Stationary Bike Workout for Beginners

African american woman on a stationary bike
African american woman on a stationary bike. Peathegee Inc/Getty Images

When it comes to cardio exercise, there are so many choices, it's hard to know where to start. There are all the machines, the treadmill, elliptical, the stationary bike...which one is best?

There are great reasons for all of those machines, but the stationary bike is a particularly good choice if you're just getting started with exercise. You do it seated, which may be good for people who have chronic back pain and you get the same cardio benefits as you do with other activities like walking or running.

Another great benefit for beginners is the fact that there's no impact on the joints. This is a plus if you have problems with the hips or knees or you need to exercise from a seated position. Cycling also emphasizes building strength in the quads which may help with knee pain. Sometimes strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee and giving it more support can help reduce pain.

The Benefits of Stationary Cycling

Not only do you build fitness and protect the joints, there are some other benefits, including:

  • Convenience and safety - You can workout inside no matter what the traffic or weather is like.
  • Variety - Most stationary bikes have programs to follow and you can also create your own workout by adjusting the resistance up or down.
  • Multiple options - If you're at a gym, you'll likely have access to two different kinds of bikes, an upright bike, and a recumbent bike. The recumbent bike has you sitting back so that your back has more support, ideal for anyone with back problems.

    And of course, a stationary bike is a great way to ease into cardio if you're new or it's been a long time. Not only that, it's great crosstraining for your entire body. Cycling works the opposite lower body muscles from running or walking. It's good for working the quads in the front of the thigh, while those exercises mostly work the hamstrings at the back of the leg.

    One thing to keep in mind is that doing any new activity will feel challenging, so you may need to start with just a few minutes at a time and slowly work your way up to longer workouts.


    See your doctor before trying this workout if you have any illnesses or injuries or you are on medication that may affect your heart rate or workouts. If you're using a bike you've never been on before, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with how it works.

    Adjust the seat, handles, and pedals to match your height and reach. Learn how to adjust the resistance during the workout as you will be changing it during the different intervals. If you're at a gym, check with the floor manager to see if you can get an orientation for how to use the different bikes and which one might be right for you.

    The general idea is that, if you stand next to an upright bike, the seat should be level with top of your hips. You should have a slight bend in the knees at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

    How To Do the Beginner Stationary Bike Workout

    • After adjusting your bike, start with the warm up shown below.
    • Follow each segment of the workout, working to find a pace/resistance that allows you to work at the suggested Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). RPE is how hard it feels to work at the level of resistance you've chosen. If it feels too hard, back off on the resistance and speed. If it's too easy, increase the resistance.
    • Your legs may get tired quickly if you're not used to the bike.  It takes time to build endurance, so go as long as you can and stop if you need to. You can add a little time to each workout to slowly build strength and endurance. You can even stop and stretch your legs if you need to.
    • Perform this workout about three times a week with a day of rest in between. 
    • Progress by adding a few minutes each time you workout until you're up to 30 minutes.
    • Stretch your lower body after your workout.

    Stationary Bike Workout for Beginners

    5 min Warm up at a comfortable pace and keep the resistance low.4
    3 minIncrease the resistance 1 to 4 increments or until you're working harder than your warm up pace. You should feel you are working, but you should be able to carry on a conversation. This is your baseline pace.5
    2 minIncrease your resistance and/or the pace once again until you're working slightly harder than baseline.5-6
    3 minDecrease the resistance or pace back to your baseline level.5
    2 minIncrease your resistance and/or the pace once again until you're working slightly harder than your baseline level.5-6
    5 minDecrease the resistance or pace back to a comfortable level to cool down.4
     Total Workout Time:  20 Minutes 


    Progressing with this Workout

    Once you can do 20 minutes, progress by adding another 5-minute segment - 3 minutes at baseline and 2 minutes at a harder level. Do this for a week or until it is comfortable for you. Then you can add another 3 minutes easier effort and 2 minutes harder interval to bring you total time up to 30 minutes.

    That's the minimum amount of exercise you should get each day, so you can easily build on that.

    And don't forget, you don't have to only use the stationary bike. It's great to try multiple activities to work your body in different ways and avoid overuse injuries. Try this Beginner Interval Treadmill Workout or this Beginner Elliptical Workout. Doing at least 3 cardio workouts a week is a great place to start to build endurance and burn calories.

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