Pros & Cons of Recumbent Stationary Exercise Bikes Explained

Cardio is a great way for beginners to start getting in shape.

It’s simple to execute, you can start at your own pace, and it’s great for burning calories and losing a few extra pounds.

But what kind of cardio should you choose? Running? The elliptical?

One option you might be considering is hopping on the recumbent stationary exercise bike a few times per week.

But what are the pros and cons of recumbent bikes?

First, it’s important to differentiate between a recumbent bike and an upright one. A recumbent bike puts you in a reclined body position and offers you a larger seat. It also places the pedals in front of you.

This kind of set up has some major benefits and a few drawbacks, as well. Recumbent bikes are super easy on your knees and back, so you can work up a sweat with minimal injury risk. They’re great for people easing into a workout routine and anyone with an injury history — and you can get a pretty darn good workout on a recumbent bike.

However, you’ll probably eventually want to graduate to a more intense workout. You’ll burn more calories and get a bigger conditioning challenge on an upright bike or the elliptical.

Now let’s take a closer look at recumbent stationary bikes and figure out if they’re the right choice for you.

Pros of Recumbent Bikes (Benefits)

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christine Clark

Once you get started on a recumbent bike, you’ll wonder why you never gave it a shot before.

Not only is it a great way to break a sweat, but it’s also far less stressful on your body than other types of workouts.

Let’s dive deeper into why a recumbent bike may be right for you.

Less Stress

You may be putting a lot more stress on your body every day than you realize.

The way you sit, walk, and exercise all impact your ability to continue doing your favorite activities day in and day out.

Due to the way you sit in a recumbent bike, it ends up being far more ergonomic than the alternatives.

As you cycle, you put substantially reduced stress on your joints, bones, ligaments, and tendons. This occurs because you’re spreading out your weight over a greater surface area.

This can be a huge advantage for some people because they’re not placing an excessive amount of weight onto any soft tissues. Therefore, there’s a reduced risk of nerve numbness and decreased blood flow.

But keep in mind you may end up putting more stress on your core muscles and hamstrings.

If you feel those muscles sore after a recumbent bike workout, then that’s to be expected.

Greater Safety

It’s common for riders on upright bikes to stand up while pedaling to get a more intense workout.

However, this also puts you at a greater risk of sustaining knee injuries or back pain.

You can generally reduce your risk of these injuries by hopping on a recumbent bike instead.

In fact, recumbent bikes have shown to be an excellent exercise option for people who have recently suffered an injury or have certain cardiac limitations. It’s also good for those with a history of back pain as a recumbent bike offers greater lumbar support than similar machines.

(In fact, recumbent bikes are often a key tool in rehabbing lower body injuries.)

Naturally, there are plenty of ways you can be safe on an upright bike. For people who can handle those kinds of extreme workouts, it may still be a viable option.

But typically, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to see what kind of exercise is suitable for your bodily health. It’s always recommended to pay attention to your form and make adjustments if something feels off.

Solid Lower Body Workout

Pedaling against resistance for an extended period of time is great for your heart health.

As with most aerobic exercises, biking helps decrease your resting heart rate, improve lung capacity, and reduce high blood pressure with consistent usage.

However, your heart is just one muscle benefitting from your time on a recumbent bike. Other muscles you can expect to benefit include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Glutes

You work out a completely different set of muscles when you’re on a recumbent bike as compared to other cardiovascular activities.

Don’t expect to get jacked, tree-trunk legs from working out on a reclined stationary bike, but for overall health and fitness, it’s a pretty good option for your lower body.

Greater Sustainability

Getting started with a new workout regimen is great. However, the million-dollar question is whether you can continue with that workout for an extended period of time.

After all, you won’t really see an improvement in your overall health if you only get on the bike for a few weeks and then quit.

Luckily, recumbent bikes are far more inviting than other workouts. With reduced stress placed on your joints, you’ll actually end up looking forward to getting on the bike.

At the gym, these bikes are probably the best machine available for flipping on the TV, a movie, or listening to a podcast. You can pedal seemingly forever while you get lost in a story and burn a ton of calories, plus get a killer leg workout to boot.

A recumbent bike makes it easy to go slow and continue at whatever pace you’re comfortable with.

Cons of Recumbent Bikes (Disadvantages)

For many people, a recumbent bike may be the best form of exercise.

However, everyone has different goals. Depending on what you hope to attain, a recumbent bike may not be the best option.

Here are some cons to keep in mind as you’re figuring out which machine to start on next.

Fewer Calories Burned

One great aspect of recumbent bikes is how easier they are on your body.

While that can be good for some people, if your goal is to burn calories and potentially lose weight, then you may be disappointed by the results.

While you can typically burn between 400 and 650 calories per hour on a recumbent bike, you can usually burn a little more on an upright bike. The reason for this is that an upright bike offers a more intense workout, so you’ll burn more.

It’s also important to recognize that the amount of calories you burn is largely up to you. You can always take it easy on whatever equipment you’re on. But you can also pedal faster or amp up the resistance and really work up a sweat.

This will burn more calories, and you’ll still get the same lumbar support.

You’ll certainly burn quite a bit on a recumbent bike, but other machines will allow you to burn more if weight loss or intense conditioning is your ultimate goal.

Too Easy?

As we pointed out earlier, recumbent bikes are great for people who have a history of back and shoulder problems or people recovering from an injury.

However, if you’re already a hardened gym enthusiast who’s used to more intense workouts on a treadmill or stair stepper, then you may think getting on a recumbent bike is a step back.

The thought of sitting in a leaned-back position for even 30 minutes may fill you with dread. You know how much sweat you usually break, and you feel like you’re just not getting it on a bike.

While people of all experience levels can benefit on a recumbent bike, it makes sense if you feel like you’re not getting a full workout on it.

Recumbent bikes are great for easing into the idea of working out, but you should eventually graduate from using them exclusively and start to incorporate more intense activities into your routine like:

(Assuming you’re relatively health and fit, of course!)

Wrapping Up

So, if you’re trying to decide what workout is right for you, hopefully the pros and cons above have helped to clear things up.

The recumbent exercise bike is great way to stay comfortable while you get in some fairly decent cardio work. You work out an array of lower body and core muscles while having a reduced risk of injuring your knees. It’s a superb low-impact workout that you’ll want to come back to time and time again, which is great for your health in the long run.

However, your conditioning and lower body athleticism will only improve so much in the reclined position. At some point, if your age, fitness, and injury history allow, try your hand at intense upright biking or spin class — or at least start working your upper body with calisthenics or weights.

Is there anything you love about recumbent bikes we missed here? If you haven’t gotten on this bike before, how likely are you to now?

Hope this guide was helpful!