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Which Exercise Bike is Better, Recumbent or Upright?

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Which exercise bike is better, recumbent or upright? Most of the time, this is the first question anybody who intends to buy exercise bike will normally ask. I asked that as well when I decided to invest in a stationary exercise bike for my wife some years back. To make the right choice, I have done a thorough research on this topic, and would like to share it with you now.

First, let’s differentiate between these two types of bikes in terms of their general design structure and their pros and cons.

What is an Upright Exercise Bike?

An upright stationary exercise bike is designed to look and feel like a traditional road bike, just that it doesn’t come with wheels. The seat is located above the frame and directly over the pedals. When you are sitting on it in a normal ride, your body will have an upright posture, and you have the option to lean slightly forward with hands griping or resting on the handlebars. Both your arms and shoulders will be supporting some of your upper body weight in this case. The posture is just like riding a normal road bicycle, with your legs pedalling beneath your body. The design of the upright exercise bike allows pedalling while in a sitting or standing position.

Pros of Upright Exercise Bike

1)      A big plus point on upright exercise bike is that you can literally lift your body off the seat and pedal while standing. This will make you pedal with more force and exertion to simulate uphill climbing or sprinting. This may also give your butt an opportunity to take a little rest too from the workout.

2)      A very good and efficient indoor trainer if you are preparing for a race or you are an avid cyclist. It simulates much more like an outdoor racer bike.

3)      With the same resistance and intensity used on a recumbent bike, work out on the upright bike will give a slightly higher calorie burn because different muscles are being used when cycling alternatively between sitting and standing. The muscle involved during standing will be mainly the core and glutes, and when sitting, the focus is on the quadriceps (muscles in front of the thigh).

4)      Requires lesser floor space as it is usually smaller than recumbent bike. Some models can even be folded up.

Cons of Upright Exercise Bike

1)      Most upright exercise bikes are uncomfortable. They are not designed to be comfortable anyway. The bikes usually come with only a small and stiff saddle. To some riders, it may be too difficult to endure after a few workout sessions if no proper padded cycling shorts are used. Most people actually replaced the seat with one that suits them best.

2)      Not for people with lower back, knee or hip problems. The design of the bike forces the rider to lean forward, causing strain to the lower back. The knee also has to sustain a lot of pressure while riding in a standing position. The outer hip joint is constantly under stress due to the position of the pedals. For people with a history of hip problem, cycling on the upright bike may worsen the problem.

3)      Reading while you are cycling on the upright exercise bike may not be easy and comfortable due to the design structure. To me, upright bikes are solely for serious training purposes.

What is a Recumbent Exercise Bike?

Recumbent exercise bikes are designed with “comfort” in mind. A typical recumbent bike will come with a wide and large seat that can accommodate the whole bottom of most people. The seat will also come with a back support.  The entire seat structure is located towards the back of the bike, and the pedals are located towards the front. When a rider is seated in a reclined position, the feet will be positioned in front of the body, and the legs are almost parallel with the ground when pedalling. This will put the body in a natural and well supported position, while maintaining the appropriate leg pedalling angle for efficiency. It makes riding on the recumbent bike both comfortable and enjoyable.

Pros of Recumbent Exercise Bike

1)       A rider in a recumbent position resting fully on a comfortable seat while doing the workout will incur less strain on the body. The weight of the body is distributed over a larger area, eliminating the possibility of getting a sore bottom after prolonged workout.

2)      Due to the pedals are located at the front of the bike, therefore during the ride, the rider’s legs are almost at the same level with the heart. This will have less hydrostatic pressure in the blood circulation, improving overall efficiency of blood flow to the muscles. It will indirectly increase the rider’s endurance on longer workouts. The recumbent position will also help on the breathing as the body is not bent over.

3)      A longer ride without getting to feel tired easily due to the comfortable riding position. Quick and easy to read off information from the display console while riding as it is at eye level.

4)      Safe and easy to use. Very suitable for elderly and for people recovering from injuries.

5)      Hands are usually free during workout on a recumbent bike. Therefore multi tasking is possible, such as reading a book, texting over the phone or even doing workouts for the arms at the same time.

6)      If you want to tone your bum and abdominal muscles, working out on a recumbent bike will definitely help. The focus is on the hamstring, glutes as well as the abdominal muscles when the intensity is sufficient.

Cons of Recumbent Exercise Bike

1)      The comfort of the recumbent bike may sometimes work against you. There may be a tendency to exercise longer, but it may not be at the intensity that your body needs to achieve a high calorie burn or cardiovascular benefits. So it is recommended that the resistance level and intensity should be adjusted accordingly to reach your workout objectives.

2)      The riding position on the recumbent bike is fixed and does not allow riding in a standing position. Hence there is no way to stimulate hill climbing or sprinting.

3)      Recumbent bike usually is more bulky and takes up more space as compared to upright bikes.

So now you have a good idea of both the pros and cons of upright and recumbent exercise bike. This should provide you with a good reference in making an informed decision on which exercise bike is better, recumbent or upright. There is no right or wrong answer. It simply comes down to your needs and preferences based on what each type of bike can offer. Choose a machine that you know you will use it over a long period of time to achieve your fitness goals.

Generally speaking, if you are a passionate hard-core biker, likes to crank up the intensity with hill climbing, sprinting, or other challenging programs, then the upright exercise bike is a clear choice for you.  Read the review of Schwinn 140 Upright Exercise Bike to see if it suits you. However, if you prefer comfort, has back problem or if you simply enjoy reading your favourite book while riding casually, then go for the recumbent bike. You can read through the review one of the best selling recumbent bike Schwinn 250 Recumbent Exercise Bike, which I have researched and written a detailed review on.

In the end, I invested in a recumbent bike for my wife as comfort is her priority while achieving her weight loss objective.