Happenings over the past few years have caused me to make changes to how and where I work out. Exercising outdoors has always been my preference… hiking, biking and jogging are my go-to cardio fixes. However, getting outside is not always possible – and like many of my friends – I wasn’t so keen on stepping into a crowded gym. So, I had to find another way to get my sweat on.
I asked a fitness trainer friend of mine what he would recommend. Without hesitation, he said a recumbent bike. I immediately wondered, “Do the recumbent bike benefits outweigh those of an upright stationary bike?”
If you have also been wondering if you can get a good workout on a recumbent bike, and what the benefits are, stay tuned. Here’s everything I learned from my trainer pal regarding the benefits of using a recumbent bike.
What Is a Recumbent Bike?
A recumbent bike is a kind of stationary bike where the user rides the bike in a reclined (leaning back), relaxed position as opposed to the upright position of an upright stationary bike. The user sits on a “traditional” seat that has a wide base and a cushioned backrest. The pedals are also in front of the person’s body, allowing them to pedal with purpose or more leisurely.
In comparison, an upright bike, which mimics a regular road bike, has a saddle on which the user sits. There is also no back support, so the user needs to use their abdominal muscles to keep themselves upright and balanced on the bike. Instead of pedaling with your legs out in front of you on a recumbent bike, on an upright bike, the pedals are located vertically below the saddle.
The cranks, which is where the pedals are screwed into the bike, are located below the seat and between the pedals on an upright bike. These upright exercise bike cranks work via belt or magnetic resistance.
On the other hand, the cranks of a recumbent bike are horizontally in line with the seat, like the pedals are.
Most recumbent bikes use a 1-piece crank, so the resistance of the flywheel is only moderately tough (since you don’t push as hard as you would on an upright bike in a spinning class). More expensive recumbent exercise bikes feature a 3-piece crank (because these cranks are more pricey), providing you with more resistance for a much more intense workout (like a challenging climb up a long, steep hill).
Our Top Picks for Recumbent Bikes
If you are looking for the best recumbent bike to start, or continue, your fitness journey, here are our top 3 picks:
The Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike offers you all the benefits of a recumbent bike, plus Bluetooth connectivity so you can set, monitor, and track your progress using popular mobile fitness apps (like MyFitnessPal). The bike features a screen so you can explore the world and ride 50+ routes.
Choose from 29 workout programs and 25 resistance levels on the LCD console to tailor your workout according to your fitness level. Sit comfortably on the ventilated and contoured seat, and use the aluminum rail to easily reach the pedals, no matter your height. There’s also a bottle holder so you don’t have to go thirsty while working out.
The Marcy Recumbent Exercise Bike with Resistance ME-709 is a budget-friendly option. The bike has 8 resistance levels so you can dial the tension knob to control your workout difficulty. The LCD screen shows you your exercise time, speed, distance, and calories burned.
You’ll sit comfortably on the ergonomically designed seat that features high-density foam, and if you need extra support, you can use the padded handles that are located next to the seat. The recumbent bike also has transport wheels, so you can easily move the bike around to exercise inside or outside.
The Nautilus R180 Recumbent Bike lets you track and monitor your progress via Bluetooth connectivity. When riding the recumbent bike, you can imagine you are riding on a real-world road with the adjustable sight line dual LCD screens (if you have an Explore Your World subscription).
Choose any one of the 29 customizable workout programs while you sit on the comfy gel seat. A wireless heart rate chest strap is included with the Nautilus R618 so you can monitor your heart rate too if you aren’t using the contact hand grips that usually keep tabs on your heart rate. There’s also a built-in water bottle holder so you can take a sip when needed while working out.
9 Best Recumbent Bike Benefits
Now that we’ve pointed out the difference of recumbent vs stationary bikes, and offered some amazing purchase options, we’re ready to talk about the unique recumbent bike benefits!
Recumbent bikes are ideal if you are new to exercising, and want to start cycling. These exercise bikes aren’t complicated like other cardio equipment at the gym, so you can feel at ease using the recumbent bike at the gym or in the privacy of your home.
Another benefit is that you can choose how intensely you exercise, so you can start slowly when you need to get fit and ramp up the challenge as you get fitter.
The seat that’s larger than a saddle hints at one of the recumbent bike benefits. If you’ve ever sat on a bike saddle, you’d know how uncomfortable it is (and some ways more uncomfortable than others!).
So the “proper” seat on a recumbent bike will make your workout that much more enjoyable, not to mention comfortable. Some recumbent exercise bike seats are ergonomic because they are filled with a high-density foam or gel.
The other benefit is that you have a full backrest and even side handles so your back is fully supported, and you stay in the proper position. There are recumbent bikes that have a ventilated seat, ensuring you don’t overheat too quickly (depending on how hard you are pedaling).
3. Time Effective
Professional trainers will tell you that you should concentrate on your workout and not do other things that distract you. I know how much less intensely I worked out while playing Candy Crush once while pedaling away (or so I thought).
But any exercise is better than nothing, so if you can pedal away when you binge on the newest Bridgerton or Moon Knight, then that’s great. So a recumbent bike lets you save time by exercising and engaging in another activity.
4. Good Lower Body Workout
Cycling works out your gluteal muscles, rectus femoris, and muscles like the hamstrings, soleus muscles, and gastrocnemius in your lower legs.
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that if you exercise at a moderate intensity on a recumbent bike, there are 2 muscles that work harder: the tibialis anterior (along your shin) and the semitendinosus (in your hamstring).
So your recumbent bike exercises are very beneficial if you want to strengthen and tone your lower body and legs.
Your abs also get a workout, but only if you keep these muscles contracted as you pedal.
5. Improves Cardio Fitness
Working out on your recumbent bike also increases cardiovascular fitness (i.e., it’s good for your heart). Recumbent cycling is aerobic exercise, which will improve your lung and heart function while decreasing your blood pressure as blood and oxygen flow better throughout your body.
With improved cardio fitness, you also benefit from more energy, a better mood, stronger immune system, better sleep, improved memory, decreased stress levels, and more.
6. Ideal for Seniors and Those Who Are Obese and Injured
If you are injured, obese, or a senior citizen, your level of mobility might be limited, which is why a recumbent bike is the best choice. A study also found that a recumbent exercise bike is accessible if you are a wheelchair user.
The seat of a recumbent bike isn’t high like that upright stationary bike saddle, so you can get on quite easily. Getting off the machine isn’t a challenge like with the upright bike either, as an upright bike can fall over if you are unbalanced, and topple you over too.
7. Less Joint Strain and a Low-Impact Workout
High-impact exercises like running, jumping, jogging, and even hiking place a lot of strain on your hips, knees, ankles, and other joints. Recumbent cycling is a low-impact exercise, and there are various studies that researched how a recumbent bike places less strain on the user’s joints.
The low-impact exercise you do on this bike allows you to pedal smoothly, which decreases the pressure that’s placed on bones and joints while enabling these to strengthen.
For example, there’s one study published in 2004 that found recumbent cycling lessens the stress on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that is found in your knee. As such, a person with an ACL injury can safely work out on this kind of stationary bike.
Also, because of how you are positioned on a recumbent bike, during each rotation, your knees and hips don’t flex to the extent they do on an upright bike. Thus, a person suffering from arthritis can exercise on this piece of exercise equipment without overextending their hip and knee joints.
Since the pedals are located in the front of the recumbent bike, pressure is taken off your lower back, making this kind of workout great for those with sciatica.
Best of all, you can still have an effective and challenging workout on a recumbent bike.
8. A Fat Burner
Lots of people exercise with the goal to lose weight, and working out on a recumbent bike can help you achieve your weight loss goals. For an hour of moderate intensity workout, a 150-pound person can expect to burn roughly 460 calories (but this depends on fitness level, etc.).
You can work out at a high intensity on a recumbent bike, which burns calories while building strength and fitness. When you combine indoor cycling (aka cycling on a stationary bike) with a low-calorie diet, you can reduce your body fat and body weight.
A study published in 2010 found that participants also lowered their bad cholesterol levels over a 12-week period when they consumed 1,200 calories per day and cycled for 45 minutes 3 days a week.
9. Exercise Anytime
One of the best recumbent bike benefits is that you can work out at any time. Whether it’s rainy, windy, snowy, or there’s a blizzard or heatwave, you can still exercise!
What’s nice about some recumbent bike models is that they come on wheels, so if you have space, you can exercise by the pool, on your patio or balcony, and even in front of your TV.
Final Thoughts on Recumbent Bike Benefits
Honestly, until I talked with my trainer friend, I never knew just how many recumbent bike benefits there are. Sure, while I’d prefer to be outside, if I don’t have much say in the matter… this may be my new favorite indoor workout, as the pros far outweigh the cons. I mean, if you have joint or lower back issues… the recumbent bike is perfect for you!
If I’ve gotten you hooked, why not download yourself some cool exercise tracks and start training for a virtual bike race? And if you’re wondering what that is, be sure to check out our article that explains it all.