When I joined my first commercial gym back in 1988 I began to explore new approaches to weight training. The wide assortment of weight training equipment was staggering for someone who had worked out in the basement for years with just a barbell set and a weight bench. My new gym had a vast array of equipment -- Olympic plates, exercise benches, power rack, leg presses, etc. My weight training was about to enter a radical new phase that would propel my gains to the next level.
By contrast, in a small area at the front of the gym was the cardio section. The selection of equipment was limited to a few different brands of stationary bikes and a rowing machine. There were no treadmills or elliptical trainers. The elliptical trainer was another 7 years away. Basically it was the stationary bike or nothing. At the time, this was fine since I was much more focused on weight training. I?d hop on a stationary bike for 10 minutes for a quick warm-up prior to commencing my weight workout.
I stuck with stationary bikes for many years. I eventually became aware of the need to increase my cardio work. My time on the stationary bike increased to 30 minutes and I also began setting aside sessions that were dedicated to cardio and ab training. I tried stationary bikes from Schwinn, Tunturi, and Life Fitness. I eventually settled on the newer bikes from Life Fitness, which for me had the smoothest feel and best consoles.
However, I never really enjoyed my cardio sessions on the stationary bike. It was just too darn boring! Sure, I tried reading magazines, but I didn?t like the distraction when I was going for a higher intensity workout.
I was very grateful when my gym installed its first NordicTrack skiers. It was night and day compared to the stationary bike. Several years later I switched over to elliptical trainers and there?s been no looking back.
So why are stationary bikes still with us? It would seem that the explosive popularity of treadmills and ellipticals would have pushed them to the wayside. Though stationary bikes have given up market share to treadmills and ellipticals they still have a strong following and for several good reasons:
Like elliptical trainers, stationary bikes are low impact machines. They minimize the forces on the knees, ankles, and feet. Great for people who have joint problems or are rehabilitating after knee surgery.
Stationary bikes can provide a strenuous cardio workout and are more than adequate for burning fat.
Unlike elliptical trainers, stationary bikes can actually be used to build up leg muscles ? quadriceps and calves. Of course, this requires progressively increasing the resistance on a continual basis. In my opinion, it?s better to keep the focus on either fat burning or cardio conditioning and use weight training for muscle building.
Stationary bikes take up less space than elliptical trainers, which makes them a better choice for people who have limited space in their homes.
Stationary bikes are less expensive than comparable ellipticals.
Stationary bikes have a lot of appeal to people who enjoy cycling or mountain biking.
Some of the cons:
Stationary bikes are not weight bearing, which means that you should engage in weight training or switch up with a treadmill or elliptical trainer to get this bone-strengthening benefit.
Stationary bikes only engage the muscles of the lower body unlike most ellipticals, which also involve the arms. This in turn gets your heart rate up quicker making for a more efficient exercise.
For some people, like myself, stationary bikes can be on the boring side. Decide for yourself on this point.
A sore butt from extended sessions.
Studies have suggested that men may be at an increased risk for impotence from over use of stationary bikes. The jury is still out on this study, but it is certainly something to pay attention to. At least there?s no risk of this from using an elliptical trainer!
Like most decisions it comes down to what fits in best with your preferences and lifestyle. The important thing is to make a decision, don?t look back, and use whatever piece of exercise equipment you choose on a regular basis. That?s the only way you?ll start seeing results!
Short note about the author
Rich Rojas writes unbiased elliptical trainer reviews and articles on health and fitness at http://www.ellipticalhome.com.