One of the most popular pieces of cardiovascular equipment is the exercise bike. Many people enjoy working out on stationary bicycles because they offer a low-impact alternative to other cardiovascular activities such as running. It can also be a very effective form of fat-burning aerobics and allows exercisers to avoid the hazards of traffic and weather that accompany outdoor riding. In addition, exercise bikes provide an excellent workout for lower-body parts, including the quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings and calf muscles.
Quadriceps and Hamstrings
The muscles that perform the majority of the work during cycling are the quadriceps and hamstrings. The quadriceps are used in the downward pedal stroke and provide the main source of power while cycling. The antagonists of the quadriceps are the hamstrings, and these are utilized during the upward pedal stroke. One way to maximize hamstring activation is to use shoes with cleats if the pedals on your bike have clips. This allows you to "clip in" to the pedal, which locks your foot in place and helps your hamstrings work most efficiently during the upward stroke.
The gluteals can be another major source of power during cycling. These muscles are located in the buttocks and act as stabilizers both in and out of the saddle. Recruiting the glutes while climbing will assist the quadriceps during the downward stroke, but most people have to think about utilizing their glutes in order to shift enough of the workload to these muscles. One way to recruit the glutes is to focus on using the heels to push through each pedal stroke.
The muscles of the calves, the gastrocnemius and soleus, are activated by plantar flexion during the bottom of the downward stroke, and by pulling the pedal up during the upstroke. Activation of the gastrocnemius and soleus can be maximized by using clips and by focusing on keeping the bottom of the foot parallel with the ground throughout the pedal stroke.
Remembering a few things will keep your exercise bike workouts safe and effective. Always make sure that you are using adequate resistance. You should never feel like the pedals are "getting away" from you, and you should never bounce in the saddle while seated. At the same time, it is important to never use so much resistance as to put undue pressure on your knees. A good gauge for resistance is your ability to maintain a suggested cadence of 80 to 110 rpm while in the saddle, and never going below 60 rpm during standing climbs.
- Cycling Anatomy; Shannon Sovndal
- Biomechanics and Biology of Movement; Benno Maurus Nigg, Brian R. MacIntosh & Joachim Mester
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.