The Beginner’s Guide to the Recumbent Bike

By Brittany Risher |

Everyone can benefit from this low-impact cardio option.

Fitness expert David Jack is a huge fan of the recumbent bike. The reason: Unlike most of the ground-based activity we do-walking, hiking, tennis, and so on-the recumbent bike offers a new movement pattern that takes us off our feet and unloads the joints. This makes it an especially good option for people with knee, ankle, or hip issues. Watch the video above, and follow this step-by-step guide to get started.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Step #1: Secure Your Feet in the Pedals

Place your feet under the foot straps, making sure the balls of your feet are completely on the pedals.

Step #2: Adjust the Seat

There's usually a handle under the seat for easy adjusting. Simply lift it up, and you can slide the seat forward and backward like a seat in your car. You'll know you're in the right spot when your front knee is slightly bent and your foot is comfortably extended on the pedal.

Step #3: Hit the Quick Start Button

Grab the handle and start pedaling. Once you've got a good riding rhythm, press the big Quick Start button.

Step #4: Set Your Resistance Level

A lot of numbers will pop up on the screen, but resistance is the one you need to pay attention to at first. Set a level (Jack starts at 7), and give yourself a few minutes to see how it feels. This is a great warmup.

Step #5: Try the Talking Test

If your cardio is always done at a level where you could comfortably have a conversation, it's not doing all that it can for you. On a scale of 1 to 10, you want to be at a 6 or 7 in terms of difficulty. It will be difficult to talk, and your heart will be pumping. After you push it for a minute or two, you can slow down to recover at a pace where talking is easy.

Want More of a Challenge? Do This

Once you feel comfortable on the recumbent bike, there are two simple ways to ramp up the intensity: Change your speed or your resistance.

For speed, start with a 10 percent increase. So if you are currently at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), try 85 rpm. If you still don't feel challenged, bump it up to 90 rpm.

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To change your resistance, try this simple interval plan:

  • Pedal at your normal speed and resistance for one minute.
  • Pedal at your normal speed for one minute, and increase the resistance one level. So rather than biking at a level 4 resistance, try a level 5.
  • Continue alternating—one minute at your normal resistance, one minute at one level higher—for as long as you can.

Whether you change the speed or resistance, if it feels too hard at any point, scale back. You can always challenge yourself for a few minutes, and then finish the rest of your workout at your normal speed and resistance. Every little bit of progress counts.

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