Whether you’re using it at home or at the gym, a stationary bike is a great piece of equipment — you’ll get all the fitness benefits of bicycling without having to deal with traffic, exhaust fumes, dogs, and bad weather.
Before you get started, get your health care provider’s thumbs-up to begin an exercise program. Then, start out gradually at a moderate intensity — around a 12-14 on the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale.
On a bike, intensity is determined by two factors — your revolutions per minute (RPMs), or how fast you’re pedaling, and the amount of adjustable resistance (load) on the flywheel. Generally, you should set the resistance at a level where you can maintain 60-80 RPMs. Depending on your health status and fitness level, simply pedaling at that rate without resistance may be enough of a challenge at first. If 60-80 RPMs is too fast for right now, aim for 50-70 RPMs.
Note: Make sure your seat is high enough so that your knee is slightly extended with the pedal in the down position, but not so high that you’re rocking back and forth on the seat.
Start your workout with a 5-minute warm-up, with little or no resistance. Then, continue pedaling while increasing the load to a level where you’re getting warmer, your heart is beating faster, and your breathing rate increases, but you’re not out of breath. Maintain this level for 10-20 minutes; then, keep pedaling while you decrease the resistance and cool down for another 5 minutes.
Aim for 3 workouts per week for the first couple of weeks, and then add a 4th. Keep track of your daily exercise time, and gradually increase your weekly total by no more than 10%. For example, if you ride a total of 60 minutes this week, aim for 66 minutes next week. Gradually work up to 30 minutes, 5 times a week.
Changing up the structure of your workout makes your exercise routine more fun and interesting. Interval training is one technique for building cardiovascular fitness. After the warm-up, add resistance for 2 minutes or so, and then decrease it for 1-2 minutes, alternating higher and lower workloads over the course of your workout. You could also keep the resistance steady, but speed up your RPMs for 30-60 seconds, and then slow them back down, alternating a fast and slow pace.
If your bike console includes pre-programmed workouts, you could also use those to add variety and challenge. One of my favorites is a hill workout, which alternates 3-5 minute segments of steady-pace biking with 1-2 minute hills of various sizes.
Create your own mix of bike workout formats according to your preference. I typically include several longer, steady-paced bike rides, a couple of shorter interval rides and a pre-programmed hill ride in my exercise plan each week.
To keep stationary bicycling enjoyable, it helps to have some high-energy playlists to listen to as you ride; I also enjoy listening to podcasts. Watching movies on my Kindle is another way I stay motivated on longer rides; and it’s a good way to get myself back on my bike the next day so I can see the ending!
Have patience as you build fitness and get to know your bike; before long you’ll be looking forward to your daily ride.