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How To Use Your Stationary Bike

This blog will give you the rundown on how to use your stationary bike -- blog number four in my “How to use X” series. The bike is a particularly awesome investment if you live someplace that gets a lot of snow and you can’t see yourself exercising outside on frigid and unsafe winter days. Plus, the ability to watch TV while you cycle is often a huge workout motivator.

In each installment of this series I outline how to use a different piece of equipment. In blog number one, treadmill workouts. In blog two, the basic principles of dumbbell training. Blog three, dumbbell workouts. Basically, I want you to sweat on your home equipment, not use it as a coat rack!

Bike workouts

A great place to start? Steady-state cardio workouts: three times per week get on your bike and just “go” for 20+ minutes. Aim to keep your heart rate between 60% and 85% of your max for the majority of the workout.

These “just go” workouts are great when one is low on motivation; they don’t take brain power and if you watch TV or listen to music they can be a nice “time out” from life’s hectic go-go-go pace. Steady-state “zoned out” cardio might not be the “best” cardio (relative to interval training), but the benefits of anything (such as intervals) are moot if you can’t make yourself do it.

If you will actually do steady-state workouts -- versus think about intervals but not actually do them -- then do steady-state workouts ... at least for now. Plus, 20 minutes of any type of cardio will strengthen your cardiovascular system, improve mood, decrease stress and anxiety, improve circulation, give you a “little win” for the day, and help you establish and maintain the habit of exercise. Habits are key.

For a more intense workout, try intervals.

Fun progressive hill build
  • Warm up for five minutes.
  • For five minutes increase your resistance by one each minute.
  • For three minutes increase your speed while staying at the same resistance.
  • For two minutes decrease your resistance by three levels and lower your speed -- this is your recovery.
  • Repeat the above 10-minute set starting the build at the level you did your recovery at. (So, if during your first set you moved from level five through nine, during this next set build from six through 10.)
  • Either cool down for five minutes or repeat the 10-minute set one more time and then cool down.
Three-minute builds

  • Warm up for five minutes.
  • Do one minute easy, one minute moderate, and then one minute hard, increasing both speed and resistance as you go. Recover for two minutes.
  • Repeat this five-minute sequence three to six times.
  • Cool down for five minutes.
Brick workouts

Have two pieces of equipment? Do a brick workout and use both! A brick workout is where you do two different activities back to back with no rest. As a triathlete, I do brick workouts that combine swimming and biking or biking and running. You can use any piece of equipment. For example, use the bike and then the treadmill.

  • A bike/treadmill brick workout

Brick part 1: Warm up for five minutes on the bike. Do five to 10 minutes at the hardest intensity you can hold for the entire time. Finish with five minutes of moderate intensity cardio.

Brick part 2: As soon as you finish the above workout, jump on the treadmill. Do five minutes of moderate work. Then do five to 10 minutes at the hardest intensity you can hold for the entire time. Finish with five minutes of light cardio to cool down. (Don’t have a treadmill but have an elliptical or rower? Great -- use whatever you have.)

  • Bike/body-weight brick workout

Brick part 1: Warm-up for five minutes on the bike. Do 10 minutes alternating 15 seconds hard and 45 seconds regular work.

Brick part 2: Get off the bike and do five minutes of old-school aerobics. Do one minute of high knees, one minute of running or marching on the spot, one minute of kicking your bum, one minute of side steps, one minute of jumping jacks. (Don’t like aerobics? Try skipping or buy a mini trampoline and use that.)

Brick part 3: Finish back on the bike. Do five to 10 minutes at the hardest intensity you can hold for the entire time. Finish with five minutes of cool down.

Final words of wisdom

1. Check your bike set-up. For example, make sure your seat and handle bars are at the appropriate height.

2. Check your form. Make sure your knees aren't caving in or splaying out, and that you're using your core to keep your pelvis stable as you ride. Don't just push the pedals down, as that overworks the front of your legs. Instead, work through the entire pedal stroke by using the back of your legs to pull your heels up toward your bum.

3. Make sure you always have enough tension on your bike so that you can spin with control.

4. Make sure you are not over-training by cycling too often. Do strength training and core work, use a foam roller, stretch, and mix up your cardio.

5. ALWAYS “set yourself up for workout success” -- have goals and a workout PLAN. Know how to use your equipment, when you will use it, for how long, and your goal (for example, are you trying to get better at cycling so you can cycle to work, cycle with your kids, improve heart health, lose weight, etc?). Carve out the time in your schedule -- if you don’t make the time you will never magically find it!

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer in Toronto who loves audiobooks, planks and having a growth mindset. You can follow her blog or find her on Facebook.