Is a stationary bicycle a good choice for getting in shape?
Riding a stationary bicycle gets your heart pumping, so it's an excellent option if you're looking for aerobic conditioning. Pedaling also provides a workout for the large muscles in your legs. And it has an important advantage over regular cycling: Neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night will keep you from enjoying some exercise. Some people like to combine their biking with reading or watching the news -- distractions that can make an exercise regimen more appealing. The bottom line: If you're looking for a comfortable, healthy aerobic workout, a stationary bike is a great choice.
How do I use it?
Stationary bikes are easy to use, even if you've never ridden a real bike. The only thing you really have to figure out is the right seat position and the right resistance.
There are two basic designs: upright and recumbent. When you ride an upright model, you are in the same body posture as you would experience riding a conventional bicycle. In contrast, recumbent bikes put you in a semi-reclining position. Many people find the recumbent position more comfortable because weight is distributed over a wider area of the back and buttocks so there are fewer pressure points. If you have back or neck pain, the recumbent may be the better choice.
Make certain that the machine you choose is adjustable -- and fits your body. Proper adjustment is key to comfortable use. If the distance from seat to pedal isn't set correctly, you can put stress on your knees. If you have to rock sideways on the seat to reach the pedals, the seat needs to be lower.
For most people, the seat height should result in a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the downstroke. (The bend should be between 5 and 10 degrees.) The seat itself should be level and parallel to the floor. A seat that is tipped can cause uncomfortable pressure or let you slide out of position. You shouldn't have to stretch to reach the handlebars. A proper position should allow you to comfortably bend your elbows. If you notice stress on your lower back or neck, try moving the handlebars higher to see if that position is more comfortable.
In order to get maximum benefit, you should pedal so your legs move in a fluid, circular motion. If there are toe straps, fit them snugly over your shoes. With the straps in place you will be able to work your muscles when you lift on the upstroke too.
What are my options if I decide to buy a home version?
Compared to some other exercise machines like treadmills and elliptical trainers, exercise bikes are generally affordable. According to Consumer Reports, good quality stationary bikes are available for about $200. Models with preprogrammed workouts, integrated heart monitors, and other high-end features carry a higher price tag.
American College of Sports Medicine. Selecting and Effectively Using Stationary Bicycles. 2005.
Consumer Reports.org. Exercise bikes offer a safer ride. 2006.
Arthritis Foundation. Benefits of stationary cycling. 2009.