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The bicycle athlete is somewhat of an unusual creature.

Throw a mix of athleticism in with a liberal serving of obsessive-compulsive tendencies – stir and garnish with a sprinkling of pack mentality for indoor cycling and you have your everyday cyclist.

At least he's wearing a helmet, right?

Low back pain and some muscular imbalances are usually shown in the more mature cyclists, however this is not always the case and can be avoided if the bike-bound have been diligent with their off-road conditioning.

What are the benefits of cycling on a regular basis?

If you haven’t really gotten into riding the bike, you will find it hard to compare this to understand the zen-like tranquility that comes from traversing through a gently undulating countryside.

Of course, you may have also attended a high energy indoor cycling class where Lycra and Van Halen seem to be making their respective comebacks.

The Bicycle:

I like: This equipment allows the user to build their heartrate in a way that the treadmill and elliptical cannot. It also is easier on the joints of the lower body (but not necessarily those of the hips and low back). There are no mainstream treadmill or elliptical classes – if in need of a workout you can walk into almost any gym and experience a sweaty workout where you will experience a camaraderie with other fellow cyclists.

I don’t like: Without proper off-bike conditioning the body can develop massive imbalances in the hip, low back and thighs. As we crouch over our back lengthens as our abdominal wall and hip flexors shorten.

The average cyclist can sometimes be ‘quad-heavy’ in their technique- meaning that the cyclist ‘pushes’ down with each pedal but omits the remainder of the cycle stroke resulting in weaker hamstrings and stronger quads – which creates imbalance.

The end result?

Pain aside, Mike the Avatar was more concerned about the strange orange and green glow coming from his lumbar spine

Plant yourself just beyond the finish line of any long-distance cycling race to see an impressive collection of cycle-athletes clutching their low back and groaning in symphony as they dismount from their respective 2-wheeled steeds.

Riding for extended periods of time with poor technique and/or an inadequate conditioning and stretching program is likely to have a negative effect on your posture.

Postural issues are not mandatory, but without balance in your workout programs the chances of a myriad of spine and muscular imbalances increase dramatically.

Major advantage:

Riding a bike can be enjoyed without much technique, has offerings for group classes (which can be accepting or hostile – it all depends on whether you grabbed someones favorite bike or not).

Cyclists can be extremely particular about which bike they use in the indoor cycling classes and some will become verbally disappointed if their bike is claimed by an innocent visitor. Sometimes I wonder why they dont just get it over with and pee all over their favorite bike as a form of territorial marking.

Major disadvantage:

People will sometimes ride the recumbent bike as if they were resting on a beach in Cancun. Other times cyclists fail to realize the benefit of using a variety of equipment to make sure their upper body actually gets to workout as well.

The #1 Disadvantage?

Bending over a bike looks way too much like bending over a desk. Most of us are already too well practiced at hunching over a computer to get those TPS reports in by Friday. If we go to the gym, lets make sure we have an opportunity to stand tall for at least part of our lunchbreak before we return to our our ergonomically-insensitive workstation.


The bicycle is an excellent piece of equipment. Any athlete can develop excellent cardio and leg strength – but not without a price of tight hip flexors, weak lengthened hamstrings and hunched forward upper body posture.


  1. Stretch out the hip flexors any chance you get
  2. Do lots of hamstring exercises (like a deadlift) as part of a regular workout
  3. Stretch the chest to keep things from caving in
  4. Ask a trainer about improving your posture to keep the torso tall when not strapped into your tricycle.
  5. Get a massage to make sure your body is staying limber.

Where does the bicycle fall in my ranking of which is better?

It's a bike.. no wait, its a treadmill.. Umm.. A Treadcycle??

If you have no low back pain, decent flexibility and dont mind repetitive exercises (I mean really repetitive – the indoor bikes don’t have much of a steering wheel to them) then cycling is probably right for you.

However, if you spend all day sitting at a desk I would categorize this as a ‘participate no more than 1-2/week’ exercise to do – if just because I would want your body to remember how it feels to stand tall like the other modern primates do.

If you enjoy the biking, then by all means get out there and ride like the wind! Just be sure to mix up your rides, mix up your terrain and mix up your exercise routine so you stay riding injury free for a long time into the future.

Jamie Atlas

Treadmills, Ellipticals and Bikes – part 1 of this article here

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  • leesmith Aug 8, 2008 Reply

    Did I miss the third part about ellipticals?!?

  • Bob Nov 30, 2010 Reply

    Really jim ur killin us. Web all googled elliptical vs treadmill and guess what NO elliptical !?!?! Well, of to the Gym to try elliptical and do ur work for u! lol

    • jamieatlas Dec 2, 2010 Reply

      Graar ya got me Bob. I will put that on the to do list. Apologies to you and other elliptical lovers everywhere

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