Stationary bikes can make great additions to any home gym because they don’t take up much space, they’re fairly easy on the joints, and they can provide great workouts.
But if you don’t have your seat in the right position, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Riding with your seat too close or too far away from the pedals can not only reduce the efficiency of your workouts, but it can also significantly increase your risk of injury.
Both of which are no bueno.
Luckily, it’s not too hard to find the right seat position once you know what to look/feel for.
In this guide, I’ll go over a few tips to help you find the right riding position for any exercise bike. After reading, you’ll be able to confidently find your proper seat height for any exercise bike you use.
How To Find The Proper Seat Height For Your Exercise Bike
The key to finding your right seat height is based mostly on comfort, although even though your sitting position may feel comfortable for awhile, it could become uncomfortable with repeated use if it’s not where it really should be.
Think about how repetitive a cycling workout is…
How many pedal strokes do you think you perform in 1 workout?
Well, here are a few numbers to help…
Let’s say you average a cadence of 80 rotations per minute (rpm) and your workout is 30 minutes long.
Do the math and that gives you 2400 pedal strokes in a single workout.
And let’s be real- most spin classes get you pedaling a whole lot faster than 80 rpm, so that 2400 pedal stroke estimation is likely on the low side.
My point is, if your seat isn’t in the right position, your knees, hips, and even ankles can suffer from being put in an irritating position throughout all of this repetition.
The most common issue most people will have is with their knees.
If your seat is too close to the pedals, your knees are going to be in a more flexed position throughout your ride, which can lead to anterior knee pain.
This pain is usually due to issues with the way your knee cap (patella) is tracking along your thigh (femur)- also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).
As a physical therapist, if I was treating a cyclist with PFPS, the first thing I would do is examine their sitting position on their exercise bike (or road bike).
Having your seat too close to the pedals also makes your pedal strokes less efficient because it forces the quads to work harder than they should.
This means you have to put more energy into each pedal stroke, which could fatigue your quads faster than otherwise.
If your seat was too far away from the pedals, you’d have the opposite problem.
Instead of flexing your knees too much, your knees would likely be extending too much with each stroke.
This situation can also cause knee pain, although it would probably be less due to PFPS and more due to an irritation around the joint from hyperextending.
Although you could also have irritated hamstrings and feel discomfort in the back of your knees too.
And again, having to overextend your knees with each pedal stroke is going to reduce your efficiency during workouts.
The key to finding the right riding position is to find a seat height that allows your legs to extend comfortably without overextending and causing discomfort.
Finding this position is a little different depending on the type of exercise bike you’re using, although not that different once you know how it should feel.
Let’s take a look at the different types of exercise bikes and discuss where your seat should be for each one.
Indoor Cycles (Spin Bikes)
Indoor cycles are probably the most popular exercise bikes these days (and the most likely to cause overuse injuries) so we should start here.
When setting your seat height, start by standing next to the bike and putting your hand on the side of your hip- this is a good estimation of where your seat height should be.
Bring the seat up so that your hand (on your hip) can rest on the seat.
Next, sit on the seat, put your feet in the pedals and see how it feels.
With your foot directly below you and your knee in its most extended position (6 o’clock position), there should be just a little bit of bend in your knee (25-30° of flex to be more exact).
This way your knees are never fully extended throughout your pedal stroke, but they aren’t flexing too much with each stroke either.
Now most spin bikes come with fully adjustable seats, so you can adjust their horizontal position too.
After you get your height set, you can adjust the horizontal seat position (fore/aft) as well if you like.
When it comes to setting the seat height, upright and air bikes are pretty identical to spin bikes.
With upright/air bikes, you can’t always set the fore/aft position, but you can always adjust the seat height (and if you find a bike that doesn’t come with an adjustable seat, please don’t buy it).
Like spin bikes, with these bikes you want 25-30° of flexion in your knees when they are in the 6 o’clock position.
And again, bringing the seat height up to your hip level is a good place to start and then simply adjust from there.
Here’s a video from a fellow physical therapist that illustrates this (just keep in mind he’s talking about using a bike specifically for rehab purposes):
Recumbent bikes are a little different since you’re sitting in a more reclined position.
With these bikes, when you adjust the “height” of your seat, you’re really adjusting the horizontal position of the seat, but the effect is the same.
You’re still changing how far away the seat is from the pedals.
And even though recumbent bikes are known for being a little easier on the joints, you can still cause injury and discomfort if you’re sitting too close to the pedals.
You can’t use your hip height as a guide with recumbent bikes, but you still want to adjust the seat so that there’s the same 25-30° of flexion in your knees in their most extended position.
It’s all about ensuring that your knees aren’t too bunched up or extending too far with each pedal stroke.
See, there really isn’t that much to it.
Finding a comfortable seat height for your exercise bike is all about knowing what to look for and how it should feel throughout the pedaling motion.
Regardless of what kind of exercise bike you’re using, it’s all about putting the seat in a position so that your knees aren’t bending too much at the top of your pedal stroke or extending too much at the bottom of it.
Aiming for 25-30° of bend in your knee at its most extended position is ideal, but in case you aren’t really sure what that looks like, just make sure there’s a little bend in your knee when it’s extended.
And as always, if something hurts while using your exercise bike, that means something isn’t right.
Please don’t try to push through it – the whole “no pain, no gain” thing is almost always wrong.
If your knees or hips start hurting while riding, it’s a sign you need to change your riding position.