Exercise Bike: RPM or Resistance?

I just got a recumbent bike (magnetic resistance) a few days ago, and so far I am enjoying it. Setting the resistance fairly high doesn’t bother me at all, which leads to my question:

In general, which would be a “better” workout: higher resistance/lower RPMs or lower resistance/faster RPMs? I’m inclined to choose higher resistance, as I’ve got pretty strong legs already.

The purpose is purely for weight-loss (both direct calorie burning and raising overall metabolism).

I go for a steady cadence (somewhere around 80-90 RPM) and adjust the resistance as I get stronger.

80-90 RPM was the general minimum when I’ve taken RPM (like spinning) classes. There are times when we did lower RPMs for short times. I think keep to 80-90 rpm and gradually increase resistance. Also, if there’s any way you can get tested for your lactic threshold, you’d end up with a series of zones of fitness (different ranges of heart rate) that correspond to burning different fuels. You burn mostly fat at the lowest heart rate, akin to about a walking pace.

80-90 RPM seems pretty fast to me. I’ve had it that fast, but with my body size it seemed pretty frantic.

11811, you mentioned that you burn mostly fat at the lowest heart rate; isn’t that what I want? I should note that, due to medication, my heart rate isn’t going to go above about 110 or so (my resting rate is about 50).

Everyone has different targets, but I’m in “ok” shape, just recovering from a major knee injury. 33 year old male, 5’11", 190lbs. I am past the rehab phase on my knee, and ride the bike for cardio training/fat burning. My target heart rate for that is 150-160. I generally do the hill programs, keep the RPMs above 90. I will do anywhere from 35-60 minutes. Resistance level goes up about once a week or so. You really just need to find out your target heart rate, and basically do what it takes to hit it. You may find that at resistance level 1, for instance, you have to spin the pedals too fast to get there, so you’ll have to move to 2 or 3 or 4. It’s basically just trial and error once you know what your target is.

I’ll throw in a vote for 80-90 RPM.

Many years ago now (well, 14ish) I started cycling to work to save on gym fees, insurance and registration on a motorbike, and other sundry justifications. In that first year I wore out a bike and nearly ruined my knee.


Because I used too high a gear (more pedal resistance) at a low pedal rate.

When I purchased a better bike, the guy who sold it to me insisted that I maintain 90rpm at lower gear ratios, all the way. I almost died for the first few weeks (and this was after a year of ~30Km riding per day). I felt awkward and flailing and out of control. But I was going faster, and my knees were better, and my cardio system improved out of sight. My position on the bike improved, too, as did the economy of motion required to sustain the pace.

It really works. And as for the weight loss thing at lower heart rates - it is true. But your rate of energy use is so slow you need to do it all day to get the benefit.


Well I’m sure burning fat is good for overall health. I’m not so sure what would have the most salutory effect on your metabolism. I forgot you’re on a recumbent; I have no idea what that feels like. Just so we’re all on the same page, 80 rpms is 80 times a minute that the pedals go through a complete revolution. I’m only mentioning this because I don’t know if there’s some other measuring device built into your bike.

And really, now that you’ve brought your medication (and presumably a heart condition?) into the picture, I would suggest working with a trainer who understands your condition and can communicate with your doctor if need be.

I appreciate all the answers. There seems to be a consensus of 80-90 RPM, so I’ll give it a try, even though it seems insanely fast when I do it.

FWIW, the “throw” on my pedals (I don’t know the technical term, but the distance of the pedals from the center of the wheel) is about 8 inches, if that makes a difference.

An advantage of a high cadence as it really forces you to have a smooth even pedal stroke. It won’t take long before 80-90 RPMs feels just right. On the other hand, the 145+ RPM super spin drills I do as part of some of my spinervals workouts are insanely fast, and no one can convince me otherwise.

This seems a bit large. I’m 6’1" and I use 175mm (~ 6 3/4") cranks on my road bike. Perhaps recumbents are different…

Check with a bike store that knows recumbents, but this should be the same as on other bikes: your leg should be slightly bent at the furthest point of pedal stroke (overexension of your knee can be painful and harmful). Also, try using clips and straps (or clipless pedals) if they’re available with your bike. When you’re firmly attached to the pedals, you should keep your ankles stiff so that the work comes from your thighs and not from your calves.