Stationary Bike Workout for Beginners

Start with 20 minutes and build your cycling time

African american woman on a stationary bike
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The stationary bike is a good choice for a cardio workout if you're just getting started with exercise. You get the same cardio benefits as when using the treadmill or elliptical trainer or when walking or running outside. A stationary bike is a great way to ease into cardio. 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 how to enjoy a workout for beginners.

The Benefits of Stationary Cycling

Cycling can help you build fitness while protecting your joints. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Low-impact: You won't have any impact on the joints, which is important if you have problems with your knees or hips. You do it seated, which may be good for people who have chronic back pain.
  • Knees: Cycling helps the knee joint stay naturally lubricated and 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.
  • Crosstraining: Cycling works the opposite lower body muscles from running or walking. While those exercises work the hamstrings at the back of the leg, cycling works the quads in the front of the thigh.
  • 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 both upright bikes and recumbent bikes. The recumbent bike has you sitting back so that your back has more support, ideal for anyone with back problems.

    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.

    Stationary Bike Setup

    If you're using a bike you've never been on before, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with how it works. 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.

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

    How to Do the Beginner Stationary Bike Workout

    After adjusting your bike, start with the warm-up shown below. Then follow each segment of the workout.

    • Find a pace/resistance that allows you to work at the suggested rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of 1 (easy) to 10 (extremely hard). 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 when you are ready. You can add a little time to each workout to slowly build strength and endurance. You can even stop and stretch your legs if needed.
    • 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

    Time (Minutes)Intensity/PaceRPE
    5 Warm up at a comfortable pace and keep the resistance low.4
    3Increase 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
    2Increase your resistance and/or the pace once again until you're working slightly harder than baseline.5 to 6
    3Decrease the resistance or pace back to your baseline level.5
    2Increase your resistance and/or the pace once again until you're working slightly harder than your baseline level.5 to 6
    5Decrease 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 five-minute segment with three minutes at baseline and two minutes at a harder level. Do this for a week or until it is comfortable for you. Then you can add another three minutes easier effort and two minutes harder interval to bring you total time up to 30 minutes.

    By the time you are doing a 30-minute workout, you are achieving the minimum recommended amount of exercise per day. Now you will be able to build from there.

    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 a beginner interval treadmill workout or a ​​beginner elliptical workout. Doing at least three cardio workouts a week is a great place to start to build endurance and burn calories.

    Sources:

    Biking. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/arthritis-friendly/biking.php.

    Physical Activity Basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/index.htm.

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