How Long Should You Ride a Stationary Bicycle?
There are different reasons to use a stationary bike. It can provide a good cardiovascular workout. Other times, a stationary bike is used when you are rehabilitating from a knee or hip injury or surgery. The reasons you use a bike and your personal goals will determine how long you should ride the bike. Whatever the case, you should use the right equipment and set up a program.
There are several types of stationary bikes. There are upright bikes that are very basic. On these bikes you can adjust the seat height and resistance. They are lightweight, easy to use and usually do not take up a lot of space. There are also recumbent bikes. These are bikes where the seat is lower and at about the same height as the pedals. On these bikes, your legs are more out in front of you versus under you. These bikes are a good option for those with back issues, and if you find it difficult to get on or balance on an upright bike. There are also variations of upright bikes that provide a more intense workout. Some have belts on the front wheel that create a lot of tension. The newest version of stationary bikes are the ones used for spinning classes. These bikes can be set with no tension or to have a significant amount of tension. It is best to try a few different bikes to find the one that best suits your situation.
The main concern with stationery bikes is protecting your knees from injury. If you are using an upright bike, you need to set the seat at the correct height. When pedaling, check your knee when your foot is at the bottom position. Your knee should be straight or just slightly bent but not locked. Setting the seat higher will cause the knee to straighten too much, which can cause injury. Putting the seat too low will create too much bend in the knee and will stress your joint. If you're using a recumbent bike, set the seat so that your back is supported and when you pedal your knee does not fully extend.
If you are using the bike for aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, then you want to aim for 30 to 40 minutes of steady exercise at least three to five days per week. While you can do all of it on the bike, it is best to vary your routine. You may want to use your bike three times per week and then add another option such as walking or swimming the other days. If you have not been exercising for a while, you may need to break the time up and do two or three workouts during the day. Then slowly add more time until you can do a steady 30- to 40-minute session. If you are using the bike to rehab an injury, your physical therapist will provide you with a routine that suits your needs. This may mean using your bike for short periods at several times throughout the day to keep the joint moving and to prevent stiffness.
Sometimes people confuse riding a stationary bike with strength training. While there is resistance on the bike and you can strengthen your legs somewhat, the bike is really for cardiovascular exercise, or to provide range of motion exercise to loosen up an injured joint. In contrast, strength training involves moving your body or in this case, your legs through their full range of motion against some kind of resistance. This means you move your legs in a variety of directions versus the repetitive motion of cycling. Make sure that you do not just limit yourself to biking and include strength training exercise as well. It is also important to know that riding a bike does not provide weight bearing exercise. This is because you are sitting and your legs are not holding your weight. If you are dealing with osteoporosis, then keep in mind that while riding a bike is a good workout, you need to supplement it with a true weight bearing exercise like walking.
Bike riding can be an effective workout. If you plan to use your bike a lot, you can invest in a bike that has programs or one that provides a virtual reality experience. You can buy programs to watch on TV that you can follow. There are also programs where you connect your bike to a CD player or TV and use a special CD that controls the tension of the bike. Remember while bike riding can give you a workout, for the best results you need to vary your routine from time to time.
I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.