Learning to Love Your Stationary Bike

For a few weeks in February, I was banished to the stationary bike after tearing a small ligament in my foot before the Tarawera Ultra Marathon. It was hard to adjust to the hot, sweaty, uncomfortable bike seat after months of enjoying single track and bike paths. 

While nothing lives up to lacing up my running shoes, I went from dreading the stationary bike, to tolerating it, to actually looking forward to sweating out in front of the fireplace. 

Many of us have had to turn to the indoor trainer, whether due to injury, poor weather, or the convenience of staying at home while you sweat it out. With the CDC encouraging athletes to opt for an indoor workout close to home due to COVID-19, I suspect many athletes will turn to stationary bikes to get their daily dose endorphins as we wait out this pandemic.

I feel like my temporary banishment to indoor cycling prepared me for the months of social distancing and workouts at home to come. Here’s how I learned to love my stationary bike and what you can do to love it too. 

Find the Right Indoor Trainer

If you already have a bike, all you need is a trainer⁠—a stand that can turn a regular bicycle into a stationary bike. Since there are no hills to climb in your house, trainers have various means of supplying resistance for your workout. Some trainers place your bike’s rear wheel on rollers and use magnets or fluid to create friction. Direct-drive trainers, on the other hand, replace the wheel entirely with a resistance unit that couples with your bike’s drivetrain.

If you are a total newbie to bikes indoor or out (like me), then you’re better off getting a stationary exercise spin bike, similar to the ones you see in spin classes. I got mine at a used exercise equipment store immediately after the MRI confirmed the tear in my foot. Although it may be tempting to get one with a fancy screen and a cushy seat, you’ll get a better workout on a classic spin bike. Bonus points if you get one that allows you to clip cycling shoes into the pedals. 

Get the Right Gear (Protect your booty!)

With no breeze to cool you down (unless you’re situated near an open window), it’s important to wear breathable clothing. And although padded cycling shorts aren’t required, trust me, they’ll make your workout much more comfortable. After a few days of cycling without padded shorts, my pelvis was so sore that I had to brace myself before sitting on the toilet. Learn from me!

You can wear running shoes, but you’ll feel stronger in dedicated bike shoes that clip into your pedals. Look for a stiff sole that translates all your effort into the wheel. When I switched over from running shoes to clip-in cycling shoes, I was able to get my heart rate up way higher without as much strain on my legs. Overall, it made for a way better workout. 

Make Sure Your Bike Fits

It is no exaggeration to say that an ill-fitted stationary bike will make or break your workout. If something feels off, and the burn in your legs isn’t from the effort but from discomfort, you probably need to make some adjustments. A poorly-fitted bike can lead to low back and knee injuries, so you must listen to your body when something doesn’t feel quite right. 

I am no expert, but this video helped me adjust my bike, allowing me to workout safely and comfortably. 

Keep It Interesting

Personally, my TV habit increased significantly while sweating it out on my indoor trainer. One episode of Game of Thrones conveniently timed out to one workout. I also included interval workouts every other day to keep my mind from going numb and to keep the output close to that of a run. My favorite spin workout starts with twenty minutes of easy spinning to warm up, followed by four sets of five—twenty seconds of all-out sprinting, keeping the rotations per minute (RPM) above 110—and 40 seconds of easy spinning (around 80 RPM). Spin for five minutes easy between sets and cool down for five to twenty minutes after the last set.