No matter how small or dinky the space may be, every commercial, hotel, or apartment gym usually has a few treadmills and at least one stationary bike. Stationary bike workouts are no joke, so if you typically just walk right past that lone bike, you should consider giving it a chance next time.
“Stationary bikes are great for everyone of all fitness levels,” Jennifer Tallman, indoor cycling instructor at New York Sports Clubs, tells SELF. “Workouts on the bike build your cardiovascular endurance and strength in your legs, which translates to benefits off the bike, too.” Since biking is a relatively low-impact workout, these machines are helpful for those recovering from injuries—just be sure you get fitted properly to help avoid knee issues, and always check in with your doctor if you’re dealing with a specific injury. With very few bells and whistles, they’re also great for beginners or anyone looking to simply add some diversity to their fitness regimen.
If group workouts aren’t your jam, you don’t have to join a class at your gym, or book a spot in a SoulCycle or Flywheel class to log great stationary bike workouts. You can ride solo and kick your own butt on the machine, too. Since you can control the speed and resistance levels on the bike, you can decide how to challenge yourself—it’s completely customizable to your fitness level and goals.
Working out regularly is great for your body and mind, and is and should be a goal unto itself. But if you have another specific goal—like losing weight, or lowering body fat percentage, or building muscle—you’ll need to pair your workout routine with a strategic and healthy nutrition plan. For certain goals, like weight loss, that means creating a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume in a day), which requires making sure to eat quality calories and watching portion sizes.
For anyone who has a history of disordered eating, even if you’re in recovery, you should speak with a doctor before you pursue any weight-loss goal, including starting a new exercise routine. And even if you don’t have a history of disordered eating, it’s really important to have realistic expectations and make sure you’re pursuing weight loss or body composition changes in a healthy way. The truth is that weight loss, fat loss, muscle building, or other body composition goals are never just about one thing—in order to make changes, you need to look at your life and habits in a holistic way. And it can take a lot of time to see results. Many factors come into play—like getting good sleep, managing stress levels, genetics, health conditions, and the medicines you take. And your fitness routine itself has to be varied and include both cardio and strength training for real change to occur.
Whether you’re looking for a good low-impact workout to burn calories, are trying to develop a steady fitness routine, or simply need a new way to beat gym boredom, try these four trainer-recommended indoor cycling workouts.
1. Crush this 20-minute interval workout that alternates between easy, moderate, hard, and all-out levels of exertion.
Tallman suggests doing intervals, rather than cycling at a steady state, to get the biggest fat-burning payoff on a stationary bike. “Working on a scale of your own perceived exertion (easy, moderate, hard, all-out), and utilizing the resistance, is going to get you the most bang for your buck.” She provides some notes on what each “perceived exertion” level feels like below, so you can get an idea of how much to push yourself in each part of this workout.
Easy = This is a flat road (with a slight base resistance) and you’re moving at a pace you could hold all day.
Moderate = This will start to feel like work but is still maintainable. You’ll notice that your breathing will get a bit heavier, too. “You could talk here but not in full sentences.” You should use enough resistance that you feel like you’re on a slight incline up a small hill.
Hard = You are working! “Breathing is heavy and it feels hard to hold this. You could say a word or two, but you wouldn’t want to!” You should be using medium to heavy resistance at this point.
All-Out = Give an everything-you’ve-got level of effort, using the heaviest resistance you can handle, while still being able to push your legs. “You shouldn’t be able to speak during this, you want this to be OVER!”
2. This workout uses your target heart rate to tell if you’re putting in the right level of work.
“The general population is convinced they need to murder themselves in a gym to achieve their perfect body,” Andrew Kalley, founder of Kalley Fitness and NYC-based triathlon coach and personal trainer, tells SELF. “Yes, intervals and HIIT are great forms of training, but not the end-all.” He recommends combining intervals and longer, moderate aerobic training to burn fat. “It’s a slower burn, and it takes time to condition the body to burn fat.” Kalley recommends doing at least three days of cardio work each week if this is your goal.
For this workout, you’ll need a heart rate monitor. According to Kalley, the right three-day mix for beginners is two days of steady-state training (cycle at 60-70 percent of your max heart rate for 45-90 minutes) plus the routine below (don’t forget to include a warm-up and cool-down). The exact resistance and speed necessary to get your heart rate high will vary depending on the person, explains Kalley, but he suggests either choosing very heavy resistance at a moderate pace, or more moderate-to-high resistance at a quicker pace. You should be able to reach your max heart rate (MHR) either way. Here’s the routine:
1 minute: Cycle at 76-85 percent of your MHR 2 minutes: Recover by cycling at 60 percent of your MHR Repeat 6x
There’s still a debate about what’s the best equation for measuring peak heart rate in women, but the Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association both note that most basic method is to subtract your age from 220. Then find your target heart rate zones for each of the intervals above.
3. Try a Tabata stationary bike workout.
You may have done a Tabata strength workout before, but you can do it on a stationary bike, too. In fact, the Tabata protocol was first studied with athletes performing bouts of intense activity on a stationary bike. Jacqueline Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), suggests focusing on your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to tailor this Tabata workout for you. RPE basically means your level of intensity, and it can be changed by increasing your speed and/or your resistance. “An RPE of 5 would be a 5 on a scale of 0-10, 10 being 100 percent effort. So by that thought, RPE of 5 equals 50 percent effort,” Crockford explains.
In the below workout, the “20 seconds of work” should be done at 80-100 percent effort, so between an RPE of 8 and 10—you can choose to reach the target RPE by cranking up the resistance and pedaling at a more moderate pace, or opting for a middle-of-the-road resistance level with a quicker pace, she explains. During the rest and recovery parts of the workout, you should be doing as little work as possible to keep the pedals moving, so resistance should be very low. “As long as you are exercising at the RPE (truly), then you know you are at the right gear and cadence for your fitness level,” Crockford explains. Let’s get to it!
4. And this HIIT workout uses short bursts of activity to get your heart pumping.
Developed by researchers at the department of exercise and sport sciences at the University of Copenhagen, the 10-20-30 interval training method is organized by blocks of intervals, followed by two minutes of active recovery, Jessica Matthews, M.S., senior advisor for health and fitness education for ACE and assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College, tells SELF. “Each of the blocks consists of five consecutive one-minute intervals divided into 30, 20, and 10 seconds at various intensities,” she explains. “This is one of my personal favorite ways to structure a time-efficient HIIT workout, and it can easily be adapted to a number of different pieces of cardio equipment such as an elliptical or an upright bike.” (The method is officially called 10-20-30, but you perform the timed intervals in reverse.)
Matthews recommends using the same resistance throughout the workout—the key is that there is enough resistance to keep your pedal strokes smooth and controlled. Then, you control the intensity level by speeding up and slowing down.