Although both upright and recumbent stationary bikes provide a low-impact cardiovascular workout, these two machines differ in their details. While upright bikes mimic the form of a traditional bicycle, featuring simple saddle-like seats without backs, recumbent bikes provide back support with low, chair-like seats. Neither style is innately "better" than the other -- the ultimate choice between recumbent and stationary bikes boils down to your own personal exercise needs and preferences.
The supportive seats of recumbent bikes put less stress on the lower back than the seats of upright stationary bikes, which is a key difference between the two exercise machines. Those who suffer from lower back pain or balance issues will typically find recumbent bikes more comfortable. Likewise, recumbent bikes exert less stress on the knees, making them a safer choice for those with joint issues. However, those who suffer from conditions such as osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis may actually prefer the forward-leaning position accommodated by an upright bike.
Both recumbent and upright exercise bikes target key lower-body muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. In addition, exercise on these machines engages the calves and hip flexors, or psoas. A study conducted by the University of Michigan finds that upright bikes require a greater range of motion from the thigh segment, as well as the hip and knee joints. Generally, exercise on a recumbent bike is lower impact, but so is the potential for muscle strain. Of the two, only upright bikes engage your abdominal muscles during your workout, as this muscle group helps stabilize the spine and pelvis when sitting upright.
A half hour of moderate activity on a stationary bike burns about 238 calories for a 150-pound woman, while the same amount of vigorous on-bike activity burns 387 calories, according to the calculator at HealthStatus. Physical therapist Jennifer Gloystein points out that no studies prove a significant difference in caloric expenditure among the two types of bikes. However, some expert trainers believe the reclined position of recumbent bikes may lead to a less energy output from the user, which leads to less caloric expenditure when compared to upright bikes.
Access to either type of stationary bike will cost you whether you pay for a gym membership or buy the machine yourself. If you choose to do the latter, you'll typically pay significantly more for a recumbent bike than an upright one. However, if you use either bike regularly, the investment may prove worthwhile, as exercise helps reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, lower your cholesterol and increase your overall physical endurance.
- ShareCare: What Types of Exercise Bikes Are Used for Cardio Training?
- ShareCare: What Muscles Does an Exercise Bike Work Out?
- Spine-Health: Stationary Bike
- University of Michigan: Comparison of Upright vs. Recumbent Stationary Bikes
- Hruska Clinic: Healthy Biking Hints, by Jennifer Gloystein, DPT
- Health Status: Calories Burned Calculator
- ShareCare: Is a Recumbent Bike or a Stationary Bike More Effective for Fat Loss
Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.