Do Recumbent Bikes Provide an Effective Workout?

Man on stationary bicycle

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Recumbent bikes remain a popular choice for cardiovascular and lower body workouts. Some people prefer them over upright stationary bikes because they feel more comfortable. Others simply enjoy them more than other cardio equipment and workouts.

What Is a Recumbent Bike?

A recumbent exercise bike is a bike in which you ride in a reclined position. This offers riders the ability to read or watch television while exercising, which can encourage you to stay on the bike for longer without getting bored.

This is important because you want to exercise for a long enough time to get the full benefits of your workout. However, don't let these distractions diminish your workout intensity. Continue to push your body so you keep making progress with your fitness program.

Many feel that recumbent bikes are more comfortable than other exercise equipment because of their reclined position. So, if you're a first-time rider or new to cardio in general, recumbent bikes are a great way to get started, whether using a stationary version or one that allows you to go out on the road.

But recumbent bikes are good for experienced exercisers too. Varying your pedaling speed, upping the resistance, or cycling backwards can make a recumbent bike more challenging. You can easily tailor your workout to meet your fitness level and goals.

Recumbent Bikes vs. Upright Bikes

Stationary bikes come in an upright (traditional) position or recumbent (laid back) position. Both types of bikes put less impact on your joints than most other cardio equipment, like treadmills. Whether you choose an upright or a recumbent bike depends on your comfort level. Here are a few differences to consider.

Recumbent Bikes
  • Reclined body position

  • Pedals positioned in front of the body

  • Larger seat

  • Full back support

  • Comfortable sitting position

  • Reduced upper body tension and muscle fatigue

  • Focused lower body and cardiovascular exercise

Upright Bikes
  • Upright body position

  • Pedals positioned under the body

  • Smaller seat

  • Limited upper body support

  • Upright seated position may cause upper body fatigue/tension

  • More consistent workout similar to outdoor riding

  • Whole body and cardiovascular exercise

Are Recumbent Bike Workouts Effective?

Recumbent bikes may seem like easy cardio, but looks can be deceiving. According to the following small research studies, recumbent bikes can provide a serious workout.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Consistent aerobic exercise strengthens your heart, improves lung capacity, decreases resting heart rate, and reduces high blood pressure over time. It also can be a great way to relieve stress and boost your mood.

Research involving a group of healthy males shows that using a recumbent bike offers these same types of benefits. This study involved performing four 60-second sprints on the bikes, with pedal speeds between 80 and 100 repetitions per minute.

Another study found that combining the use of a bike with an online platform is a great way to increase cardiovascular fitness in youth by making exercise fun. This piece of research involved youth with cerebral palsy and reported that they had "significant" fitness improvements after cycling.

Muscle Strength

Muscles worked in a recumbent bike workout include:

A small study indicated that healthy older women improved their muscle strength, power, and functional abilities after using a bike for eight weeks. These programs were shown to improve strength and power in a way similar to resistance training.

Other research compared the energy use and muscular output of upright versus recumbent bikes. Participants included 10 non-cyclist males. No differences were identified in muscle workload regardless of whether the participants were riding on an upright or recumbent bike. However, pedaling a recumbent bike produced greater activity in two of the four muscles being studied (the semitendinosus and tibialis anterior).

Range of Motion

If you are looking for an exercise that increases your range of motion, thereby increasing your flexibility—which makes it easier to move around more freely—the recumbent bike does this too.

One study involving 24 males and 20 females found that using a stationary bike helped improve range of motion in the hips. It also noted that use of the stationary bike was more effective for improving this range than heat packs or whirlpool treatments.

Research suggests that use of a recumbent bike helps improve flexibility and range of motion by increasing circulation and making bodily tissues more elastic, or easier to move. This enables the body to stretch more freely.

Alternating the use of a recumbent and upright bike during rehabilitation and exercise programs can offer a range of fitness benefits since each of these tends to activate slightly different muscles. (The recumbent increases activity in the hamstrings and shins. An upright works the quads more.)

Recumbent Exercise Bike Benefits

The recumbent bike is a useful piece of stationary equipment to improve cardiovascular fitness, promote muscular strength, and restore your range of motion. Yet, there are even more benefits associated with riding a recumbent bike.

Comfort

Use of a recumbent bike provides full back support during the workout. The larger seat is also typically more comfortable and reduces “saddle soreness” that can be experienced with smaller bike seats. And if the weather is bad, a stationary recumbent is an excellent indoor workout.

Customization

The varying levels of resistance and speed on a recumbent bike allow for a custom workout. If you are using a stationary bike, you can also change its incline settings to simulate riding up and down hills, making the workout easier or harder. This exercise equipment can be modified for your fitness level.

Safety

Another benefit of recumbent bikes is that they place less stress on the joints. The reclined body position is easier on the low back (lumbar spine), making it a great option for individuals with low back injuries. It's also beneficial for people with cardiac limitations.

If you struggle with balance, you may find that a recumbent bike is safer to use because there is less of a risk of falling off than when using an upright bike or other standing cardio equipment (such as a treadmill or stair climber).

A Word From Verywell

Recumbent bikes provide an effective cardiovascular and lower body resistance workout and are a safe and versatile way to challenge individuals at every fitness level. That makes this workout good for beginners and experienced exercisers alike.

Regardless of which cardio equipment you use, your workout is only as effective as the effort you're willing to put into the session. Bring your best to every workout to maximize the physical, mental, and emotional rewards of physical activity.

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Article Sources
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