tend to have preset workouts the way treadmills often do.  There is, however, a massive range of digital resources available for them. 

Even the free resources are pretty impressive.  You can have a whole lot more if you have the budget for a paid service.  These can give you a lot of the benefits of going to a gym for a much more economical price.

bike exercise

Are exercise bikes good for weight loss/maintenance?

Exercise bikes are great for weight loss/maintenance.  They burn fat while toning muscles.  It’s a double win.  They’re also flexible enough to suit all levels of fitness.  This means that you can still use your “beginner” bike when you’ve attained your desired level of fitness.  It also means that all members of a household can get meaningful use out of the same exercise bike.

What muscles do exercise bikes work?

Exercise bikes work out all the muscles from your stomach (and butt) to your lower legs.  For those who do anatomy, those are:

  • the abdominals,
  • the glutes
  • the hamstrings,
  • the quadriceps
  • the calves
  • the shins

To a certain extent, exercise bikes can also work out your arm and shoulder muscles.  That’s the biceps, the triceps and the deltoids.  These muscles work hardest when you’re cycling from a standing position e.g. “hill-climbing”.  Alternatively, you can incorporate arm weights and/or upper-body exercises.  You can also exercise your upper body separately.

Last but definitely not least, cycling is great for your heart and lungs.  It doesn’t increase lung capacity, but it definitely increases lung efficiency.

Does an exercise bike tone your stomach?

Exercise bikes are very effective at toning your stomach.  When you look at a cyclist, it might seem like all the action is coming from their legs.  This is kind of true.  What it misses, however, is that the abdominals (and lower back muscles) are keeping everything together.  They might not be doing a lot of visible movement, but they’re definitely still working.

Does an exercise bike tone your glutes?

Exercise bikes are great for sculpting your booty.  In cycling, the power of the down-pedal comes from your glutes down through your leg and into the pedal.  All the muscles on this path help to power the bike.  The glutes, however, are the biggest muscles, so they take on most of the load.

Does an exercise bike make your legs bigger?

In all seriousness, that depends on your legs.  If you have skinny legs, then cycling will certainly put a bit of muscle on them.  If, however, you’re carrying fat in your legs, then cycling will help you get rid of it.  You’ll build muscle instead, but overall your legs will probably be slimmer.

If your legs are about right for your overall body proportions, then they may get a bit bigger with cycling.  They may not.  There is absolutely no chance whatsoever of them bulking up the way they do with strength-training/body-building.  Even Olympic cyclists are nowhere near as muscular as athletes in true strength-based sports.

bike exercise

Are exercise bikes hard on your joints?

This is a slightly tricky question.  Exercise bikes are zero-impact.  This makes them a lot easier on your joints than treadmills.  At the same time, they do engage your joints.  That said, it’s hard to think of an item of exercise equipment that doesn’t. 

In simple terms, if you have serious joint issues, then really the only safe form of exercise for you could be swimming.  If you have moderate joint issues, then an exercise bike would probably be a safe enough choice for you.  If you wanted to play it really safe, you could go for a recumbent.

As always, if you have any medical questions or concerns, take them to the professionals.  Your doctor is the best person to advise what forms of exercise are and are not a good choice for you.

Are exercise bikes good for rehabilitation?

Exercise bikes are often recommended for rehabilitation.  In simple terms, burning fat in a low-impact way is generally one of the biggest favours you can do for your body.  If you’re looking at rehabilitation for an older person, then you may want to look specifically at a mini-exercise bike.  These are very compact, light and affordable, but still offer a decent workout.

Who do exercise bikes suit and why?

Exercise bikes suit people who essentially want “small space cardio”.  Exercise bikes take up little space.  They’re easy to store.  Possibly most importantly of all, they’re super-quiet.  As a bonus, exercise bikes also do a great job of toning the core and lower-body muscles.

An exercise bike may not be for you if you want an all-in-one full-body workout.  In that case, you’ll probably want a cross-trainer (aka an elliptical trainer), a stair climber or a rowing machine.  Be aware, however, that cross-trainers are relatively bulky and harder to store.  Stair climbers and rowing machines are more compact, but they can become monotonous to use.

Last but not least, exercise bikes aren’t for you if you really want to focus on strength training.  They will build muscle, but not like working out with weights.  That said, if you’re into weights, doing some light cycling on your rest days can be a great way to get some cardio into your life.

Exercise bikes - Pros and Cons

Pros

Great for working out in small spaces
Plenty of cardio, tones a lot of muscles
Lots of video workouts and classes available

Cons

Much better at working out the lower body than the upper body

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Katie is our resident Editor and extremely is an well-respected voice in the world of fitness. Katie has a first-class Hons degree in Journalism and is proud to say that she has written leading entries featured in the biggest media outlets including Vogue, Women Health Magazine and CoachMag. Great outdoors and animal lover and always on the go

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