How Riding A Bike Indoors Strengthened My Bad Knee!

Recently I’ve had to completely rethink my exercise regime. Because of a knee injury I had to stop running and look at more low-impact exercise options. I discovered that riding a bike indoors is good for bad knees and I’m here to tell you what I’ve done to integrate this great form of exercise into my daily routine. 

riding a bike indoors

I’d long been a runner. I was never a very fast one, more of a slow jogger, but I loved it and it was very much part of my identity – I was a runner. I was even a half-marathon runner having completed my first and only half marathon at the tender age of 50. My goodness I felt proud of myself when I completed that. But at age 57 I was getting niggles in my knee joint and I stopped running and consulted a physical therapist. I was doing lots of physio to improve my knee health and strength, and everything seemed to be going quite well. 

But then on one day in Midsummer, a combination of a slight knee niggle when doing my morning yoga, a long walk which perhaps wasn’t very sensible given that niggle, and some breaststroke in a swimming pool in the afternoon, resulted in a trip to the emergency department of my nearest hospital in the evening! I could no longer bear weight on my leg and it was very alarming.

I then proceeded to have six months of waiting to find out exactly what was wrong with my knee! Nothing was broken but I had three different diagnoses on 2 MRI scans, all of which seem to be impacting my knee in different ways. The upshot was eventually that while I didn’t (yet) need surgery, I was told by the consultant that if it was his knee, he wouldn’t be running on it. I was pretty devastated to be honest.

My key priorities were getting back to some form of cardio exercise and weight-bearing exercise too so that I could maintain my bone density as I age. I’m now able to walk much longer distances than I was and that’s good for my bone density, but I wanted something more intense. I had also become a recent fan of my jump rope. This is such an easy and fun form of cardio exercise. But I will never know whether that led to the problems with my knee and it doesn’t seem to be a very good option for me at the moment. Boo hoo. 

Initially I wasn’t confident of maintaining balance and weight on the injured leg, so outdoor cycling didn’t seem like a very good idea to build up muscle strength. I have a tendency to fall off my bike at the best of times, and I didn’t want to have my knee giving way again when I was in the middle of a road! But I certainly needed to build up muscle strength to rehab my knee problems and strengthen my patellofemoral joint (the kneecap joint effectively). 

Indoor cycling has become my new passion and I want to share with you how brilliant it’s been as a low-impact form of exercise that enables me to feel that I’ve really made some effort. Another thing that running did for me was release my stress and I’ve been very grumpy not being able to to run! Now I can get on my bike for 15 to 20 minutes and cycle away my cares.

So how did I do this? First of all I checked that indoor bikes were a good and safe form of aerobic exercise for me. It turns out that with a bad knee, an exercise bike is one of the best tools in the arsenal. You can pretty much exercise the entire body although obviously the focus is on the leg muscles. You can quickly raise your heart rate and go through a full range of motion in your lower body maintaining flexibility. And moving our bodies is what it’s all about, even when they’re damaged. We need to move. 

Riding a bike indoors or outdoors is a great exercise routine for cardiovascular health and muscle strengthening. You need to ensure that you always have some resistance on the bike to protect your knees. But unless you go silly with the resistance and overdo it, the repetitive motion of cycling shouldn’t lead to more knee damage. 

Obviously with any form exercise, you need to listen to your body. This is why I stopped running long before I had the actual problem that landed me in hospital. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what. It also helps to get good advice on how to do any form of exercise safely. This can sometimes appear daunting when exercising at home, but there are some fantastic resources online now that can help you get the proper form, so you can stay safe while doing your exercise program. 

I bought this exercise bike from Decathlon (image below – at time of writing it’s on special offer at £199) having googled best exercise bikes UK (just google for your country to get local results). It was actually almost the cheapest upright stationary bike I found, but I think it is absolutely brilliant and more than sufficient for most people’s needs. I also bought this tablet holder stand for my bike which enables me to read or watch videos while I’m cycling. When I first got the bike, I was having to read a lot of research papers and was able to do that on my iPad while cycling away. I love to multi-task efficiently!

I then discovered Kaleigh Cohen on Youtube who has an entire channel devoted to indoor cycling sessions. She has playlists for beginners, lots of alternatives for different levels, and an all-important cool-down stretch routine, which I do after every workout to sort out any sore muscles. She also has a video all about how to set up your bike – which is incredibly important to watch to avoid injury – getting the saddle height and handlebars correctly positioned so you have the correct body position is key. 

She’s super motivational without being annoying, gives out easy to follow resistance instructions (it really helps if you have a computer with RPMs on your bike which mine came with) and constant reminders about maintaining good form. You can easily adapt the intensity of your ride to suit your fitness or rehab goals. I quickly feel like I’ve done a really great workout to start my day well.

With this combination, I see absolutely no reason for anything more expensive and certainly not a Pelaton – unless of course you have money to burn! While I have now joined my local community gym so I can swim and sauna at my leisure, I also see no need to go to a spin class, as I have everything I need in the comfort of my own home, saving me time and money in the long run.

A recumbent bike is also an excellent way to maintain movement and flexibility, as well being good for cardio strength. But you won’t be able to do the same movements (what Kaleigh describes as position 2 and 3) standing up, for example, on a recumbent bike, like in a spin class. But do be careful with these positions too, as anything out of the saddle will increase the pressure on your knees.

Listen to your body and only do what feels good. It all depends on your fitness levels and the extent to which you need to maintain low impact on your joints. Recumbent exercise bikes are very good for older people where any risk of injury is of even greater concern. They also provide a more comfortable and supportive riding position.

I am absolutely delighted with my indoor bike. My overall health feels so much better since I got it. I reckon it will help with weight management too – and I need help with that since I stopped running! My knee range of motion and strength are improving all the time. It turns out riding a bike is good for bad knees after all. 

An indoor stationary bike can be a great way to rehab from knee injuries, as well as being great for low impact aerobic exercise. I think I’m probably at risk of knee osteoarthritis too in the future. Cycling is also good for that, so it’s win win. 

My bike doesn’t take up much room either. It sits in a corner of the bedroom and is a great clothes hanger when not in use! If you’re looking for a great, efficient form of low impact exercise, it can’t be beat, I reckon. 

So why not get on your bike! 

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