However, if you are looking for a way to get a great cardio workout and aren't sure which is better - recumbent bikes or upright bikes - then this is the article for you.
What's the Difference Anyways?
Recumbent bikes, upright bikes, Peloton bikes, bikes with three wheels - recumbent trikes?! What does all this even mean? And why does it matter?
Okay, we aren't going to cover trikes, but we are going to focus on two specific types of exercise bikes - the recumbent and upright.
Recumbent bicycles are stationary bikes that have a large seat with the pedals placed in front of your body - think sitting in a chair.
Your legs move in a horizontal oval shape - creating a different cycling experience.
Upright bikes, on the other hand, have a much smaller seat - triangular shaped and very similar to one you would find on a conventional bike. The pedals on the upright bike are underneath you - much more similar to traditional bicycles - the riding position of the upright bike is more like sitting on a stool. Your legs move in a vertical oval shape.
So now that we've covered a few overall differences, let's look at what makes recumbent bikes special.
This is one of the biggest pros that recumbent bicycles offer.
The large seat on recumbent bikes allows users to sit much more comfortably than on an upright bike.
This is for a few reasons. The first, as mentioned before, is just how much larger the seat is. Second, the seat has a back pad, allowing the user to lean back and not have to fully hold his or her weight. Finally, because the seat is behind the pedals instead of above, the user will find less of his or her weight having to be held up and supported by the hips, butt, and core. One test ride and your butt will thank you.
Now, comfort here is kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if everything we do in the gym is comfortable, we probably aren't getting much out of it. The reason people see results in the gym is because they push themselves to be better, so if we are always chasing comfort that's not great. However, in this situation, the "discomfort" is largely coming from just positioning on a bike and how the seat feels, we aren't talking as much about muscle discomfort or cardio discomfort.
Adding a little bit of comfort here is also a huge win because oftentimes people stop biking because of the discomfort of the seat. If using a recumbent bike with a larger seat and added comfort allows you to bike longer and work longer - that's a win! After all, we are biking to exercise not to get better at biking - the goal is exercise not biking world records.
Because recumbent bikes utilize the large seat, this allows you to essentially workout while sitting down.
Similar to a standing-desk treadmill, this can be a great way to add some exercise to activities you are doing already. Maybe it's adding some cardio at night while you are watching TV, maybe it's reading while getting your heart rate up, or maybe even doing some remote work on your laptop and staying active at the same time.
This all depends on your intention. If your goal is to get the best 30-minute workout and you choose to use a recumbent bike while you are reading, you can likely do better.
However, if you are trying to get more movement in throughout the day and want to also get some work or reading done, grab a seat on a recumbent bicycle and get pedaling!
This is something you really can't do with an upright bike. While you could watch TV, trying to hold a laptop or read is pretty much impossible. I wouldn't try and view this "multi-tasking" time as your workout for the day, but on busy days it may have to be.
Low Barrier to Entry
Anyone can use a recumbent bicycle - whether you are 3 or 93 years old. At the most basic level, you are sitting and moving your legs forward and back at whatever speed you are able.
So maybe you or a family member are a little bit older and want a way to ease back into exercise. You can jump on a recumbent bike on day one and be just fine.
Stationary bikes are already low-impact and easy on your joints to start with, but most riders will find recumbent bikes even more so.
This is because, unlike the upright bikes, you don't have to hold or support your upper body weight. With the upright bike, almost your entire body weight is directly above the pedals. This allows you to put more force into each pedal but also requires to support your upper body - largely because there's no back pad. Whereas, recumbent bikes have the user's body weight supported by the large chair seat. This means each push of the pedal won't have as much force, but, with that, recumbent bicycles are also going to be less strenuous.
With almost all cardio machines, the effect it has on your cardiovascular system is almost entirely up to you. For example, with a treadmill, you can either walk at a speed of 2-3 mph or you can run 6-minute miles. Either way, you are using the same machine, but the variable here is intensity.
While it is easier to get an intense workout using an upright bike, you can still make your recumbent bike workouts quite intense when needed. Simply crank the resistance up and drive with your legs or lower the resistance and bike your heart out. Either way, you can get your heart rate up, stay moving, and burn some calories.
There is also evidence that doing cardio at a steady, slower speed is great for fat loss and cardiovascular system function, especially when combined with a well-rounded exercise plan. This could definitely be accomplished with a recumbent bike.
Ideas for Recumbent Bike Workouts
If you are in pretty good shape, I would say the best way to use a recumbent bike is as a way to burn extra calories and stay moving throughout the day or at night - think back to the multitasking point above.
Simply take a seat and start moving. You could spend 10 minutes or an hour and reap great benefits. I would view this as similar to going for a walk throughout the day or after dinner. If you are consistently lifting weights and pretty fit, you aren't going to probably want to use recumbent bicycles as a primary part of your daily workout, but instead a really great supplement throughout the day.
If you are new to exercise or getting older, a recumbent bicycle is a great way to get back into exercise or continue to stay active daily. Eventually, you are going to want to incorporate some sort of strength or resistance training in order to build and/or maintain muscle mass.
As you start to get more comfortable with the bike, you can push the intensity a little bit higher to give you a better workout. You could even do interval workouts, something like 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy for 10 rounds.
This could also apply to people with certain injuries as recumbent bicycles, for some people, may put less stress on your ankles and/or quad muscles. This can be a great way to keep moving even with lower body injuries.
Shymechko, Ihor. “Upright vs Recumbent Exercise Bike: What's Best for You?” Torokhtiy Weightlifting, 22 March 2023, https://torokhtiy.com/blogs/guides/upright-vs-recumbent-exercise-bike. Accessed 10 November 2023.