November 12


I bought a stationary bike to exercise for back pain relief, now what?

By campuschiropractic

November 12, 2014


Most of us probably know someone who has an excise bike stashed away, unused since the first flush of virtue that saw it bought. However, the exercise bike is actually a great way to incorporate exercise and massage therapy into your daily life. Particularly if you have one at home, it is a way to get active without having to leave the house or be influenced by bad weather conditions, essentially giving you fewer excuses to avoid exercising. This may be especially appealing to you if you have children at home, are self conscious about exercising in public or do long days at work. As it is low impact on the joints, it is also suitable for older people, pregnant women or those with joint problems. And finally, if you just hate working out, you can watch telly or read a book while you do it! So if you’re guilty of having a bike tucked away or being used as a clothes hanger, now might be the perfect time to dust it off and get into shape for summer. And if not, head down to your local gym to find one or consider getting one of your very own.

An earlier blog post discussed the benefits of cycling exercise for back pain and sports therapy, consistent use of an exercise bike allows you to lower your blood pressure, maximise your lung capacity and stamina for everyday life, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and relieve stress. It is great for toning legs and In short, it helps you become and stay fit and can also be an important part of a weight management plan. And don’t forget, it’s a great way to get those thighs, calves and butt into shape! However, keep in mind that bike riding is not a complete form of exercise, and you may wish to add extra training for your upper body for a complete workout.

There are 2 basic style of indoor bike, the classic upright one which simulates riding an outdoor bicycle, and the recumbent bike which allows you to sit in a bucket seat with your legs extended out in front of you. Neither is superior, they just have different benefits. The recumbent bike offers more back support and may be more suitable to people with lower back issues and it is may also be more comfortable for heavier people or those who are new to exercise.

So how can you get the most out of this piece of exercise equipment?

Well, the first step is to make sure it is set up correctly for you. This is important because not only does proper set-up allow you to get the most out of your work out, but if you spend too much time on a bike that isn’t configured for your particular body, it can result in injury.

Bike Setup:

  • Seat height: On an upright bike, begin by adjusting your seat to about the height of your hip as you stand next to the bike. Once this is right, mount the bike, placing your feet on/into the pedals. When one leg is fully extended in the six o’clock position, you should still have a slight bend in your knee—about 5-10 degrees. You don’t want to extend you leg into a “locked” knee position. You should be able to pedal comfortably without having to point or flex your feet to reach full extension, and your hips should not rock from side to side as you pedal. Similarly, on a recumbent bike, your legs should almost extend fully while still keeping a small bend in the knee. Recumbent bike seats adjust forward and backward along a track while upright seats move up and down.
  • Seat fore & aft (for upright bikes): once your seat is at the correct height for you, some bikes allow you to move the seat forward and backward for a more comfortable position. When pedaling, your knees should be at about a 90 degree angle when the pedal is in the 3 o’clock position.
  • Handlebar height (for upright bikes): Adjust the handlebars so that you feel comfortable. Raising the handlebars higher will alleviate lower back stress that occurs when you learn forward, however you should still try to retain some forward incline as sitting completely upright can compress the lower back. You should be able to reach the handlebars easily, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  • Foot straps: Most bikes have straps that you can place your feet into when pedaling. Take advantage of this feature, which allows you to both push and pull the pedals, creating a much more efficient pedal stroke. The straps should fit snugly but not too tightly, and your foot should move in and out without difficulty. You should be pressing onto the pedal with the ball of your foot rather than your toes. Pedaling with your toes can bring on foot and calf cramps.
  • Posture: Don’t hunch! Keep your chest up, shoulders back and down, ears in line with your shoulders, and belly button drawn in. Rounding your back is a great way to develop neck and back pain.

The Workout:

  1. Always start pedaling with some resistance. Spin your legs, and turn the resistance dial until your legs feel the bite, but you are not experiencing pain. That is the minimum point you will go for the entire workout.
  2. Warm up for 5 minutes before you start pushing yourself.
  3. Do intervals. Rather than just spinning at a constant speed forever, set your timer or make a mental note to spin your legs as fast as possible for 20 secs at higher resistance, then reduce the resistance to the minimum level and slow down for 10 secs. Repeat this process 8 times to get a total of 4 minute workout. You can change the duration of interval to 50 second work /10 seconds rest or any other combination that suits your level of fitness. The key is to work as intensely as you can during the work interval.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Aim for 150 minutes of bike riding per week, if it is your main source of exercise. So, for example, you might decide to do 30 minutes for 5 days of the week. This technique is useful, because that way if you miss a day you can calculate how much more you need to do on another day to reach you goals. So with the above example, if you missed one day you know that you can do 45 minutes for the 2 following days and still reach your goal. If you are new to exercise or haven’t exercised in some time, you may need to work your way up this goal by starting more gently. You don’t want to become so sore you are unable to unwilling to continue exercising the next day.
  • Spend 5 minutes warming up and cooling down at each end of your workout to prevent muscle strain and fatigue.
  • Exercise at 60 to 75 percent of your max heart rate prior to your warm-up. Use the bike's heart rate sensors on the handle bars or take your pulse if your bike does not have this feature. Subtract your age in years from 220 to get your max heart rate. Multiply your max heart rate by 60 percent and 75 percent. For example, a 30-year-old would have a max heart rate of 190 bpm and a target heart rate zone of 114 and 142.5 bpm.
  • You may find yourself more likely to stick to your workouts if you arrange entertainment for yourself while riding. You can watch TV or read or book. Alternatively, you could look up some spin classes on YouTube, and there are quite a few trainers who offer free spin class tutorials on their websites. Spin classes aim to simulate the experience of riding on road, and are a good way to increase the intensity of your workouts as your fitness improves. They can be quite intense, so make sure your fitness level is sufficient before doing one.
  • Another idea is to do mindfulness meditations while you ride. There are a wide variety of apps and online podcasts with guided meditations, and while usually done sitting down, can be adapted around your workout. This is not dissimilar to the way you focus on your breath during a yoga class.
  • It is a good idea to get assessed by your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime, particularly if you have any issues with high-blood pressure or a heart condition. You can also get your chiropractor to assess your spine to ensure you are in good condition to begin.


About the author

Campus Chiropractic & Wellness is as natural health clinic on the campus of the University of Sydney. The main services are chiropractic & remedial massage. Its current location was established in 2011 after Dr Jeremy Hammond, chiropractor, had already provided chiropractic on campus for 11 years.

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