Pros and Cons of Recumbent Bikes
Exercise bikes are one of the true original pieces of home exercise equipment. Despite the constant introduction of new, innovative fitness machines to the market, they remain a consumer favorite. If you're uncomfortable sitting for long periods on a regular upright bike, recumbent exercise bikes offer a more comfortable -- but still effective -- workout solution.
Identify Your Bike
A recumbent bicycle is simply a bicycle that places the rider in a laid-back or reclining position instead of an upright position. A recumbent stationary bike takes up approximately as much floor space as its traditional counterparts and, like a upright stationary bike, it stays in one place while the user pedals against a resistance mechanism. You adjust the seat by sliding it forward or back along a rail.
The recumbent bike design allows you to comfortably distribute your weight over several square feet of the back and buttocks whereas on an upright bike, your body weight rests on only a few inches of the sit bones, feet and hands. For many riders, this positioning places stress on the wrists, depending upon how you sit, and can be uncomfortable. If ridden for more than 20 minutes, this discomfort may be intensified. If you're riding a bike outside, recumbent bikes have an aerodynamic advantage. The reclined, legs-forward position of the rider's body creates a smaller frontal profile, increasing efficiency and maximizing speed.
Better Comfort, Enhanced Compliance
Exercisers who are overweight, older and/or experience back pain or pelvic discomfort find the recumbent stationary bicycle much more comfortable and user-friendly. Comfort enhances commitment to an exercise program because, if you are comfortable, you are more likely to stick with your workouts. Of course you will experience fatigue of the leg muscles, but this is not the same as experiencing pain due to poor positioning. Better comfort enables you to completely concentrate on working the muscles, without distraction.
There Is a Downside
An advantage that the upright exercise bike has over the recumbent bike is that you can more closely simulate a road bike for an advanced workout. With a recumbent bike, you cannot lift your body off the seat to pedal with greater force and exertion, simulating sprinting or climbing hills. You can adjust the resistance of a recumbent bike, but can't perform these variations. The recumbent bike can be more bulky (though it does not take up much more floor space) than upright models and, because there are more parts, is typically more expensive.
Ultimately, the most important consideration when choosing any piece of exercise equipment is, does it meet your specific, individual needs and will you use it regularly? Both upright and recumbent stationary bikes enable you to get effective cardiovascular and lower body workouts. They both simulate the same leg motion and are adjustable to your height -- but that is where the design similarities stop. All things considered, fitness experts agree that comfort is a very important consideration and should weigh heavily into your decision regarding which type of exercise bike is your best option.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; Michael Clark, Scott Lucett and Rodney Corn; 2008
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much phsyical activity do adults need? Updated January 9, 2020.
- Lee C-W, Cho G-H, Effect of stationary cycle exercise on gait and balance of elderly women. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014;26(3):431-433. doi:10.1589/jpts.26.431
- Lopes AD, Alouche SR, Hakansson N, Cohen M. Electromyography during pedaling on upright and recumbent ergometer. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014;9(1):76–81.
- Albarrati A. Effect of body posture on cardiovascular performance and recovery during cycling exercise. Phys Med Rehab Kuror. 2017;27(1):53-57. doi:10.1055/s-0042-122145
- Peterson NE, Osterloh KD, Graff MN. Exercises for older adults with knee and hip pain. J Nurse Pract. 2019;15(4):263-267. doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2018.12.029
- Kim SD, Lee SH, Lee HH, Jeong IG. Effects of recumbent bicycle exercise on cardiac autonomic responses and hemodynamics variables in patients with atrial fibrillation. Korean J Health Promot. 2019;19(4):248-254. doi:10.15384/kjhp.2019.19.4.248
- Bouillon L, Baker R, Gibson C, Kearney A, Busemeyer T. Comparison of trunk and lower extremity muscle activity among four stationary equipment devices: Upright bike, recumbent bike, treadmill, and elliptigo. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2016;11(2):190-200.
Michele Turcotte is a registered, licensed dietitian, and a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has more than 12 years of experience in clinical and corporate settings, and has extensive experience in one-on-one diet counseling and meal planning. She has written freelance food and nutrition articles for Trouve Publishing Inc. since 2004.