Stationary Bike Exercise Program

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed.
Pedaling

Starting a stationary bike exercise program can help enhance your cardiovascular fitness and your lower-body muscular endurance. Even if you're new to exercising, stationary bike routines are easy to start and manage.

Types of Stationary Bikes

Before you get started it's important to understand that there are two basic styles of traditional stationary bike: upright and recumbent.

The upright bike mimics the look of a traditional bicycle, although designed for a more comfortable ride. When you sit on the wide, padded seat, your legs hang down toward the ground and you must lean forward to grasp the handlebars. Group exercise bikes, or spin bikes, are another form of upright bike.

The recumbent bike has a bucket-style seat that you lean back against as you extend your feet out in front of your body to use the pedals. Most recumbent bikes have handles next to the bucket seat and a second set that you would have to lean forward to grasp.

Starting an Exercise Bike Program

If you want to use a stationary bike as your primary form of exercise, you'll want to dedicate between three and five days a week to your program. Allow for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your fitness goals. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a minimum of 30 minutes daily physical activity is suggested for adults to maintain health, while 60 to 90 minutes of daily exercise is suggested for weight loss.

Setting Up the Bike

If you're using a standard upright or recumbent bike, adjusting the bike for your height is fairly simple. When you sit on the saddle or bucket seat and put your feet on the pedals, you want your knees to almost fully extend as you rotate the pedals through a full cycle. If you notice that your knees stay bent throughout the movement, adjust the seat until your knees extend more fully.

Understanding Resistance

When you increase the resistance on an exercise bike, the pedals will become harder to turn. Generally speaking, you want to be able to rotate the pedals at roughly 75 to 90 rotations per minute. Most bikes provide a readout that tells you how fast you're pedaling. If you find that you're able to pedal that fast without much effort, you'll want to increase the resistance. On the other hand, if you find that you're struggling to maintain that rotational speed because of the resistance level, you may want to decrease the resistance. If you're performing a preset program that regularly increases and decreases resistance level, it may be beneficial for you to "push through" a tough resistance level despite declining rotational speed because you'll have the opportunity to rest at a lower resistance level shortly.

Most exercise bikes offer levels of resistance between 1 and 10, or 1 and 20, depending on the brand of bike. After performing several workouts on the bike, you'll start to understand what level is more of a "coasting speed" and at what level you begin to feel challenged. Just keep an eye on your rotational speed and your heart rate to help you decide when to adjust resistance up or down.

Choosing a Preset Program

Most stationary upright and recumbent bikes have a number of preset programs that you can choose from. Typical programs include cardio, hills, fat burning and intervals. While it doesn't necessarily matter which program you choose, there are benefits to programs like hills or intervals because they will make you work hard for a brief period of time, then allow you a brief rest period. This type of exercise helps improve cardiovascular endurance and lung capacity, and you'll also increase your leg strength as you challenge yourself with brief bouts of high-resistance pedaling. The nice thing about the preset programs is that you don't have to think about changing resistance as you go. Simply choose the program, set the initial resistance level where you want it, then simply pedal until the program is complete.

Manual Program

Every variety of stationary bike gives you chance to manually change the resistance of the bike throughout your exercise program. This option is nice if you want the freedom to change resistance levels as you go or if you want to perform steady-state exercise at a particular level of resistance. A sample manual exercise bike program may look something like this:

  • 5 minutes, low resistance warmup
  • 5 minutes, gradually increase resistance to a comfortable, steady-state speed
  • Increase resistance every minute until you're struggling to maintain cycling speed
  • 5 minutes, maintain this more difficult pace
  • Decrease resistance every minute until you're at a comfortable steady-state speed
  • 5 minutes, maintain this more comfortable place
  • Continue the increase and decrease in resistance until you complete your desired workout time
  • 5 minutes, low resistance cool down

Choosing Where to Workout

Stationary bikes are popular at gyms, but they're also popular for home-based workouts. At a gym you know the equipment will be fairly well maintained and you can always ask a trainer on site for more help or information on choosing a program. You also won't have a large up-front investment, but you will have to maintain monthly dues and you may have to sign a contract to join. Also, many gyms offer group cycling classes that will give you the chance to workout with a group of other cyclists with an instructor leading you through a tough workout. For individuals who have a hard time with self-motivation, this type of class may be exactly what you need to stick with a program.

If you would rather workout at home, you'll have a greater up-front investment in equipment and you will also have to provide your own bike maintenance. That said, you may prefer the ability to hop on and cycle through your favorite TV shows or simply grab a workout whenever you have a free minute.

Stationary Bike Exercise Program