No, we're not talking about levels of resistance to stationary bikes. Even if you're not in the mood for exercise, or you think exercise bikes are boring, they offer an excellent low-impact cardio workout. The number of resistance levels — from 1 to 20 on most gym-quality exercise bikes — enable you to individualize your workout, making stationary bikes suitable whether you're just starting an exercise routine or training for professional road races.
The first stationary bike was created in 1986 by Johnny Goldberg, who was training for the Race Across America. Looking for a method of training during stormy weather, Goldberg came up with a floor-bound bike featuring a weighted flywheel that could simulate several outdoor cycling conditions, from hill climbing to flat surfaces, by altering the resistance level. Not only was Goldberg an elite cyclist, he was an astute businessman. He took his new creation to leading bicycle manufacturer Schwinn, and the company quickly popularized the new machine.
Low Resistance Levels
At low resistance, the pedals almost turn by themselves. You need a minimal amount of force to turn the pedals, which makes low resistance levels ideal if you're just starting an exercise program or have knee problems. Running-Advice.com suggests that competitive athletes start a strenuous bike workout by warming up at a resistance level of 5 for 10 minutes. Other people might want to warm-up or cool down at the lowest setting of 1 before raising the resistance level. Don't be embarrassed by riding at low resistance if it fits your current fitness level. You don't get a prize for riding at a setting of 20 — in fact, your reward might consist of damaged knees or a strained back.
Medium Resistance Levels
Medium resistance levels, or levels around 10, ratchet up the amount of force you'll need to move the pedals, making it feel like you're cycling up a medium-sized hill. Moderate levels can be combined with interval training to enhance your workouts. You can interval train at moderate levels by alternating brief bursts of all-out effort with recovery periods at lower levels of resistance. Interval training enables you to perform a very effective cardio workout in a shorter period of time than riding at a steady pace. IDEA Health & Fitness Association cites a growing body of research that supports interval training as a top-notch training method for heart health and weight loss or maintenance.
High Resistance Levels
The Sports Factory website advocates riding at "very heavy" resistance levels, near or to up to the maximum of 20, for strength training for your legs and lower body. The highest resistance levels make you feel like you're riding up a steep hill, and such exertion should be reserved for people who already have attained a high level of conditioning. For a stationary bike strength exercise, increase the resistance to a high level, and drive the pedals toward the floor for 20 to 30 strokes at a very slow cadence. Do 4 to 8 sets with a 5-minute rest period between sets.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.