The Truth About Exercise Bikes and Targeted Toning

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Before diving into a new workout program it’s always interesting to know what kind of benefits you’ll derive from the exercise. It’s an easy way to find out if a particular workout jives with you or not.

More of our exercise bike articles you might be interested in:

You wouldn’t want to waste your time on something that isn’t going to pan out for you, right?

If you’re here then working out with an upright or recumbent exercise bike has most likely piqued your interest. In this article we’ll be discussing what you can expect from this cardio machine in terms of which areas of the body it targets, what type of fat loss you can expect, and any toning you’ll benefit from.

Muscles that Stationary Cycling Targets

A stationary bike, like a regular bicycle, is predominantly a lower body workout unless you are working with a bike that has hand pedals or using your hands with a pedal exerciser. Most will be using their feet to pedal, whether it be with an upright, recumbent, air, or spin bike.

muscular man standing

Since you drive the pedals using your legs the main muscles targeted will be leg muscles such as your quads, hamstrings, and calves. To a lesser extent you will also workout your core and glutes (butt).

Is it possible to build a substantial amount of muscle with an exercise bike?

According to ExRx, the force used to drive an upright or recumbent stationary bike is derived through the hip and knee.

It is certainly possible to build muscle and tone up your legs to some degree, though you probably won’t see substantial gains.

If your main goal is to pack on a decent amount of muscle to your legs and glutes then you would be best served by also implementing weightlifting exercises such as squats, Romanian deadlifts, leg presses, and leg curls in addition to your stationary cycling.

The main reason for this is the fact that the single biggest driving force of continual muscle gains is something called progressive overload. Essentially, progressive overload calls for progressively loading muscles with more and more resistance (weight lifted).

So while you can work your way up to a higher resistance level on your exercise bike it will never match incrementally increasing the amount that you squat up to say 300 pounds.

Exercise bikes are primarily a cardio oriented workout whereas things like squats and leg presses are specifically tailored towards building muscle and becoming stronger. Most modern exercise bikes come equipped with different levels of resistance, so in theory, you will be able to implement a sort of progressive overload by working up to the highest resistance level.

But again, a bike’s highest resistance level will never match that of squatting or Romanian deadlifting a substantial amount of weight. Any free weight or machine exercise that targets the legs will do a much better job a toning and building muscle mass than cardio equipment ever will.

Where Does Biking Target Fat Loss?

If you’re interested in working out with an exercise bike then it’s also safe to assume you like the idea of managing a healthy weight or shedding unwanted pounds.

bathroom scale

Which raises the question, where exactly do exercise bikes target fat loss on the body?

The rather unfortunate answer to this question is most likely not where you would like to lose weight. The rule of thumb concerning fat loss is that you can’t explicitly target a certain area of the body.

Time and time again it has been shown that targeted fat loss, or “spot reduction”, is a fallacy. This study shows that an exercise such as sit ups does not result in anymore fat loss in the stomach region than other regions.

While stationary biking will build more muscle in the legs than other areas of the body, you will not lose anymore fat in the legs than in other areas of the body by doing so. Unfortunately, we do not have any kind of will or say so when it comes to fat loss and where it occurs.

An exercise bike may help your legs look more toned by slightly increasing muscle mass and reducing body fat, but not by specifically targeting fat loss in the legs. The same can be said for other common problem areas for people when it comes to excess fat.

As much as it sucks, steady state or high intensity cardio on a stationary bike isn’t a fast track towards fat loss in the stomach, butt, and waist region. You will lose weight in whatever region you desire to over time, but exercise isn’t going only focus on where you’d like to lose weight.

Combining regular exercise with caloric restriction is the gold standard of transitioning from overweight or obese to fit and healthy. Eliminating 3500 calories each week equates to roughly a pound of weight loss.

Fat is generally going to be removed from all areas of the body over time when in a caloric deficit through working out and eating less.

What does influence targeted fat loss?

One individual to another will differ in where they lose fat on their body solely due to genetics. This is why we said you have no say in the matter because it comes down to the hand you were dealt.

What you can do is exercise the best practice of weight and fat loss – calorie restriction. Losing weight is all about using up more energy (calories) than you are taking in (food).

tdee calculator

Your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE is the total amount of calories that you use up every single day. If you want to lose weight then you want to consume less than this number through calorie restriction, exercise, or ideally, a combination of the two.

You can use a TDEE calculator such as this one in order to roughly gauge a number to work off. Once you’ve calculated this number simply subtract about 250 to 500 calories each and every day.

A pound of fat is roughly 3500 calories so if you were to fall under your TDEE by 500 calories daily by eating less or burning off calories with your exercise bike, then you would lose about a pound a week.

Slow and steady is the way to go because rapid weight loss is not only unhealthy, but also generally unsustainable.

The Way Forward

No, you can’t lose fat exactly where you want to. Does this suck a little bit? Of course. But it’s hardly the end of the world.

Genetics determine where you’ll lose, and gain, fat with ease, but by consistently working out with your upright or recumbent bike you will burn fat in stomach, love handles, butt, or any of the other popular target areas for slimming down.

Overall weight loss inevitably leads to targeted fat loss in this way, and this is the healthiest outlook on the matter.

How can you make sure you won’t give up working out? Mix things up! Mess around with resistance levels from workout to workout, incorporate different intensities with things like high intensity interval training, utilize programs, and so on.

The benefits are there for the taking. Stick with it and you’ll feel more energetic, experience improved sleep, tone your legs, and lose weight just to name a few.

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