Hopefully, everyone is continuing on with their New Year’s resolution to get in shape, lose weight, feel better, and whatever else they have chosen to do. Exercising outside in the winter can be very invigorating, but for many it is not an option. With those of you in mind, one of the pieces of equipment you really could pick up cheap or free would be an exercycle. I think many people have exercycles in their home being used as towel racks or clothes hangers.
There are two types of possibilities with the exercycle, the traditional exercycle or the newer recumbent types of exercycles. I prefer the traditional exercycle. To me, the trouble with the recumbence is that you are in more of a sitting position, it is hard to take the pressure off your low back and sitting is the number one cause of back problems in individuals. When you look at a traditional stationary bike even though you are sitting by leaning forward and un-weighting your back through your arms, you still take a significant amount of stress off your low back. If you have and/or looking at an older type of exercycle there are a couple of things I would look for. First and foremost would be a free flywheel. What this means is when you are pedalling on the bike and stop, the pedals stop even though the wheel might continue to go. If the pedals do not stop when you stop, you can get into trouble and possibly injure yourself. The other would be reproducible resistance. Bikes that have a kind of cranking mechanism do not show you what resistance you are doing and to reproduce this to keep track of how you are progressing is very difficult. The other thing would be a good timer so you know how long you have been biking so, again, you can advance yourself as indicated. Lastly, it would be beneficial if there was some kind of setting for RPMs or revolutions per minute. Miles per hour is pretty much a wasted measurement. The key to the exercycle is maintaining high revolutions per minute. If, however, you are fortunate enough to be getting a newer exercycle, the new computerized ones are extremely good. All of the newer models that I know of have everything I talked about, the free flywheel, reproducible resistance, RPM setting, and an excellent digital timer. It is just a matter of picking one that has the extras that you want or would like. Again with exercycles you get what you pay for, but I do not think you need to spend thousands of dollars to get what you need to reach your new year’s goals.
Once you have decided which exercycle you want to use there are a couple of things that you need to be cautious of. The positioning on an exercycle should be such that when you are sitting on the seat and the pedals are at the lowest point and you put the ball of your foot on the pedal when you go to the lowest down cycle, you should have only about 5 to 10 degrees of bend at your knees. Then when you are pedaling you want to make sure that your knees are pointed straight ahead while you are pedaling so they are right over your feet and not pointing out or inward. Women have a tendency to point their knees inward and men have a tendency to point their knees outward when they are cycling. It is important to not flare-up your knees and this can be greatly reduced by keeping your knees straight ahead. The last thing would be maintaining a pedal speed of 80 to 100 revolutions per minute. This is about one and a half cycles per second. High pedal speed is the best way to take significant amount of stresses off your knees, but yet see the positive effects of increased lower leg strength and increased cardiovascular health. Time and resistance on the bike is based entirely on your ability to maintain this kind of pedal speed. Finally, you should try and lean forward and unload as much stress off your low back as possible through your arms and your hands. Many of the new computerized exercycles have handlebars where you can lean forward on them. One of the reasons for this again is to take a lot of stresses off your low back. While getting into shape, we do not need to cause other problems such as back pain, neck pain, etc.
Hopefully you all are continuing on with your New Year’s resolutions and an exercycle might be an option that you could think about. Continued best of luck.
by Thomas Jensen, P.T.