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Why the Air Bike is Great for Cardio

The air bike, or more rightfully known as an assault bike, is just one implement that can be used for cardio training. When deciding which form of cardio to engage in- whether it be running, swimming, rowing or cycling- there are many things to take into consideration: what intensity level and how long will your training session be, what type of training are you doing (intervals, tempo, steady-state, etc.), how fresh is your body, which muscles and what type of stimulus are you looking for…

We have looked at all these factors, and all forms of cardio, to determine why air bikes are great for cardiovascular training.

Before discussing the benefits of the air bike, however, let us first take a look at the benefits of cardiovascular training and how these are amplified when using an assault bike. 

High Rate of Calories Burned

Depending on the duration and intensity, aerobic training, also known as cardio, can burn twice as many calories per hour than resistance training. The exact numbers cannot be calculated, since there are numerous factors to take into consideration (such as body composition, muscular and cardiovascular efficiency, and oxygen intake just to name a few), but in general aerobic training requires sustained muscle recruitment for movement which will require a higher energy need over the long run. 

When comparing different cardio modalities, we get the first glimpse of why the air bike is great for cardio. The average fitness enthusiast can burn 12 calories per minute while rowing and 11 calories per minute while running but has the potential to burn significantly more per minute on the assault bike. 

Anyone who has faced an air bike workout will be able to attest to the fact that you can push above and beyond this calorie mark each minute; it is not the most pleasant workout, but that is why they call it an assault bike. The euphoria after a workout like this is well worth it, though. 

Increased Oxygen Transport

The heart and arteries of the cardiovascular system are comprised of muscles that can and need to be exercised like any other. While performing aerobic training, these muscles are taxed to pump blood throughout the body, which will deliver oxygen to the muscular system (legs, arms, torso) to help with energy production. As you begin to train more frequently, for longer durations or at a higher intensity, this system becomes stronger and more efficient at transporting blood and oxygen to the needed muscles. 

Again, measuring specific levels of increase would include tracking many factors. Still, researchers out Switzerland have been able to reveal an interesting and significant difference in oxygen transport for cycling versus running. They have found that the overall rate of oxygen transport is about equivalent when looking at maximal efforts, however, athletes that use a bike for aerobic training are more efficient at submaximal levels1. 

This means when running all out or cycling all out, a trained athlete can reach the same levels of oxygen transport and energy production. Still, when working below maximal effort (the majority of workouts and training sessions), those who regularly train on a bike have a higher oxygen transport rate. 

Training on an air bike can increase energy production efficiency at submaximal effort levels. 

Speeds Recovery Between High-Intensity Training Sessions

While transporting oxygen to the muscles, the cardiovascular system also clears metabolic waste from the muscle. Low-intensity aerobic training will increase blood flow, which in turn can increase the rate of waste removal. Engaging in this form of aerobic exercise will enhance the recovery process after an intense bout of lifting. The air bike is particularly great for this aspect of cardio exercise for reasons we will discuss later. 

Training on the assault bike enhances all the benefits of aerobic training. Above and beyond that, here are additional benefits that make the air bike great for cardio: 

Low Technique

Hopping on to an air bike and performing any level of workout can be done with very little training or instruction. Now don’t be fooled by this statement; of course, there is a proper way to use an air bike; your legs should both push and pull on the pedals keeping the legs engaged throughout the whole cycle. Likewise, since the handlebars can move, the arms should also be engaged throughout by pushing and pulling. But that is the extent of the technique needed to make an air bike workout effective. 

Compare this level of technique to any other form of cardio, and you see that the air bike is very user-friendly. Though we all know how to run, there is still a proper (and highly technical) way to run to prevent injury. Swimming and rowing are not natural movements and often require extensive instruction to perform correctly. 

The air bike is excellent for cardio because a fitness junkie of any level can hop on and get a beneficial workout. 

Full Body Workout

Running primarily uses the muscles of the legs, swimming the pulling of the arms and some kicking power from the legs. Likewise, rowing utilizes the pressing force of the legs and pulling of the arms; the air bike though, uses everything. 

The pressing and pulling muscles of the upper and lower body will be taxed, while the core is held responsible for coordinating movement and maintaining breathe work. The air bike incorporates the entire body to an extent other forms of cardio cannot. 

Running, swimming, and rowing all use the upper and lower bodies, but the extent to which this happens is limited by the motion of the movements. In running, there is no resistance applied to the upper torso, only to the legs. In swimming, the shortened range of motion in a kick limits the power produced by the legs. And rowing is always a push from the legs, never a pull, with the opposite expected of the arms. 

Air bikes keep the upper and lower body engaged continuously. The motion of the handlebars allows you to push and pull with your arms while the pedals provide an object for the legs to pull and push against. Another great part of this full-body workout is that intensity and resistance are all up to you.  

Unlimited Intensity and Resistance

As with any movement or exercise, the harder you push the pedals or handlebars of an air bike, the higher the intensity. As intensity increases, you are exponentially reaping the benefits of using the air bike for aerobic training, and as we discussed earlier, since the air bike already enhances the benefits of aerobic exercise, increasing intensity doubles down on this effect. 

Resistance is another factor that can enhance the cardio benefits an air bike has to offer. Most air bikes will have a resistance setting, but this does not limit how much resistance can actually be applied. Similar to intensity, as you push yourself to go harder on an air bike, the effects of the resistance are increased. Pushing against a resistance level, 5 feels vastly different when using 50% of your energy compared to 85 or 90% and will produce very different results. 

The air bike itself may have a maximum resistance setting, but if you’re willing to pump up the energy, the intensity, and resistance experienced with an air bike are unparalleled in other forms of cardio. 

Decreased Impact Forces

These last two benefits of the air bike go hand in hand. To begin, we will discuss ground reaction forces. 

Ground reaction forces are typically debated when discussing running. Every time the foot strikes the ground, a force is produced that travels up the leg and, depending on running technique, will either be distributed to the joints or the soft tissue of the lower limbs. 

Our researcher friends from Sweden found that a typical runner can produce an average force equivalent to 2.0-2.9 their own body weight with each step2. When using running as your main form of cardio, these forces add up quickly and lead to lower limb wear and tear. Without proper recovery, the rate of injury increases. 

On an air bike, there are no ground reaction forces to worry about. The cyclic motion of the pedals and handlebars keeps muscles constantly engaged, and a jolting stop or force is not produced half-way through the movement. 

This lack of force is also true for swimming, but with the higher level of technique needed to swim correctly, overuse injury rates remain elevated. 

Rehab and Recovery

As we touched on earlier, cardio is an excellent form of recovery between bouts of high-intensity exercise. Couple this with the lack of reaction forces produced on an air bike and the low level of technique needed to master this implement, and the air bike is now the chosen implement for cardio and recovery training. 

The air bike is great for interval training, tempo training, steady-state training, recovery training, and any other form of cardio exercise you can imagine. 

When it comes to rehab, the air bike is at the top of the list as well. Swimming is a highly regarded form of rehab as well, but there are a few aspects of the air bike that set it apart. 

First, the air bike is more readily available. Most gyms can have an air bike, very few will have a swimming pool. Second, the air bike has a greater range of natural motion. The cycling of the legs, coupled with the pushing and pulling of the arms, more closely resembles the movement of limbs during walking and running. And last but not least, the intensity and resistance levels on an air bike are infinitely changeable. When starting your rehab program, the air bike can provide very low levels of resistance and intensity, and as you heal, both can be increased accordingly. 

All of these benefits make the air bike great for cardio training, but let’s not forget the most significant reason to use an air bike: the feeling you get when you’ve pushed a 110% on an air bike is unrivaled by any other form of cardio. 

The work output you can accomplish while pushing your physical and mental limits on an air bike goes beyond any other implement. Running is limited by physical speed, swimming by oxygen transport (you have to come up and breath at some point), and rowing by power production, but on an air bike, you can just go. 

Leaving it all out on the line in an air bike workout feels killer at the time, but you are far from dead. Push as hard as you wish because the lack of reaction forces means your body will still be ready to perform the following day. 

Summary

There are many forms of cardio to engage in, but the air bike offers additional benefits that other modalities can’t. Performing a workout on an air bike requires little to no technique. The air bike does not produce a reaction force that will break down soft tissue or damage joints. It utilizes a range of motion that mimics walking and running for a greater transfer of skill. The level of intensity and resistance is endless, set only by your willingness to work, making it ideal for rehab, recovery, intervals, or steady-state cardio training. The legs, arms, and core are engaged continuously, creating a high calorie burning full-body workout. 

The air bike has endless possibilities and benefits beyond regular cardio training. Hopping on an air bike and leaving everything you’ve got out on the floor enhances these benefits while minimizing break down, so you’re ready to go again tomorrow. This is why the air bike is great for cardio.   

 

References:

1Millet, G. P, Clack, V. E, & Bentley, D. J. (2009). Physiological differences between cycling and

running: Lessons from triathletes. Sports Med, 39(3), p. 179-206. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19290675/ 

2Nilsson, J. & Thorstensson, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human

walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 136(2), p. 217-227. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2782094 

Other Sources:

OPEX discussion on benefits of aerobic training and how to incorporate the air bike

https://opexfit.com/blog/aerobic-endurance-training-for-crossfit/

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