The stationary bike is one of the most popular cardio machines at the gym. It’s convenient, effective, and requires little space. But it can also be hard on your knees. In fact, research shows that the stationary bike is one of the primary causes of knee pain in everyday life in people who are physically active. That’s because riding a stationary bike puts constant pressure on your knees.
But there are ways to avoid knee pain from the stationary bike and continue getting these amazing fat-burning benefits.
Today, I want to talk about cycling and knee pain. My friend Kristian Manietta, who lives in Australia, wrote this article.
Knee pain and riding a stationary or road bike are synonymous.
Back in my training days, I had one client in particular- an ex-rugby player who had numerous surgeries on both knees, and pretty much all of his remaining cartilage scraped away. He couldn’t run for obvious reasons, but he loved to cycle and didn’t want to give this up.
After ten or so minutes on the stationary bike or any time under load- the pain would nearly be too much to bear. Not that he would say anything, but I could see it written all over his face. So we spent a lot of time playing around with the limited positioning of the typical upright gym bikes and found some rules to adhere to when setting up either a good gym bike or spin bike. Once we got his set up, dialed in, and did something else of high importance, which I’ll discuss below- my client’s knee pain all but disappeared.
Many fitness professionals use stationary bicycles in their clients’ programs to take a step back.
There are many benefits to this, such as:
- increasing or re-establishing knee joint range of motion
- improving knee joint stability
- the increasing strength of muscles around the knee
The features of the stationary bike, such as:
- non-weight bearing
- low impact
- controlled movement
- variable resistance
- range of motion similar to needed daily activities
As a triathlete and a high-level triathlon coach, I understand the importance of correct bike setup for both on-road bikes and your standard upright gym bike and spin bike (many of my athletes travel for work and have to use gym bikes).
I am getting the setup dialed in to reduce knee pain or stop the likelihood of knee injuries. The setup guide below is specifically for upright and spin bikes commonly found in gyms.
1. Get the Saddle Height Correct
The seat height directly influences the amount of knee bend that occurs and thus provides opportunities for pain or injury to occur. When the saddle is too high, your hips rock from side to side, which can create problems around the hip,s and the over-reaching (toes pointed) coupled with the repetitive cycling motion can irritate the iliotibial band (ITB).
When the saddle is too low, you put enormous stress through the patellofemoral joint. If you’re suffering from patellofemoral pain and considering cycling, ensure that your harness is not too soft.
To adjust the seat height correctly:
- Sit on a bike with your shoes on and make sure one pedal is in the 6 o’clock position (one crank arm points directly down and the other directly up).
- Place your heels on the pedal and slowly pedal backward; your knee should fully extend without your hips rocking. If your hips rock, the saddle is too high.
- Now move the balls of your feet over the pedal, and you should have a slight 5-10 degree bend in your knee. This will allow you to pedal comfortably without pointing your toes to reach full extension.
NOTE: If you’re coming off surgery and have a limited range of motion (ROM), you’ll need to ‘slightly’ raise the seat to allow one complete pedal revolution- as your ROM returns, ensure you lower your seat height advised above.
2. The Fore and Aft position
The correct position is when your patellar tendon (knee in the forward position) is directly over the pedal axle.
3. Use the Pedal Straps
Nearly every stationary bike I have ever seen has pedal straps. These hold your feet in place and allow you to evenly push down and pull up on the pedals as they go through their circular motion, helping you create a smooth and efficient pedal stroke.
Starting with your muscle tissue in a better state
Above I mentioned another thing I did that was highly important to rid my client of knee pain. Using a foam roller for self-myofascial release as a pre-gen exercise tool.
A quick 10-minute session rolling through the calves, quadriceps, and gluteals helps increase blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, opens up neurological pathways, and breaks down any adhesions within the muscle tissue.
This prepped the muscles for exercise and started the warm-up process but also reduced a lot of tension off the knees and created a better ROM from the get-go.
I do not do any sessions now without some specific self-myofascial release first, and I highly recommend that all my athletes perform a pre-session rolling ritual. The time investment is minimal, but the eradication of pain and the performance gains are priceless.
Kristian Manietta of TriSpecific.com
It is Rick again.
Huge thanks to Kristian.
If you have a question, make sure to leave it in the comment area.
If you have an opinion on the article, let me know.
Until next time.
Rick Kaselj, MS