While any type of exercise bike can provide a low-impact cardio workout that primarily targets the muscles of the legs, each type of exercise bike can offer some unique benefits and may or may not be more appropriate for your needs and fitness goals.
Of all of the four primary types of exercise bikes, recumbent bikes are probably the most different from the other three (upright stationary bikes, indoor cycling bikes, and fan-resistance bikes) because the overall orientation of the bike and your body is horizontal rather than vertical.
For this reason, there are some unique recumbent bike benefits and some important tips to maximize the effectiveness of recumbent bike exercise.
In this article, we will discuss recumbent bike benefits and recumbent bike workouts for beginner and advanced athletes.
We will cover:
- What Is a Recumbent Bike?
- 10 Recumbent Bike Benefits
- 4 Recumbent Bike Workouts To Try
Let’s get started!
What Is a Recumbent Bike?
A recumbent exercise bike is a type of stationary bike that positions the rider in a reclined seated position. Rather than sitting upright on a saddle with your legs pedaling with the foot pedals directly below your body, a recumbent bike has you sitting in a chair-like seat with the pedals out in front of you so that the pedal stroke is horizontal instead of vertical.
Like upright stationary bikes, you can adjust the resistance level on the recumbent bike and can pedal slower or faster to change the intensity of your workout.
Most recumbent bikes use digital magnetic resistance. This means that users can select from a finite number of discrete levels of resistance that are controlled electronically by the distance between magnets on either side of the flywheel.
At higher levels of resistance, the magnets move in closer toward the flywheel, increasing the amount of resistance that the rider feels while cycling.
Most recumbent exercise bikes also have a console where you can select a pre-programmed workout such as interval training, fat burning, etc.
You can also see your workout metrics, such as the amount of time you’ve been exercising, the distance you’ve ridden, calories burned, cadence (how fast you’re pedaling in rpm), and your pulse if the recumbent bike has heart rate sensors.
10 Recumbent Bike Benefits
There are quite a few benefits of recumbent bike exercise, including the following:
#1: Recumbent Exercise Bikes Can Improve Cardiovascular Health and Fitness
As a form of aerobic exercise, recumbent bike workouts can strengthen your heart and lungs and improve your cardiovascular fitness and health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.
As long as you are elevating your heart rate to at least 50% of your maximum heart rate during your recumbent exercise bike workouts, any time spent doing recumbent bike exercise will count towards the recommended amount of exercise you should be getting each week to reduce your risk of lifestyle diseases and improve overall health.
Studies have indeed demonstrated that recumbent bike workouts can improve cardiovascular fitness, especially when performing sprints or intervals with a fast cadence (between 80 and 100 revolutions per minute).
#2: Recumbent Exercise Bike Workouts Can Strengthen Your Legs
As with other forms of cycling, recumbent bike workouts can strengthen the muscles in your legs, namely your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, hip flexors, shins, and glutes.
With that said, the reclined seat position in a recumbent bike virtually eliminates any core muscle activation because you don’t have to balance your body, and because you are holding on to the handlebars, there is no upper-body muscular work.
#3: Recumbent Exercise Bikes Are Beginner Friendly
The primary recumbent bike benefits in comparison to an upright exercise bike, indoor cycling bike, or fan-resistance exercise bike are that a recumbent exercise bike is much more stable and requires very little balance.
Being able to sit in a seat with back support can be more comfortable and stable for seniors or beginners who are in poor physical condition. You do not have to get yourself up onto a small bike seat with a step-over design; rather, recumbent bikes have an accessible seat and an easier step-thru entry.
#4: Recumbent Exercise Bikes Are More Comfortable
Although comfort is subjective, most users find that recumbent bikes are inherently a bit more comfortable because the well-padded seat is more of a supportive chair with full gluteal and back support.
The seats on indoor cycling bikes and upright exercise bikes are notoriously uncomfortable and can cause perineum pain and irritate your butt.
Sitting in the recumbent bike seat can feel more natural and relaxing, potentially allowing riders to perform longer workouts without needing to get off simply due to physical discomfort from the seat.
#5: Recumbent Bikes Are Good for Multitasking
Although it is possible to do a vigorous workout on a recumbent exercise bike, recumbent bike exercise lends itself well to low- to moderate-intensity workouts.
The reclined position of the seat can make the exercise more comfortable and can be a great way to read, watch TV, or socialize with other people while you work out.
#6: Recumbent Bike Exercise Is Joint Friendly
As with other types of exercise bikes, recumbent bike workouts are low impact, so they are easy on the joints.
Because your feet are always in contact with the pedals, and your body weight is completely supported by the bike seat, recumbent bike exercise is non-weight bearing and puts little stress and strain on your bones and joints. This can make it a great type of exercise for people with arthritis, bone or joint pain and injuries, or osteoporosis.
Some people find that the horizontal pedal stroke used during recumbent bike exercise is even more comfortable on their knees compared with regular upright exercise bikes.
The range of motion and movement angles are slightly different between the two types of bikes, and recumbent exercise bike riding tends to reduce the required angle of knee flexion as well as the magnitude of the peak forces through the knees.
#8: Recumbent Bike Exercise Can Increase Range of Motion
Range of motion refers to how much permissible movement your joints have, and oftentimes, as we age, range of motion and mobility are impaired, causing us to feel stiff.
Studies suggest that recumbent bike exercise can be an effective way to increase range of motion, mobility, and flexibility by increasing circulation, mobilizing tissues, and stretching the muscles surrounding the hips, knees, and ankles.
#9: Recumbent Exercise Bikes Are Appropriate for Most Levels
Because you can adjust the difficulty of recumbent bike workouts by increasing or decreasing the resistance level and increasing or decreasing your pedaling speed (cadence), recumbent bike exercise can potentially be appropriate for people of all fitness levels.
With that said, depending on the quality of the recumbent bike, very fit, advanced athletes might be limited by the maximum amount of resistance the bike provides, struggling to be adequately challenged from a strength standpoint.
#10: Recumbent Exercise Bikes Are Back Friendly
The lumbar support afforded by having a backrest on the bike seat makes exercise bikes more comfortable for people with low-back pain.
4 Recumbent Bike Workouts To Try
There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to exercise on a recumbent bike, but here are a few sample recumbent bike workouts:
#1: Recumbent Bike Steady-State Cardio Workout
Warm up with 2 to 3 minutes of easy cycling and then increase your cadence and resistance until you are working at 70 to 80% of your maximum heart rate for 20 to 60 minutes, depending on your fitness level and goals.
#2: 20-Minute Recumbent Bike HIIT Workout for Beginners
Warm up with five minutes of easy cycling. Perform 10 x 30 seconds hard and 30 seconds easy. Cool down with five minutes of easy cycling.
#3: 30-Minute Recumbent Bike Advanced Interval Workout
Warm up with 4 minutes of easy cycling. Then, do 20 x 45 seconds hard and 30 seconds easy. Cycle 2 minutes at an easy effort to cool down.
#4: Recumbent Bike Progression Workout
Begin with a warm-up of two minutes of pedaling at 80 to 100 RPM on level zero. Depending on the length of the workout that you have in mind and the number of resistance levels on the bike, every 2 to 3 minutes, increase the level of resistance on the bike by one level, keeping your cadence the same throughout the entire workout.
For example, if the bike has 10 levels of resistance and you want to exercise for 20 minutes, increase the resistance level every two minutes, keeping your cadence at least 80 rpm.
To maximize the effectiveness of recumbent bike exercise, vary your workouts and wear a heart rate monitor so you can make sure that you are pushing yourself to the appropriate intensity.
If you are looking to switch up your cardio workouts by trying out other gym equipment and machines, we have some great guides to get you started. Check out our guide to the rowing machine and workouts to try the next time you hit the gym.