The 3 Best Stationary Bike Exercises During COVID-19
Many cyclists are looking for safe ways to keep riding and stay healthy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing guidelines in place for the foreseeable future, outdoor rides are still possible with some extra caution.
The safest way to cycle during coronavirus, though, is to use a stationary trainer in the comfort of your own home. This training method keeps you safely distant from other cyclists but gets your wheels spinning and your blood flowing all the same.
So, if you’re looking for some of the best stationary bike exercises to do during COVID-19, you’re in luck. Our good friend and mentor Coach Darryl MacKenzie is an expert in all things cycling, but perhaps none more than stationary training. Over the past two decades, he has taught over 700 stationary bike training classes for more than 15,300 cyclists. He has used these classes to prepare cyclists for everything from their first 30-mile ride to one-day double centuries.
If you’re not used to indoor bike training, you might be feeling a little reluctant to leave behind those scenic outdoor rides. But, as Coach Darryl explains, stationary bike exercises are great ways to bring structure and measurability to your training regimen. With variables such as weather and topography out of the way, you can focus on tweaking the factors that matter most.
The No.1 Rule: Bring a Towel and a Fan
First things first: You’re going to sweat. A lot. Without that lovely outdoor breeze to cool you down, you’ll be surprised just how soaked you can get.
So, wherever you set up your stationary trainer to exercise during coronavirus, make sure you have a towel handy. Bring a box fan or park yourself right underneath a ceiling fan. You will soon regret it if you don’t.
“You only come to class without a towel once,” says Darryl.
Now that we have that cleared up, on to the workout. For the best training results, we’ll take the approach that all professional cyclists use. You’ll want to progress in this order: first building leg strength, then your endurance and finally your anaerobic capacity. Training in this sequence will help you make the most of each phase. You’ll do all three throughout your regimen, but focus more of your efforts on legs in phase one, on endurance in phase two, and on anaerobic capacity in phase three.
Building Your Leg Strength
Leg strength is the foundation for everything else you can do on the bike — the more you have, the farther you can ride and the better you can climb. So always start here. Stationary bike workouts are actually perfect for this. But be forewarned: This isn’t going to be pleasant.
“When you first start doing this, everybody hates it,” says Darryl. “But it has the most benefit per minute of anything you can do on the bike, either on the road or on the trainer. You get a bigger bang for your buck.”
The idea here is that you want to strengthen both legs equally, so you’ll need to build up your cadence one leg at a time. But your pacing is critical so you don’t damage your knees. Pedal your bike at 55 rpm in the hardest gear you can pedal at that pace. Don’t go slower, as you’ll put your knees at risk; or faster, as you’ll get far less benefit. Here’s what you need to do:
- Unclip one leg from the bike.
- Pedal with one leg for 2 minutes.
- Switch legs and pedal with the other leg for 2 minutes.
- Repeat 2–3 more times, alternating legs (3–4 sets total).
- Over 3 or 4 weeks, work up to 7 minutes on each leg.
You’ll quickly notice if you have a discrepancy between legs. If so, you can pedal an extra minute or two on the weaker leg until you’ve got both of them equally matched. In Coach Darryl’s experience, most cyclists notice a marked improvement after just four times through this exercise.
Stretching Your Endurance
Now that you’ve bulked up your legs, you can start to shift your workouts toward adding distance. Your goal here is to build your muscular endurance to keep pedaling for a long time in a big gear.
Coach Darryl calls this the “flat terrain” workout. And, while you can do it outdoors, doing this exercise on the stationary bike allows you to remove any changes in the landscape, wind resistance or traffic signals, and just focus on stretching out your distance while keeping a steady pace. Here’s how it works:
- Set your bike in the hardest gear that you can turn at about 80–85 rpm.
- Pedal steadily in that gear for 7 minutes.
- Gradually increase your ride to 25 minutes over 3 or 4 weeks, shifting to harder gears as you build strength.
Darryl cautions not to overestimate here. “It’s better to be in a little bit easier gear but get all the way through than to have to shift about a third of the way through because you overestimated how much you could push,” he explains.
As you emphasize this part of your training, you should see not only an increase in distance but your pacing as well. Coach Darryl says it’s not uncommon to see cyclists increase their speed by 15% to 20% over the course of a month.
Expanding Your Anaerobic Capacity
Now you’ve made it to phase three. Your reward? More pain. And becoming a better cyclist, of course. This is how the pros become the pros — they climb a whole lot. It’s all about pushing your heart rate, and it will burn.
For a tool to do this stationary bike exercise properly, Coach Darryl recommends the Saris Climbing Riser Block. This will allow you to adjust the angle of your bike so that you can actually simulate what it’s like to climb a hill outdoors.
When that front wheel comes up, the handlebars come up, and the angle of the body and the muscles changes,” he explains. Simply pushing in a harder gear doesn’t quite give you the same experience as a real climb. If you buy two of the blocks, you can adjust your angle up to 12 ways by stacking them.
Always warm up your legs with seated climbing before you move to the standing phase. Here’s what you’ll do:
- Set your bike at a slight upward incline using the two risers under the front wheel.
- Start at around 65–80 rpm.
- Pedal for about 5 minutes.
- Add additional exercises in harder gears, first at 60–75 rpm to simulate a steeper hill, then at 50-65 rpm for those monster inclines.
- Over time, try to extend to where you can do around 15 minutes in the hardest, slowest gear.
You’ll need to assess how long you can stay in each of these, especially the heavier gears. There are no set rules here — it depends on how much cycling experience you have.
Once you’ve warmed up with seated climbing, you’re ready for the real pain.
“This is without a doubt the most challenging, and you’re gonna get the heart rate up the highest,” says Darryl. On average, Darryl says, your heart rate jumps about 8 bpm simply due to standing. Here’s the procedure:
- Set your bike 2-plus cogs harder than what you were doing for your seated climb so you can stand up and balance effectively now that your body weight is fully on the pedals.
- Start by aiming to pedal for 2 minutes.
- Your end goal is to work up to 12–25 minutes.
If you really want to push during this stationary bike exercise, you can also try adding sprints:
- At end of the first minute, push as hard as you can for the last 5 seconds.
- At the end of the second minute, push as hard as you can for the last 10 seconds
- Do the same for the last 15 seconds of the third minute, and so on, adding 5 seconds each time.
As you’re working through these indoor cycling exercises, be sure to warm up first for 10 to 12 minutes, building from 60 to 110 rpm, and take a few minutes between each type of exercise to rest your legs by pedaling softly. This will help prevent injury and ensure you get the most out of your workouts.
Tell us some of your favorite stationary training exercises in the comments below!
You can find more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.