Today we’re going to look at one of the most effective home workout tools to help you lose weight and get in shape: the recumbent bike.
If you’re looking to lose weight, tone your muscle and generally improve your health and fitness, then you have a nearly limitless selection of different options available to you.
There are so many different tools, so many different approaches and so many different opinions out there that it can be hard to know where to start.
Should you join a gym?
Or buy home equipment?
Should you try CrossFit?
Or bodybuilding? Or running?
Is HIIT better or steady state cardio?
Should you use the fast diet? Or go low carb?
There are tons of options but the key thing to acknowledge is that there is no right and wrong answer. The best answer is always the one that best fits into your own lifestyle and your own workflow. I
t’s the one that best reacts with your individual biology and that you find most enjoyable.
And in those regards, a recumbent bike is going to be a fantastic option for a lot of people.
In this post, we’ll be exploring the recumbent bike in a lot of detail. We’ll look at the best models that are currently available, we’ll look at why it offers specific advantages for a vast range of different demographics and we’ll look at how you can get the very most out of it in order to really transform your physique.
Recumbent Bikes an Introduction
Let’s start by introducing the recumbent bike. So a recumbent bike is a stationary bike just like many other pieces of exercise equipment.
The difference, and what makes it ‘recumbent’, is the fact that this bike allows the user to lean backward in their seat and thereby take a more reclined position.
This takes one of the inherent advantages of using a stationary bike for exercise even further.
Running vs Stationary Bikes
You see, one reason that many people will choose to use stationary bikes as their chosen form of exercise, is that they are low impact.
For people who have painful joints in their knees, who have shin splints, or have any other kind of complaint that is relating to their legs, running and other similar exercise is off the cards.
Running is a high impact activity, and each time the foot hits the tarmac, this will result in a shockwave being sent through the knee joint and along the shins and the rest of the leg bones.
Over time, this repeated battery can actually wear down the cartilage and remove it from the joint, thereby resulting in pain and other problems. Shin splints meanwhile are caused by inflammation of the tendons and the muscles in the shins.
Another concern that often comes from running is the formation of tiny ‘stress fractures’. These are hairline cracks in the bone that aren’t enough to prevent movement, but which can be painful and which will get worse over time if they go untreated.
For those that are very overweight, running can be even more damaging as they have a lot of extra weight bearing down each time their foot strikes the floor.
Then there are those with flat feat, with pronated ankles and with a range of other conditions that can cause further pain to their feet, ankles, knees and even back when they run.
You might be wondering at this point whether this is as it should be. Surely we should be ‘designed’ to run long distances without problem? Surely the human body shouldn’t be that fragile?
The problem with this view is that it ignores a few crucial facts. First, most of us are stationary 99% of our days.
To then go from sitting in an office all day to running long distances is of course a jarring experience for the body. Another issue is that most of us run with incorrect form.
This is partly due to spending so long hunched over in chairs but it’s also to do with our footwear which forces us into a heal-toe strike, which is incorrect.
I could write a whole different article on this, but suffice to say that the vast majority of forgotten how to run the way our ancestors did. Finally, running for long periods is much more destructive in this day and age thanks to the tarmac on our roads and our pavements.
This ensures that our feet hit down harder than ever before and it means that we get even more shockwaves. Sure, if you ran on grass all the time, then you might not experience these problems to the same degree.
But you don’t. And even if you try running on a treadmill indoors to solve many of these problems, you actually introduce a whole host of new ones.
You see, running on a treadmill is completely alien to running outdoors. The entire biomechanics here are different because you are running on a surface that is moving beneath your feet.
Therefore, you are no longer pushing yourself forward but rather just ‘jumping’ while the floor moves underneath you. As you might imagine, this significantly alters the way you run.
And for all these reasons, many people will choose to use a stationary bike instead of running as an excellent choice of CV. Check out this very thorough explanation of running vs working out on a stationary bike:
Recumbent vs Bike
And like I said, recumbent bikes take many of the inherent advantages of stationary bikes and then ruin with them. The big difference with a recumbent bike versus a stationary bike, is that you lean back.
By leaning back, this means that your weight is now distributed differently: it is on your buttocks rather than bearing straight down through you.
This makes it ideal for those that have painful backs or legs because they no longer have to put pressure on their bodies. If you have a particularly painful knee or back, then it might be that you’re able to use a recumbent bike when even a stationary bike would otherwise have been too painful.
The only other form of exercise that offers quite this same benefit is swimming. And of course that’s much less practical…
Practical Advantages of Recumbent Bikes
Which brings us nicely to the next advantage of using a recumbent bike: the fact that it is much more convenient and that it is ideal for use around the home.
When you use a piece of CV equipment such as a bike or such as a recumbent bike, the benefit is that it allows you to burn calories and tone muscle all while staying stationary in your home. You’ll need to find space for the bike, but other than that, it’s highly practical.
Raining outside? No problem: just sit down on the recumbent bike and burn some calories while keeping perfectly dry!
Don’t want to head all the way to the gym? Then once again, you have the opportunity to workout at home, without needing to spend money on membership, without needing to make the journey to the gym and without needing to feel self-conscious as people stare at you.
In fact, I often tell people that if they want to get into shape and lose lots of weight, they shouldn’t join a gym. Why not? Because if you are currently very out of shape, then you have a few things to contend with as far as working out is concerned.
You need to overcome the stigma of others and any confidence issues, you need to overcome tiredness and the fact that you become easily out of breath, and you need to overcome the lifestyle factors that led to you becoming overweight in the first place.
In terms of the latter, I’m talking about things like lack of time, lack of opportunity and lack of energy. Let’s be frank: if you had the time and energy to get into great shape, then you wouldn’t be in bad shape to begin with.
Chances are, you let yourself get into bad shape because you come home from work every day feeling tired, feeling lethargic and with little time to do anything.
So what are the chances that you’re going to be able to suddenly find the reserves of energy and time necessary to not only start exercising more frequently, but also to travel to a gym, get changed, train in front of lots of strangers, get showered and washed and then travel home again??
Conversely, with a bike of some sort, you can simply exercise at home and then get into shape that way. And because it’s recumbent, you can actually do a lot of other things at the same time.
Being sat down is more comfortable and less painful on your back and that makes it easier to focus on something like a good book, like your favorite TV show or like a podcast. This all makes it much more likely you’ll stick to your training, which makes the whole thing a lot more worthwhile!
The ability to stick to your training and not give up is the single most important factor when choosing the right workout program for you. You can do the most grueling workout plan in the world but if you only ever manage one workout then quit, well it’s not going to do much for you!
The focus when starting your training should always be to make training a part of your life and to make it something you actually enjoy. Easing yourself in with something like a recumbent bike is an ideal way to do this for so many people.
How to Train on a Recumbent Bike
A recumbent bike is a fantastic choice because it is safe for everyone, because it is fun and easy to use and because it makes training a lot less intimidating. The downside of recumbent bikes though is that they risk introducing a temptation to take things easy.
Recumbent bikes are easy going and they are comfy and so it’s possible to train with them without putting in the adequate amount of work.
And the problem is that a lot of people assume that because recumbent bikes look simple, there is no need for them to learn how they work or how to make the most of them. I speak from indirect experience.
My Dad had a recumbent bike and he used it every single day for an hour at a time. But he saw no real results and after 6 months he stopped using it.
Why? Because he just sat on it and rode at a steady pace without understanding what he needed to do to burn the weight.
Fundamentally then, a recumbent bike is a tool that allows you to train in a cardiovascular manner. This is what you call ‘CV training’ or ‘aerobic training’. Cardiovascular exercise is a kind of exercise that trains the heart.
It does this by requiring your body to need more oxygen and more energy in the muscles and the brain than it is currently getting, which in turn results in the heart rate increasing to deliver said energy and nutrients where they need to go.
Breathing increases, oxygen is sent to the fat and it is then used to break it down and to create glucose. That glucose is carried in the blood to the muscles, which convert it into ATP and then break its bonds in order to release useable energy. For CV to be effective, you need to exercise for a considerable amount of time.
During the first couple of minutes of exercise, the body will take energy from the blood where it is freely available (at any given time, you should have some glucose in your blood stream). It also gets it from the muscles themselves which have ATP stored and ready for use.
Some ATP can also be recycled by a substance called creatine monohydrate and this allows for a few extra seconds of exercise.
Then glycogen is used, creating a byproduct called lactic acid which makes the muscles burn and causes us to feel a little unwell.
After this point, the body turns to the fat stores for energy and from then on, you begin burning through your fat. The faster you go (up to 70% of your max heart rate – more on that in a moment) the more calories you burn. But you need to train for a while in order to burn enough calories to be useful.
Weight loss is all about creating a caloric deficit. That means you need to be burning more calories than you are actively consuming, thereby putting yourself into negative equity.
The body burns more fat than it stores, meaning you lose weight over time.
So if you’re going to see any change in your physique from using a recumbent bike, you need to go long enough and hard enough that you create a significant dent in this total. And then you need to reduce the amount of food you consume, in order to ensure that you maintain the deficit.
So does this mean you need to train for hours on end every day and starve yourself? Not if you’re smart about how you use the recumbent bike. Another advantage of the recumbent bike, is that it allows you to apply resistance to any degree that you choose.
Or at least this is the case with the majority of models – the precise amount of resistance offered does vary from make to make, so ensure that you compare the different options in our buyer’s guide down below.
With resistance, you essentially create the sensation of riding up hill, or perhaps through thick mud. This requires you to exert greater muscular force with each rotation. And that in turn requires more energy.
Generating force from your muscles requires energy and that’s why even something that we typically associate with muscle building – such as weight lifting – will also be useful for burning calories and losing weight.
This is what we call ‘concurrent training’ which basically means that you are combining resistance training with cardio training. It can also be called ‘resistance cardio’ and other great examples include battle ropes or kettlebell swings.
The great thing about resistance cardio is that it encourages you to burn through a lot more calories a lot more quickly. At the same time though, recumbent cardio also triggers some serious changes in your body. Because you are building muscle, you will be increasing your resting metabolism and heart rate.
Muscle is ‘metabolically active’ and that means that you burn calories simply to sustain your new body shape and size. At the same time, training to build muscle causes the body to produce growth hormone and testosterone, which both encourage fat loss and muscle building.
Toning is actually far more effective than weight loss when it comes to body recomposition and will help you get the figure you want while also removing cellulite. Do not underestimate the value of this.
Want to really take your training to the next level on that bike? Then consider using HIIT. This is ‘High Intensity Interval Training’ and effectively, it consists of cycling very fast for short bursts and then more slowly for a resting period.
When trying to burn calories consistently, it is often recommended that you maintain roughly a 70% MHR (max heart rate) effort. This provides enough challenge for the body while not going so fast that you can’t burn the fat quick enough. But when you go above that, to 90%MHR say, the body needs to get energy faster.
That means it reverts back to the ‘anaerobic’ energy systems and burns fat from the glycogen stores and the blood stream. Then when you rest for a period, your body has no option but to rapidly burn fat.
This also increases the efficiency of the mitochondria and better yet, it encourages the body to continue to burn fat for hours after you’ve finished training.
Try cycling at maximum speed for 20 minutes, resting for 1 minute and then restarting the cycle. In around 15 minutes, you’ll have done much more good for your body than you could with an hour of steady state.
Just be careful if you are out of shape and build some basic fitness first – it’s intense! Here’s a great example of some intense, but highly effective HIIT workouts:
Recumbent Bike Buyers’ Guide
With all that said, it’s time to look into the best recumbent bikes. We’ve listed three below for you to consider. If you decide against them, you should still find that the descriptions help you to recognize the things you need to look for.
Convenience is a big factor and that means finding a recumbent bike that you can easily store in your home, that has wheels for moving around and that isn’t too hard to store. Also important is to have a bike with lots of resistance levels and to have a bike that has useful metrics and read outs.
A heart rate monitor might not be required if you have a fitness tracker, but it is a handy extra feature to have. The best form of resistance is magnetic, as this provides a very smooth and quiet ride.
Finally, consider comfort and stability. Reading reviews is very important to learn those ‘intangibles’. Is this a nice riding experience? Is it something that they actually enjoy using?
Does it feel stable and secure while riding? Consider these factors as well as the basic features and the size and you should be able to choose a recumbent bike that you are eager to use and that can grow with you as you improve in your fitness and as you need to increase the challenge.
Read on for three of our top picks, any of which will more than handle whatever you can throw at it!
The Best Recumbent Bikes
Without further ado, let’s look at some of the best recumbent bikes on the market right now. Keep in mind the points we’ve discussed thus far, because this information will help you to better ascertain which model is right for you and how it can be used.
The first bike is the Marcy ME 709 Recumbent Exercise Bike. This is a recumbent bike that looks quite attractive and has a thin metal frame and a nice bronze base which together won’t look too out of place in your home.
The dimensions are 55.5” x 25” x 37.5” and the weight is 66lbs. It also comes with built-in transport wheels, which is useful for taking this to a friends or more likely, for wheeling it in and out of the living room.
The seat is padded for extra comfort and has handles for holding onto – although some reviewers found the seat to be a little on the upright side for their liking.
The seat is also adjustable, which is something else to always look for in these devices – otherwise it might not fit all riders. Maximum weight capacity is 300lbs. Basic assembly is required.
The bike has 8 levels of preset resistance, making it excellent for concurrent training and increasing the difficulty. This resistance is delivered via magnets, which ensures a nicely smooth ride that won’t jam or become jerky.
The pedals are counterbalanced and include adjustable foot straps, meaning you will face resistance on the upward motion too and increasing the potential max speed.
Another important feature is the inclusion of a large console which can tell you your speed, your distance, the time you’ve been riding and your rough calorie burn.
With no heart rate monitor, that calorie burn is less accurate than it would be for some other, more expensive models.
However, it is a very useful metric as it is and makes it useful for maintaining that caloric deficit or for generally motivating yourself. For a more accurate readout you can always use a wrist-worn fitness tracker.
This is a folding recumbent exercise bike. Right away, that gives it one advantage over the Marcy model and it is also significantly lighter at 43lbs.
It takes the same weight at 300 pounds despite this – although you do pay a little extra for this convenience.
Folding recumbent bikes will always have an audience.
This means you can store it somewhere in your home when not in use and if your space is at a premium, that means you’re not going to be staring at the bike all day while you eat your breakfast or watch TV.
Of course these models also tend to feel a little more cramped and a little less stable as a result, though this bike is very comfortable on the whole for what it is. The seat is said to be ‘semi-recumbent’ with a slightly more forward position than some others.
It is padded and has handles. Like the Marcy before it, this model has preset resistant levels to choose from. Specifically, there are eight of these which once again use magnetic resistance to keep the movement of the fly wheel very smooth and easy. The double-drive transmission system uses a quiet V-belt system.
Once again, you are also getting an LCD screen and this one has the same metrics as the previous model (time, speed, calories, distance), only it also has the added advantage of a heart rate monitor too!
This makes it more useful for monitoring your health, for getting a more accurate idea of your calories burned and for zone training. This is a very nice extra feature that you aren’t paying too much extra for.
This model is going to be preferable to the Marcy model if you don’t have lots of space and that heart rate monitor is a very nice added feature.
However, for those looking for a little more stability and who have a home gym or room in their other living areas, a more stable permanent fixture will likely encourage greater consistency in your training.
Finally, this model is a larger recumbent bike that provides plenty of challenge and lots of comfort. It’s a little bulkier than the other models looked at so far and it has a more industry grey and silver color scheme.
Despite the added bulk, the resistance offered is just the same – once again you get eight levels of resistance handled by a magnetic tension control system.
So all three of these products will offer a great level of variable resistance while also keeping the ride smooth. Also despite the title ‘extended capacity’, the limit for capacity here is the exact same as the previous two options at 300lbs.
The device measures 22 by 34 by 54 inches and is very stable feeling. It’s 63lbs like the Marcy ME 709, but it has a wider surface area on the bottom to completely eliminate any chance of wobble, rocking or moving around.
Transport wheels mean you can easily move it in and out of your living room when you need to. There is once again an LCD screen. This time it comes with distance, calories, time, speed and heartrate – so that heartrate monitoring is very welcome.
Okay so let’s get real for a moment: what are the tangible differences here between the other models?
Well, if you want to use a recumbent bike in a crowded home, then the folding option is always going to win out.
The main direct competition then is with the Marcy ME 709. In that case, you’ll pay a little extra here for a model that is somewhat less attractive but which offers particularly good stability and the added bonus of a heart rate monitor.
The chair is also slightly more comfortable and benefits from leaning further back and having more padding. There’s not a lot in it and the prices are fairly similar to reflect this.
It will ultimately come down to personal preference but all three of these models are good choices and will offer all the training opportunities we’ve discussed throughout the course of this ultimate guide.
*** And there you have it, everything you could possibly need to know about recumbent bikes, their advantages, how to use them and which ones to look out for. Let us know in the comments if you have any more tips or questions!
P.S. If you’re also interested in learning more about the best kinds of rowing machines, check out our buyer’s guide here