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Selecting your cardio weapon of choice: Pedal power

Cardio

In this series of articles we take a look at the pros and cons of the most common pieces of equipment you’re likely to find in your local gym so that you can make the best choice and achieve your goals, be it improved fitness or fat loss.

We review the various forms of stationary cycling you’ll find in most commercial gyms.

Stationary bicycle

A stationary bike simulates the cycling motion, without actually moving. This makes it safer and it is a relatively comfortable form of cardio once you’ve become accustom to sitting in the saddle.

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Pros:

  • Places less stress on your joints.
  • Offers a variety of programmes to target fitness and/or fat loss.
  • Ideal for rehabilitation and active recovery due to the lower intensity.
  • Ideal for beginners to build up a base level of fitness.

Cons:

  • Type of resistance varies between machines and might not simulate outdoor riding effectively.
  • Burns fewer calories than running on a treadmill.
  • Non-weight bearing nature means there is little benefit to increasing bone density.
  • Excessive cycling can shorten your hip flexors.
  • Only works the lower body.

Step your way to a better body! Get your cardio & a glute & quad workout with this effective machine.

Recumbent bicycle

A stationary recumbent bike allows you to comfortably sit back and pedal with your legs outstretched in front of you. They are a great option for those with low back pain, as well as those who are new to cycling as it provides added support for the back.

Pros:

  • The design ensures ease of use and comfort, making it a versatile aerobic machine for almost anyone, regardless of physical condition.

Cons:

  • The seated position means there is even less of a weight-bearing effect, making it less intense than an upright stationary bike. This makes it less effective at burning calories on a per hour basis.
  • Cannot stand to change the intensity or focus of the pedalling motion.

Spinning bike

A spinning bike has a weighted flywheel which simulates the effects of inertia and momentum when riding a real bicycle. This makes it more effective than a traditional stationary bike. The design of a spinning bike allows riders to adopt various positions, which also makes it more practical. Spinning is normally only available to gym-goers in a studio class, under the supervision of an instructor.

Pros:

  • Flywheel increases the intensity and effectiveness of the machine to help boost fitness and blast calories.
  • Spinning classes are high energy and fun as they are done to music and offer greater variety in the type of training you can do.
  • Spinning is low impact.
  • The flywheel enables riders to reach much higher cadences than stationary bikes, which helps with speed and endurance conditioning.
  • More closely emulates road cycling.
  • Ability to stand and change hand position means that more of your upper body can be incorporated.

Cons:

  • The intensity and duration of a class means that not everyone can participate. You need to have a certain base-level of fitness before trying it out.
  • Non-weight bearing nature of the exercise means that it does little to improve bone density.
  • Excessive cycling can shorten your hip flexors.

The best of both worlds: The elliptical uses upper & lower body muscles to burn more cals & boost fitness.

Hand crank/arm ergometer

A hand crank or arm ergometer is a specially designed machine where you use your arms to pedal against resistance in the same way you would use your legs on a stationary bike.

Pros:

  • Ideal of disabled or injured individuals (leg injuries) who wish to improve their fitness levels.
  • Engages your core as you are required to stabilise your midsection during the exercise.

Cons:

  • As it targets the upper body musculature, predominantly the arms, it is less effective at burning calories and targeting fat stores for energy.
  • Achieving an elevated heart rate can be difficult due to the limit muscle and the size of the muscle groups engaged in the upper body.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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