Many fitness fanatics will tell you that an exercise bike is one of the best tools to use if you have any problems with your joints. They are meant to be low impact to prevent damage to the knees or any aggravation to bad hips. But, is the same true for a spin bike. After all, these machines appear to be a lot more intense and potentially a lot more damaging. If people are standing up on these bikes to attack the session further, surely this can’t be good for the knees?
There are two sides to this issue. On one side, you will have those that will warn people about the dangers of cycling on knee health if you don’t take the right precautions. On the other, you will see plenty of people that had bad knees and found that using an exercise bike did them the world of good. So where does spinning fit into all of this? Let’s look at some of the potential pros and cons to using a spin bike if you have bad joints.
1) Spin bikes are still low-impact when used correctly
2) The motion of the pedals can help with mobility and reduce risks
3) Regular sessions can improve knee health more generally
1) Improper form and a lack of experience can lead to knee problems
2) Some spin classes are too intense for people with pre-existing joint issues
The potential benefits of this type of workout
The first benefit here is the same as with a more traditional exercise bike. At its core, the motion of the bike is the same, there is a steady, smooth rotation of the pedals that should keep the knees moving without adding any shock or too much pressure in the wrong places. This is why cycling and using an exercise bike is often better than using a treadmill. Even if you have a treadmill with shock absorption in the belt, there is still that constant striking of the foot on the ground that sends shockwaves into the knee and up into the hip. You don’t get this with cycling or spinning if you have that simple motion and are sitting in a seat.
In some ways, the function of the spin bike can be more beneficial here because it is possible to get such a smooth motion. The flywheels are heavier and the drive belt keeps the pedals moving when you can’t. This maintains a rhythm and keeps users working out. While this can sound more difficult and intense, it does mean that there isn’t any jerky, stop-start motion or any unnecessary strain on the knees. With time, regular sessions of cycling or spinning can strengthen knees and improve their health. You can see better strength in the muscles around the knee, strength and flexibility in the tendons and less pain in the general area. It can be slow progress but it will be noticeable after a while.
The potential downsides of this type of workout
The potential benefits for knee health and the comfort of the session will ultimately depend on the bike and the way that you approach the session. As was mentioned above, it is easy to look at people going for HIIT sessions and standing up on their spin bikes and wonder how that can be good for their joints. These users are probably much fitter and don’t have any pre-existing knee issues to worry about. Standing up will place more pressure on the joints and increase the risk of injury. Interval training increases this risk if you push too hard. This is where you get those warnings about poor form and joint pain from cycling. If you try to do too much, cycle for too long or push at speeds that are too high, you can end up seeing the damage in your joints.
Knee pain or injury most often occurs when there is a sudden change in the action of the joint. Either you force it to change direction to sharply, put direct impact upon it or make it increase speed too rapidly. A sudden change in speed or sudden stop when cycling can jerk the knee and cause pain. This is why HIIT spin sessions aren’t recommended if you have knee problems. You also need to be aware that overuse of the knee can aggravate the joint and make it tender. That is why it is important to pace yourself, know your limits and warm up before any intense sessions.
So what is the best approach if you have joint problems: spin bike or exercise bike?
The answer here depends on the problems you have with your knees and your prognosis. If you have mild weakness in your knees and wish to strengthen them, a spin bike can be a good tool. But, only if you use it wisely. Don’t sign up for intense classes and risk injuring them. Instead, get a user-friendly indoor bike at home and let the flywheel and resistance settings help you improve the health of your knees. Work at a safe speed and duration and slowly build on your progress. With time, this can yield improvements.
If you have more severe issues of pain in your knees, such as arthritis, or have recently had knee surgery, there are other options. You can work up to a spin bike in time as you work on your mobility, strength and pain management. Start with a simple mini exercise bike for a gentle movement and then onto a more traditional bike as you get fitter and stronger. If you get a taste for it, you can move onto spinning when you have the right conditioning and form. Of course, if you are completely fit and healthy and understand the impact of poor form, there is no reason why you can’t take up spinning and enjoy the benefits.
In short, spin bikes aren’t as bad for the joints as you might expect, but they aren’t without their risks either. Consider the current health of your joints and your experience with cycling before you jump on a spin bike to test it out.