By Lucy Gornall published
If you're undecided on what workout takes your fancy, you might be swayed towards an indoor cycle when you see this list of exercise bike benefits.
Whether you want to make the most of your gym membership, are thinking of hitting a spin class or have invested in one of the picks on our edit of the best exercise bikes for home use, the benefits of hopping on for a stationary cycle are immense.
They include fat-burn for weight loss (bikes being one of the best exercise machines to lose weight on), improved heart health and increased muscle strength (and not just in your legs).
So if you thought exercise bikes were just a good way to burn some calories, you couldn't be more wrong!
We asked Hilary Rowland, co-founder of Boom Cycle, for her take on exactly what are the benefits of exercise bikes. As a seasoned spinner, she knows all there is to know about stationary cycling. You'll find a list of eight reasons to hop on and start pedalling listed below...
1. Low impact
If you’re struggling with joint pain or simply want to give your body a bit of a breather, then an exercise bike workout could be perfect for you.
That's because exercise bikes offer a low-impact workout; that is, one that doesn't put a lot of strain and weight on your joints.
This is in contrast to machines such as treadmills, which can be very intense on the ankles, knees and hips thanks to the repetitive motion of your feet hitting the running belt.
But don't confuse low impact with low effort. As Rowland says: 'The exercise bike offers a cardio kick for those who are new to fitness, older people or people with joint issues.’
2. Works several muscles
According to Rowland, her spin classes offer a full-body workout. 'We work upper and lower body muscle groups as well as the core, helping riders get stronger and maintain better balance and stability.'
So exactly what muscles get worked out? Exercise bikes are great for working the following:
Rowland explains the benefits of exercise bike workouts in relation to these muscles in more detail below.
Glutes (AKA your butt)
‘Spinning is a great way to lift and strengthen the glutes. This muscle group is responsible for the downward phase of the pedal stroke. By coming out of the saddle you recruit more of your glutes and therefore get a more glute targeted workout.
'Another way to hit this spot is to bring the hips back whilst lowering your chest, in a move we call the "way back".'
Quads/hamstrings (front and back of your thighs)
‘These are the muscles that are recruited in the pedal stroke. The hamstrings are used at the bottom of the stroke when you're pulling the foot backwards, and the quads at the top, lifting the foot and knee back to the 12 o'clock position.'
One way of maximizing the use of these muscles is to add resistance and speed to your stroke, Rowland says. 'At Boom Cycle we ride to the beat of the music but we also incorporate a move called the "surge", where you speed up the pedal stroke beyond the beat.'
Triceps/biceps (front and back of upper arm)
'To make your spinning class a full body workout you can include weights and bodyweight to target the upper body. Moves such as push ups can be used as bodyweight; to get the most out of this make sure you flex and extend your arms fully, not just a bend of the wrists and/or elbows.'
She adds: 'Using hand weights during two tracks every ride works the arms, chest back and core.’ So pick up a set of our best adjustable dumbbells and do the same during your next exercise bike workout!
'This is the stabilising muscle and arguably one of the most important when spinning. A strong core supports your spine, increases stability and allows you to maintain your body in an upright position, whilst also bringing you in and out of the saddle with control.
'To work your core, focus on engagement when changing positions on the exercise bike. If you struggle, try finding 10 minutes to go for a slow ride and engage your core throughout, practicing standing and sitting whilst doing so. The more you practice this, the more comfortable and familiar it will become.'
3. Burns calories for weight loss
Major calorie burn is just another benefit of exercise bikes - and a key one for anyone wondering how to lose weight.
At its core, weight loss is dependent on a calorie deficit - this means burning more calories than you consume. And spending time on an exercise bikes is a great way to do this.
According to data from Harvard University, 30 minutes of vigorous cycling on a stationary exercise bike can burn between 315 and 441 calories per 30 minutes, depending on your bodyweight. That's almost up to 900 calories an hour!
4. Provides useful metrics
Whether it be your heart rate, the number of calories burned or the distance you’ve cycled, many of today's best exercise bikes can track and provide data on a multitude of health and fitness metric, particularly when used in conjunction with the best fitness trackers or fitness watches.
This data can inform and improve your workout in various ways. For example, heart rate is a useful indicator of how hard (or not) you are working. This is particularly useful as you need to reach certain 'zones' in order for fat-burn to kick-in for weight loss - see our article on tracking your heart rate for more information on this.
Some models also provide information on calories burned, which can be a hugely motivating stat. This echoes the findings of a 2017 study which found that the data supplied by fitness wearables (such as the best Fitbits) had a positive impact on motivation and self-efficacy.
Other metrics typically available include RPM (the number of times that your bike pedal rotates in a single minute), speed and distance, all of which can be useful when it comes to monitoring performance - and, specifically, improvements - over time.
5. Sense of community
But indoor cycling is a solo pursuit, right? Well, not necessarily...
Whether you join an in-person spin class, hop onto your Peloton at home or use a cycling fitness app such as Zwift, group workouts are empowering. A 2017 study found that group exercise improves quality of life and reduces stress far more than individual work outs.
Rowland concurs: ‘There’s a great sense of community, and that feeling of being surrounded by like-minded individuals; it’s just fun. At Boom Cycle classes, there’s great music and lots of sweat, which does wonders for feel-good endorphins.'
6. Helps strengthen the heart
It may be low impact, but cycling is still a cardio exercise, which means it gives your cardiovascular system (a key component of which is your heart) a really good workout.
As such, regular cardiovascular exercise is crucial in minimizing the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. Cardio workouts such as those offered by exercise bikes help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, promote weight loss, and improve the heart's efficiency.
On a related note, exercise bikes can help reverse the negative consequences of a sedentary lifestyle - great news if you spend a lot of time sitting down (either on the couch or in your office chair. A 2018 study, published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that committing to a heart-healthy exercise routine in late middle age can negate the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
7. Lowers stress
You're no doubt familiar with the term "runner's high" - but what about "spinner's high"?
'Spinning is a great workout to help combat depression and fight the effects of stress,' says Rowland - a claim backed up by scientific research. One study found that anxiety sensitivity was reduced on participation in aerobic exercise (which we've already established that cycling is a form of). This was true of both high-impact and low-impact cardio exercise.
8. Boosts fitness for other exercises
Wanting to squat with a heavier weight? Or perhaps you want to increase your running endurance.
Although riding on an exercise bike might seem disconnected from these goals, the fact is that this activity aids lower body muscular strength as well as cardio fitness, and helps to condition the body. All of these benefits mean that you'll see improvement in other areas of exercise too.
Exercise bike benefits: summary
There's no denying that the exercise bike benefits are seriously impressive.
Not only does a ride on an exercise bike help to boost muscle strength in the legs, arms and core, but it also aids with overall cardiovascular fitness, a key component in longevity and health.
For many, a real plus of using an exercise bike can be the sense of community that it fosters - whether that's in the real (e.g. a spin class) or virtual world. Fitness is infectious, and being surrounded by like-minded individuals can be incredibly motivational. This community and social aspect of fitness and exercise which can really transform your mood and keep spirits high.
Lucy is Head of Wellness at Pure Sport and was formerly Health and Fitness Editor at various women's magazines, including Woman&Home Feel Good You. She has previously written for titles including Now, Look and Cosmopolitan. She lives and breathes all things fitness; she works out every morning, and mixes it up with runs, weights, boxing and endless box jumps. She is also a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios, primarily Digme Fitness. Lucy is pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to the odd Negroni on the dance floor with her friends.
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