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Recumbent Bike Vs. Upright Bike: What's the Difference?

Recumbent Bike Vs. Upright Bike: What's the Difference?

Reading Time: 4 minutes 31 seconds


DATE: 2019-07-31

Do your clients have back or joint pain and need help navigating which bike to use for a low-impact workout?

Are you working with athletes who are training for their next triathlon or bike race, or looking to cross train?

Are your senior clients looking for a suitable cardiovascular exercise option?

If any of these apply to your clientele, follow along as we compare the two most common stationary bikes, the recumbent bike and the upright bike.

Why is it Important to Know the Difference Between the Two Bikes?

Stationary bikes are an excellent low-impact exercise and can be suitable for most fitness levels. Different bikes have different levels of comfort, engage different muscles, require different levels of balance and stability, and can play a part in the number of calories burned.

Each client has different limitations and goals. As a trainer, it is important that you have a grasp on these for each client. This information, along with understanding how the two most common stationary bikes are different, will help you provide your clients with the guidance on which stationary bicycle is best for their fitness goals!

Recumbent Vs. Upright Bike: Top 3 Comparisons

Each bike has different strengths, so they may serve different roles in your client's training. Consider the following points when deciding which stationary bike to use.

1. Recumbent Bikes Are More Comfortable Than Upright Bikes

Recumbent Bike: The seat of the bike puts the body in a more natural position and is typically easier on your client's joints and back during exercise. The body position is like sitting on a piece of furniture with adequate seat coverage and a back rest. And, in many cases, the back rest is slightly reclined. The seats are typically larger, provide more lumbar back support, and have pedals positioned out in front of the body, making this a much more comfortable and stable ride.

Upright Bike: An upright bicycle is similar to a regular outdoor road bicycle. The seats are smaller with no back support and the pedals are positioned underneath the body. Because of the seat position and seat size, as well as the slight forward lean required to reach the handlebars, riding the bike can be uncomfortable on certain areas of the body:

  • Tailbone region

  • Shoulders

  • Neck

  • Arms

  • Wrists

2. Upright Bikes Engage More Muscles Than Recumbent Bikes

Recumbent Bikes: Recumbent bikes keep the client in a seated position without the option to stand and engage different muscles. Because of the seat position and slight recline, many clients do not engage their core/abdominal muscles using this bike.

Using this bike typically only engages the lower body. However, because it provides a stable environment that does not require your client to hold on to the handle bars, clients can be a bit more versatile with what they do with their hands during exercise (utilize weights, read a book, etc.).

Upright Bikes: The upright bike allows your clients to stand, just like a road bike. This will allow them to engage more muscles and use different muscles than just a seated pedaling position. Because the seat requires the client to hold themselves up during exercise, sitting and standing on an upright bike will engage your client's core/abdominal muscles. However, this does require a bit more balance and stability than the recumbent bike.

The lower body is engaged in both seated and standing positions. Shifting to a standing position will also engage their glute muscles and arms. Alternating from seated to standing positions offers more of a full body workout.

3. Both Bicycles Have the Ability to Burn Calories

Recumbent Bikes: Recumbent bicycles have a stigma of not being as effective as the upright exercise bike in regard to calorie burn. However, calorie burn is heavily determined by the intensity and duration of the workout. And, the recumbent bicycle can be just as effective as the upright bicycle.

Because of the comfort of the bike, in comparison to the upright exercise bike, many clients may find it easier to spend more time on the recumbent bike. Also, they're able to push themselves harder and pedal faster, which will result in more calories burned. This is a great option for clients aiming for weight loss.

Upright Bikes: Because upright bicycles can engage more muscles, most people assume clients will burn more calories. This can be true. But there are other factors to consider. These bikes tend to be less comfortable, which could mean the duration and intensity of your client's workout is much shorter. This may also impact their enjoyment of the exercise which can heavily affect calorie burn over time. However, for clients that don't mind the slight discomfort and are looking to work hard, this can be a very effective way to burn calories.

Bicycle embedded Image


It is important to understand your client's goals and limitations to help them determine the best bike to fit their needs. Both stationary exercise bikes can be effective, but each has their own purpose.

Clients with knee, ankle, back and shoulder pain may find that the recumbent bike is more suitable for exercise. But, keep in mind the recumbent bike is suitable for almost all fitness levels. If you have clients that tend to suffer from knee and back pain, check out these two ISSA blogs for more resources on how to help them:

  • Knee Pain

  • Back Pain

  • For those looking for a little more versatility, wanting to engage their full body, and seeking a ride that mimics an outdoor bike, the upright bike is a good choice.

  • Both stationary bikes can supply an incredible workout. If the goal is a low-impact exercise that will burn calories, crank up the intensity.

Keep in mind that seeking the best way to help your clients have fun, challenge themselves, and be safe should be at the forefront of the decision on which bicycle to choose. Helping them find something that they can commit to long term is where the real change happens.

If you are a trainer that currently has many senior clients or a trainer that is looking to expand your skillset and build a senior client base, ISSA's Senior Fitness Certification is a great place to start. ENROLL TODAY!

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