Recumbent Bike vs Upright Bike: Which is Best for You?

March 18, 2015

What is your preferred piece of workout equipment at the gym? treadmill? rower? stationary bike? If you answered stationary bike, is it an upright or recumbent bike? Is there a difference? In simple terms, one type is distinguished from the other by the position of the rider. Regardless of your response, stationary bicycles are a safe and effective means of exercise according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) as the bikes provide the option for a low-impact cardiovascular activity.

Stationary bikes, both recumbent and upright, place less stress on the joints then some other cardio equipment options and are relatively comfortable once you become accustomed to sitting in the saddle, or seat, for an extended period of time. Recumbent bikes, in particular, are an excellent option for those with low back pain as the bike provides added support for the back. Recumbent bikes are also good for those who are new to cycling. The bottom line: a recumbent bike can provide a cardiovascular workout for users of virtually all ability levels.

Want to give it a try but can’t decide which type of stationary bike is best for you? The following might help you make a decision if you only have time for one piece of equipment during your workout.



recumbent bike vs upright bike benefits
The exercise bikes featured in the infographic are the LifeSpan R3i Recumbent Bike and the LifeSpan C3i Upright Bike.

Recumbent Bike Benefits

  • Recumbent bikes are easier on the lower back (lumbar spine) due to the way that you sit in the bike. While an upright bike has you hunched over the handlebars, a recumbent bike encourages better spinal posture.

  • Recumbent bikes are gentle on all your joints. Your lower back is supported by the bucket seat and your knees and ankles are protected from potential injurious impact.

  • The fact that the seat is larger on a recumbent bike tends to be one of the most enticing features. An upright bike generally has a smaller seat and can be uncomfortable for many riders.

  • Recumbent bikes are generally safer because you cannot stand up on the pedals. This eliminates many of the injuries that occur when using an upright bike.

  • A recumbent bike is a good choice for most people with neurological conditions since the bike provides a workout for individuals of all ability levels. It is safe and provides a low impact total body workout.

  • Due to the low impact the recumbent bike reduces the risk of pain and can build strength. If your back and hips are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, a recumbent bike may be easier to use due to the reclining position with your weight spread over your back and buttocks.

Upright Bike Benefits

  • An upright bike gives you a more consistent workout when relating to outdoor riding, since the upright places the rider in a similar body position.

  • Upright bikes also ensure you’re working the same muscles that are using with outdoor riding, which is more of a whole body exercise. Where as a recumbent mostly requires use of your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and tibilais anterior muscles.

  • The upright bike works the abdominal muscles since you are keeping the body upright and supporting your workout. Since you are in a reclined position on a recumbent bike there is little to no use of the abdominal muscles.

  • There is also more of an upper body arm workout since you are engaging the biceps, triceps, and shoulders in the upright position.

  • Upright bikes have a smaller footprint, therefore take up less space in your home or gym.


cardiovascular fitness comparison guide

Which Stationary Bike Burns More Calories?

Are you concerned about maximizing calories and weight loss, when deciding between a recumbent bike or an upright bike? Each bike has benefits that will be enticing depending on your main goals. However, both bikes produce the same calorie and weight loss potentials. It all comes down to what you’re willing to put into your workout, the harder you work the more improvement you will see. Decide which bike will be best for you by looking at the above benefit features for each bike, then be willing to work hard to achieve your fitness goals.

Points to Keep in Mind

Whether you use an upright or recumbent stationary bike–at home or in the gym–keep these important points in mind:

  1. Check to make sure the stationary bike is positioned so all moving parts are allowed safe clearance.
  2. Ensure there is adequate room to safely mount and dismount the bike.
  3. Position the handlebar and seat height before beginning to cycle. Find your perfect position in the seat. Proper positioning is important so that you have a safe and effective workout. Keep in mind that pain in the front of your knee usually means there is too much knee bend and pain in the back means there is too little knee bend. Read more about how to set up your bike for maximum benefits.


exercise bike tips
The exercise bikes featured in the graphic are the LifeSpan R7000i Commercial Recumbent Bike and the LifeSpan S2 Indoor Exercise Bike.


A person needs to find an exercise routine that he or she enjoys and will stick with for the long haul. A stationary bike can be an important part of that routine particularly for someone new to exercise or someone with back, knee, or joint problems that make other types of cardiovascular exercise difficult. In addition, if you happen to be a person that uses excuses such as the heat, cold, or rain to curtail your daily exercise routine, the stationary bike throws those excuses out the window. Because it's indoors, you don't have to worry about inclement weather, says exercise physiologist Kelli Calabrese. And, if you don't belong to a gym, you can use an upright or recumbent stationary bike at home. I can do it watching television, says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's Recipe Doctor. I can do it at night, when it's dark, when it's raining or cold. It's a great way to burn calories and fat stores, and it's a good oxygen boost.

The bottom line: choose which option best fits your needs and remember a stationary bicycle, whether upright or recumbent, is only beneficial if you use it! Set attainable goals and create a circle of health for yourself for today and the future!




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