Recumbent Vs. Upright Bike: Which Gives The Better Workout?

If you are about to purchase your very first piece of home gym equipment, there’s no doubt that it’s an exciting time for you. You may have some new goals in place and are antsy to get started on your new program. But first, the decision: recumbent vs. upright bike? Which one is right for you? Which will get you in shape the fastest? Which will be easiest on your joints?

These are just a few of the important questions that you will want to consider as you go about making this decision. Let’s give you some comparison details to help ensure you end up making the right purchase.


  Recumbent Bike Upright Bike
Calorie Burn Moderate Moderate
Injury Risk Low Moderate
Muscles Worked Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Erector Spinea, Core, Shoulders, Triceps, Forearms
Ease Of Use Moderate Good
Ability To Progress Moderate Moderate
Transferability Low High


Now that you’ve seen this brief overview, let’s look at these factors in greater detail.

Calorie Burn

The calorie burn is one of the top factors that most people consider because they are using this exercise as a means of losing weight. The faster you burn calories, the faster you’ll be losing weight.

When it comes to calorie burn, all things being equal, both bikes tend to burn around the same amount. You aren’t going to see much difference in either bike as long as you are putting in the same amount of effort.

To determine your best fit, ask yourself, which bike do you feel most comfortable on? Which bike allows you to put forth the most effort? Once you answer that, this is the bike that will typically burn more calories.

The more comfortable you are, the harder you work and as a result, the more energy you burn off. This is also important as you get into high intensity interval training (HIIT) because the harder you can push during this style of training, the greater the EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption) you elicit and this is what has the power to help you burn more calories just resting for the coming hours ahead.

Injury Risk

Now let’s think about injuries. If you’re out with an injury, that bike is doing you no good, so which is more likely to keep you in the game? Here, most people will find the recumbent bike takes a slight edge. The upright bike poses more of a risk for saddle sores (butt pain) due to the constant downward pressure being placed on the bike seat.

The two bikes differ because with the upright bike, all of your body weight is coming down on those two tailbones. With the recumbent bike, as you are leaning against the back rest as well, some of your weight is being transferred. It’s also easier to adjust your center of balance on this bike slightly back, which means more weight is coming down on the fleshy parts of the buttocks rather than right on that center tailbone.

While this isn’t really an ‘injury’ per say, it can make continuing on with your sessions very challenging.

In terms of true injuries, the upright bike does come out as a higher risk option because there will be more stress being placed on the quad muscles with this movement pattern, thus the potential for aggravation of the knee cap is higher.

Additionally, with no back support at all, the risk for lower back pain will also be marginally higher with the upright bike.

So if you have suffered from injury in the past and are now looking to overcome it or you just want to ensure you stay injury free, these are some considerations to keep in mind.

Muscles Worked

The primary muscles worked on both machines will be very similar. Both use all the lower body muscles quite well as biking proves to be a great strengthening activity.

The main difference is that with the upright bike, because you don’t have that back support, you’ll also call into play the spinal column as well as the core to keep the body upright.

You’ll also be leaning over the handle bars more and using the upper body to grip those bars, thus some of the upper body muscles will come in for stabilization.

Will they really get a good workout? No.  Do not consider the stationary upright bike a good upper body workout. But the small degree of additional muscle activation is worth mentioning.

Ease Of Use

If you are someone who just wants to hop on the bike and go, then the question of recumbent vs. upright bike is an easy one: choose upright. Almost all of us have ridden a bike as a kid and as the saying goes, ‘it’s like riding a bike’. Once you learn, you rarely ever forget.

The upright bike is meant to mimic the action of regular biking, so most of us will be able to just get on and begin pedaling away.

This isn’t to say the recumbent bike is hard and has a steep learning curve however – it’s actually relatively easy. But it will be a new movement pattern for most of you and will take some getting used to. Typically after a few days on the recumbent bike, things will feel completely natural and you’ll be a pro at this type of cycling. Due to ease in use and seat safety, recumbent bikes are often recommended for wheelchair users, people with mobility limitations, seniors, and those suffering lower limb or back injuries.

Ability To Progress

Finally, you also must consider your ability to progress. Both forms of bikes offer around the same ability to progress. On both occasions, you’re going to increase the intensity by cranking up the resistance, forcing your muscles to work harder with each rep that you make.

Or, you can also focus on increasing your speed if you want to build that quickness and power with your fitness level.

Beyond those two methods, there’s no real way of progressing with the bike, so you’re limited to these. As long as you focus on increasing one or the other over time, then you should see good results from your program.

So there you have the pros and cons of the recumbent vs. upright bike. Both are great options for someone who loves to cycle and is looking to get in a fantastic lower body workout. With continual effort, you should have no problem seeing results in both your cardiovascular fitness level as well as your total strength output.

Frequently Asked Questions

What muscles does a recumbent bike work out?

While not ideal for an upper-body focus, the recumbent bike provides full-spectrum leg focus including the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

What is the best recumbent bike for home use?

It depends on your overall fitness goals and individual circumstances like budget. One of our favorites for home use is the Sole LCR Light Commercial Bike due to its comfort, ease in use, quiet operation, and overall value. You can explore our expansive roundup of the best recumbent bikes where we categorize our top picks in best-of categories including weight loss, use for seniors, home use, and value-

What is the best upright bike for home use?

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all recumbent bike for home use, we recommend the NordicTrack Commercial S15i for most people due to its expansive array of features including incline, decline, and access to endless workouts to make programming at home more effective. For a complete list of our top recommendations for upright bikes for home use, check out this helpful top six roundup-

Which burns more calories: a recumbent bike or an upright bike?

Upright bikes target more than just your legs. The seating position puts more demands on the body, thus burning more calories than a recumbent bike while working everything from the glutes and quads to the abs, arms, back, and more.

Which is better for your knees: a recumbent bike or an upright bike?

Where the upright bike is better for higher intensity, the recumbent bike is preferable for minimal impact on the knees, specifically the cruciate ligament.

Which is better for seniors: a recumbent bike or an upright bike?

Although they take up a little more space, it can be worth it for many seniors as the recumbent bike offers numerous benefits including increased comfort, ease in getting on and off the machine, and decreased impact on the knees.

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