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Recumbent bikes are a popular choice for a cardio workout. They feel more comfortable than many other cardio machines and put less stress on your knees and lower back. But which muscles does it work? Find out here.
Training on a recumbent bike works many muscles in the lower body including;
At high intensity/resistance levels, a recumbent bike can moderately grow the muscles listed above.
There are more details that are important and using muscle doesn’t necessarily grow it. Discover what a recumbent bike can do for you below.
What Muscles Does a Recumbent Bike Work?
A recumbent bike is mainly a machine to provide you with a cardio workout. However, to do this, you have to use your muscles. Using muscles will require your heart to pump more blood to those muscles. So your muscles are the tool to increase your cardiovascular health.
Muscles move your body. So to know which muscles you use, we have to look at which body parts are moving and in which direction.
To use a recumbent bike you have to move the foot pedals. The pedals rotate in a circle but for the person using it, the movement feels more like pushing than rotating. You alternatingly push against the left and right pedal and the rotation happens more or less by itself.
To push the pedals you use your legs. There are a few recumbent bikes that include some kind of movement for your upper body but a ‘normal’ recumbent bike just has foot pedals and therefore only uses your legs.
Which leg muscles do you use on a recumbent bike?
To push the pedal away, you straighten your leg. To straighten your leg you change the angle of your hips and knees. The main muscles that do this are;
Your ankles will rotate slightly but not as much as the knees and hips. The muscles that control the movement of your ankles (and foot position), are located in your lower legs. The biggest lower leg muscles are the calves and Tibialis anterior (the muscle on the front of your lower leg next to the shin bone). While the range of motion for the ankles isn’t as big as for the knees and hips, they still get a decent workout.
So that means you use all the major muscles in your legs. What about the smaller ones? Every exercise you do will use some bigger muscles but also a few smaller ones. A recumbent bike is no different.
There are a lot of little muscles in your legs and hips that will be used to stabilize the joints during exercise. While they don’t directly move the pedals, they contribute to the exercise by keeping your joints straight and in shape.
One honorable mention goes to the abs. While your abdominals aren’t part of the lower body, it is connected to the lower body. On a recumbent bike your abs will be slightly used to stabilizing the hips.
Finally, possibly the most important muscle in your body also gets a workout: your heart. The heart is a muscle and every time it beats, it’s the muscle contracting. While your legs are the biggest muscle group used on a recumbent bike, the whole point is to raise your heart rate and improve your cardiovascular health. Your leg muscles are just a tool to accomplish this.
A normal recumbent bike without any extra attachments won’t exercise any of your upper body muscles. The main purpose of a recumbent bike is improving cardiovascular health and reducing body fat. By losing body fat, it’s possible that your upper body starts looking more muscular. That’s not because the upper body muscles are actually getting bigger but because they’re covered by less fat and therefore become more visible and defined.
Are you looking for a recumbent bike that can give you a great workout and hit all the muscles listed above? Check out my recommended recumbent bike here (click).
Does a Stationary Recumbent Bike Work The Abs?
A recumbent bike does puts very little stress on your core. Because of the backrest, you don’t have to do anything to keep your upper body up. The back of your hips are pushed into the backrest so the chain of force stops there. You only really use your lower body on a recumbent bike.
There is minimal core involvement to lift your knees up but this is minimal and not enough for developing core strength.
While you can certainly lose belly fat while using a recumbent bike, that’s not because you work the core but because you’re reducing your overall body fat levels.
Does Using a Recumbent Bike Build Muscle?
The main use of a recumbent bike is to improve your cardiovascular health. That means your heart will get healthier and stronger. But what about the muscles on the outside? The ones you can see in the mirror, does using them actually build muscle?
We know which muscles are used on a recumbent bike, but will they grow? There are a few things to consider. Let’s take a look at what is important.
What causes muscle growth?
When do muscles grow? When they have to and you have enough nutrition and rest to build. Let’s leave nutrition and rest out of the equation for now. What makes muscles have to grow?
Your body actually wants to be efficient. It won’t carry any muscle if you never have to use it. Think about a broken leg that has been in a cast for 6 weeks. It’ll be a lot smaller after than before. That’s because you haven’t used if for all that time and your body just gets rid of it since there’s no use for it. Your body doesn’t know you’ll need it after the cast comes off again.
There are a lot of factors that go into growing your muscles. Some ways are more effective and others are less effective. But in a very, very basic way, your muscles grow when you ask more from them than they can comfortably handle.
Does a recumbent bike grow muscle?
It can under some conditions. As said, if you ask more from your muscles than they’re used to/can handle, they will want to grow. A recumbent bike can certainly do this. There are some conditions that need to be fulfilled for that to happen;
- High intensity. Aim for about 80% of HRR
- Use the recumbent bike 3-5 times a week. Older people take longer to recover so they should be on the lower end while younger people recover quicker so can go up to 5 times a week.
- Go for 30-45 minutes per session.
If you follow those guidelines, you will see some muscle growth from using the bike. If you want to skew more towards growth, increase the resistance and go for a bit shorter.
Being able to precisely control the resistance is a very important feature of a recumbent bike. The one I recommend here (click) has 20 levels of resistance that can be changed with the touch of a button.
The more advanced you become the harder it becomes to cause a muscle to grow. That means that for people that are just starting out and are untrained, using a recumbent bike is likely enough to cause a bit of muscle growth. One you become more advanced however, it’s probably not going to be enough of a stimulus anymore and you’ll have to do different exercises to cause your muscles to grow.
Some people actually DON’T want their leg muscles to grow but just use the bike for a cardio workout. For those people, you can do the opposite of the points listed above. Use a lighter resistance with a lower HRR and go for longer. Also after a while, it’s unlikely the recumbent bike will result in any significant muscle building. After 3-4 months you can expect the muscle growth from just using the recumbent bike to slow down and ultimately stop.
Of course for muscle growth nutrition and recovery (sleep) is very important as well. Without those two being on point, all the exercise is pointless.
Is a recumbent bike good for your buttocks? A recumbent bike uses your glutes (buttocks) in combination with other muscles to move the pedals. That means your buttocks will get a workout. This could cause them to grow in untrained individuals. However, for both trained and untrained people there are more effective exercises that will grow your buttocks if that’s the main goal.
Is a recumbent bike better than a treadmill? A recumbent bike and a treadmill are different ways to improve your cardio. One isn’t necessarily better. The benefits of a recumbent bike are that it’s very low impact so it’s safe for your joints. A recumbent bike is also great for people with lower back issues since it’s not necessary to bend forward.
Favorite Cardio Accessories
Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:
- Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high-quality choice.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and workouts, there is no better choice than the GymNext Flex. It’s super easy to use and set up with a phone app.
- Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
- Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.
To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.