Working out on an exercise bike has a great number of health and fitness benefits. They are simple to use and it’s easy to train either in the gym or at home. This article will cover a number of the benefits of training on exercise bikes in detail. Plus we’ll give some advice on common mistakes to avoid so you can get the most from your exercise routine.
Let’s start by covering these benefits one by one:
Burning calories & weight loss
When you want to burn fat to lose weight the key is to burn more calories than you consume, simple! Regular exercise will help you burn more calories and a sensible diet will keep the calories you consume in check. But… not all exercises were created equal. There are different ways to train to maximise calorie burning, and understanding these will help you achieve your results quicker.
To burn the maximum amount of calories possible in a short amount of time, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the answer. Exercise bikes are the perfect piece of training equipment to use, of the various types of bike available then Spinning® bikes suit this workout style best. Interval training combines short periods of extreme high intensity with short recovery periods, repeated numerous times through the workout. This burns more calories per minute than other forms of bike ride. However due the intensity the workouts are short and can not be carried out every day. An extra bonus is the metabolic effect of training this way continues to burn more calories for hours after exercise.
Almost the opposite of HIIT, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio is another great way to burn calories. These types of workout are carried out at slower pace, but can last a longer time as they are less intense. Burning calories at a slower rate but over a longer time period can result in more calories burned overall. Another benefit is that these low intensity workouts can be carried out more frequently, again meaning more calories are burnt in the long run.
If you take a look at the table below you can see that more vigorous cycling burns more calories. At a pace of 16-19 mph 50% more calories are burned than at a moderate pace of 12-13.9 mph. However if you cycle at moderate pace for 60 minutes you burn 33% more calories than 30 minutes vigorous cycling.
Calories burned cycling for 30 minutes
|130 lbs||155 lbs||180 lbs||205 lbs|
|Cycling, <10mph, leisure bicycling||118||141||164||186|
|Cycling, >20mph, racing||472||563||654||745
|Cycling, 10-11.9mph, light||177||211||245||279|
|Cycling, 12-13.9mph, moderate||236||282||327||373|
|Cycling, 14-15.9mph, vigorous||295||352||409||466|
|Cycling, 16-19mph, very fast, racing||354||422||491||559|
So what is the best approach? The best way to burn calories on an exercise bike is to combine both interval training and longer steady paced training. As you need at least a day to recover between interval training sessions this is the perfect opportunity to carry out a longer, slower paced session. In fact steady pace training between days of HIIT aids recovery by increasing blood flow to the muscles and giving them a stretch.
Building cardiovascular fitness
By cardiovascular fitness we mean the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the muscles as fuel during exercise. By training in the right way you can improve the strength and efficiency of the heart, lungs and chest muscles.
The important thing when training with this in mind is to make sure you push your heart and lungs to work hard. This will make then adapt over time in anticipation of having to work that hard again. Just as muscles adapt when you lift weights. The best way to train for improving cardiovascular fitness is interval training. By pushing hard and getting breathing and heart rate high, but then resting and doing it again, several times, you can keep breathing and heart rate raised for longer. This makes the heart and lungs adapt quicker and to higher levels.
The heart will adapt to be able to pump more blood with one beat, supplying more oxygen rich blood to the muscles. Chest muscles and lungs grow, meaning you are able to take deeper breaths, with greater lung capacity. More air in your lungs with one inhalation means more oxygen, the lungs also become more efficient at diffusing this oxygen into the blood.
This means more oxygen is supplied as fuel to your muscles as you exercise, resulting in greater cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Resting heart rate will also drop, as the heart pumps more blood with one beat. So it does not need to beat as often.
Developing muscle strength and endurance
An exercise bike can be used to develop strength in your leg muscles, developing size and muscle tone. To get the best strength workout the resistance has to be turned up high. This makes the muscles work harder to push the pedals, stimulating muscle growth. You will not be able to train at high resistance for long periods, but the intensity means a lot of calories are burned.
Exercise bikes can also be used to increase muscle strength endurance. This is the ability of muscles to continue to provide contractile force under stress. It translates to the muscles ability to be able to perform for longer when you exercise. This can be an advantage if you are training for a long bike ride but also transfers for other sports or activities. Interval training also works well for this. Although the intervals are at a slightly lower intensity and for a little longer. Typically 60 second bursts at the top speed you can maintain for length of time. This pace will be slightly lower than 30 second sprints, and the routine would go on for longer.
Speed endurance can also be improved with the right exercise bike routine. Speed endurance is being able to maintain top speed, or close to top speed, for an extended period of time. This again can be done with interval training, except this time the “fast” periods go on for longer and the rest periods are also longer.
There is a consensus amongst many health and fitness professionals that exercise that just slightly raises heart rate, carried out 5 times a week for 30 minutes, is enough to dramatically improve heart health. A gentle 30 minute cycle on an exercise bike, at the gym, or even in the comfort of your own home, is great for this.
These regular 30 minute sessions will decrease risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce blood cholesterol and minimise your chances of diabetes or a stroke. Not a lot to ask for!
Stress and well-being
Training on an exercise bike is a great way to lower stress levels, improve mood, and a general sense of well-being. Exercise releases hormones known as endorphins. These are what make you feel good after exercise. Many people get a feeling of euphoria after exercise, this buzz can become additive and drive people to train every day.
Protecting joints & recovering from injury
Cycling on an exercise bike is good for the joints as it is low impact, with a smooth motion. If you think of the impact of other cardio exercises like running, cycling is much kinder on the joints.
This makes it a perfect way to exercise for those that have existing joint problems or are recovering from injury. It will build up and strengthen muscles around the joints, providing greater protection for everyday life. Many lower body rehabilitation programs will feature training on an exercise bike.
Practical benefits of exercise bikes
Besides the numerous health and fitness benefits of training on an exercise bike there are several practical benefits as well:
Practical benefits vs road bike
It is possible to train all year round indoors, so those cold, dark, wet, windy days wont put you off. There will be more chance of you stay motivated and stick to your exercise plan.
An exercise bike is also a good way to stave off boredom, it is easy to listen to music, read or even watch the TV.
For many people, such as those with young children, it’s not always convenient to leave the house. Training on a bike downstairs while the kids are in bed a great solution.
Practical benefits vs other fitness equipment
Bikes take up much less space than other fitness equipment such as treadmills, rowing machines or cross trainers. If you are reading this because you are thinking about purchasing an exercise bike for the home then space is an important factor to consider.
In my opinion bikes are actually the best of all of the exercise machines mentioned above for both weight loss and working out the lower body. They are easier to interval train on, as changing speed is very easy. They minimise impact whereas a treadmill causes a lot of impact issues. Plus all the force is provided by the legs, whereas cross trainers and rowing machines engage the arms as well.
Training at home vs the gym
Training on a bike at home rather than the gym has its advantages. The biggest one is time, you cut out travel time, time in the changing room and the showers, plus any time waiting if the equipment is all occupied.
This time saving can also help motivation, it’s harder to use lack of time as an excuse. Plus seeing the bike everyday will encourage (or shame you into) using it more frequently. And the more frequent the training the better the results.
Mistakes to avoid to maximise benefits of training on an exercise bike
If you’ve decided you are going to start to work out on an exercise bike then the following will help you get the most from your training:
Water is important for keeping you cool through perspiration. Not being fully hydrated can cause you to overheat, which is bad for the heart and will cut your workout short.
Water also supports the chemical reactions in the muscles that produce energy. Lack of water results in cramping and fatigue setting in early.
Warm up and cool down
Exercising without warming up increases risk of injuries such as muscle pulls and strains. A warm up also lubricates your joints, so not warming up can also lead to joint issues and pain.
It’s also important to cool down after exercise. It is healthier to bring your heart rate down to normal gradually after exercise rather than suddenly. As muscles are warm after exercise it is the perfect time to stretch. Stretching speeds recovery and improves flexibility.
Adjust the bike to fit
Always adjust the saddle height to fit the length of your legs. Your legs should be slightly bent when you reach the lowest point position with the pedals. This enables you to generate the optimum amount of power, making the movement efficient.
Feet should be placed so that the ball of the foot is placed over the pedal rather than your heel. This enables your ankle to flex correctly, providing both comfort and power.
If you can adjust the seat forwards/backwards then position it so that your knee is over the pedal at the lowest point of motion.
Where it is possible to adjust the handlebars you should choose a position that makes you most comfortable. If you are going to train at a steady pace for an extended time it may be most comfortable in a more upright position. Should you be planning to train for a shorter time, focusing on sprints, leaning forward often helps.
Wear lose comfortable clothes when you train on an exercise bike. This helps keep you cool and gives you full mobility to move properly.
Having a towel to hand can be helpful, especially if your workout is going to be an intense one. Keeping the sweat off your face and out of your eyes makes you feel more comfortable.
Although training on a bike is not particularly hard on your feet it is still a good idea to wear comfortable training shoes.
Make an exercise plan
If you draw up an exercise plan it helps keep you motivated to continue training. It’s easier to track progress if you have a plan to measure it against. Being able to see progress is a great way to make you train harder and more often.
Don’t give up
The biggest mistake people make when they train is not continuing to exercise for long enough. It’s important not to give up if you do not see significant improvements quickly. Nothing worth working for comes without effort. Weight loss, endurance and cardiovascular fitness come over time, not overnight. Expect a number of small steps over time, but small steps ad up when you keep going.
What style of exercise bike should I use?
There are three major types of exercise bike, each one more suitable for certain types of workout.
Because you are positioned in a more upright position these are suitable for longer workouts at a lower intensity. The seats are well padded to provide comfort and there is usually a holder for your water bottle and iPod/phone.
These are designed to be especially kind on the joints. Your weight is all taken by your backside as you sit back from the pedals. This places less strain on the hips, knees and ankles. These are especially useful for people with injuries, elderly people or those carrying more weight.
Spinning® or indoor studio bike
These are designed to closely resemble road bikes. You are positioned to lean forward more enabling greater speed and power. The saddle is less padded and the machine is more stripped back than an upright bike. These are perfect for cycle studio classes and workouts, you will see a group of these with people working out together with an instructor.
If you plan to do lots of interval training this bike id great for calorie burning and endurance burning work.
Final thoughts on the benefits of exercise bikes
Training on a exercise bike can be a great way to stay fit and healthy. From something as simple as getting 30 mins exercise 5 days a week, to building muscle endurance in the legs, an exercise bike will hit the spot. Plus they are a great way to work out at home, away from crowded gyms and wet windy streets.
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