Pedal exercisers seem like an interesting concept but the real question is whether they work, and if so, how effective they are compared to alternatives.
In essence, pedal exercisers work in the sense that they can help you move more with your arms or legs while seated in a regular chair or on your couch.
Compared to other fitness equipment with possibilities like this, pedal exercisers are relatively effective.
At the same time, there are definitely better equipment and workout alternatives than pedal exercisers in terms of effectiveness in areas like burning calories, improving cardiovascular health, improving sleep, etc.
The rest of the article goes over some things where pedal exercisers are good for, how effective they are compared to alternatives, and some reasons why you would choose one of these alternatives.
5 ways pedal exercisers work
Similar to other fitness equipment, pedal exercisers are not perfect. At the same time, they definitely “work” in a few different ways.
1. Offers health benefits
Moving more and more intensely is typically beneficial for your health (up to a certain point). Since pedal exercisers can help you move more, they work in the sense that they offer more health benefits than just sitting still.
By challenging your body, you start a variety of internal processes that can lead to things like weight loss, better cardiovascular health, better sleep, improved mood, etc.
Later in the article, you can find estimations about how effective pedal exercisers are in terms of providing these health benefits compared to other workouts.
2. Allows you to exercise at home
Many people realize that exercise can offer a variety of health benefits but there are things that make it harder to actually do this. Some of these hurdles come from having to work out outside or at a different location.
For example, when running, cycling, and walking outside, the weather can make your workouts a lot less pleasant. Additionally, even if something like driving to the local gym takes 10 minutes, this time adds up after a few visits.
Pedal exercisers can help you move more at home. Even if it is just when the weather is bad this can make a big difference in total time spent working out.
3. Alternative for leg workouts
Many people get pedal exercisers for the cardiovascular workouts with their legs but most models also allow you to rotate the pedals with your hands.
If leg workouts are currently not an option, pedal exercisers definitely work in the sense that they enable some form of workout instead of just sitting still.
Something to note is that if you are still able to do leg workouts (with the pedal exerciser or other options), these are typically more effective for training cardiovascular health and getting other health benefits.
4. Combinable with other activities
Pedal exercisers are relatively easy to combine with other activities, basically anything where you sit down. This benefits you in a few ways.
First of all, being able to do other activities during your workouts can make them more fun, help you learn more things while doing them (with audiobooks, etc.), or at least make them less boring.
Secondly, this type of fitness equipment works in that pedal exercisers can help you stay more active while doing things like watching tv, sitting at a desk, etc.
You are likely already doing at least a few things where a pedal exerciser can help you stay more active.
One thing to note is that pedal exercises could be just a bit too active to stay focused at times. If that is an issue, something less intense like a mini elliptical could be a better choice.
Pedal exercisers are not free similar to bodyweight workouts but at the same time, they are relatively budget-friendly compared to many alternatives.
At the time of writing, there are good pedal exercisers available for 50 dollars or less.
Are pedal exercisers effective?
By now, it is clear that pedal exercisers work in the sense that they can offer more (health) benefits than doing nothing. Even so, a good question is just how effective they are in doing this.
METs are numbers that are estimations to indicate how intense workouts are. There are currently no specific METs for pedal exercisers but you can still make estimations with similar activities.
For example, using a stationary bike at a very light pace has a MET of 3.5. Pedal exercisers will be similar to this intensity (1). A popular alternative is a mini elliptical which will be comparable to sitting and fidgeting with feet which has a MET of 1.8.
Other examples include mini steppers with a MET of about 4 (slow stair climbing), moderate effort rowing with a MET of 7, walking at 3 mph (4.8 kmh) with a MET of 3.5, and running 5 mph (8 kmh) with a MET of 8.3.
How “effective” a workout is, is not linear with MET (1 MET higher is not necessarily “1 effectiveness” more).
That being said, these numbers do give somewhat of an idea of how effective pedal exercisers are. Even if it is just to give an idea of how much pedal exercisers help weight loss compared to other workouts.
3 cons of pedal exercisers
The pros and MET mentioned are certainly helpful but you also want to keep other things in mind when deciding whether a pedal exerciser would be a good investment for you.
1. There are more effective workouts
While MET is not linear with the effectiveness of a workout, higher intensity workouts do offer more health benefits up to a certain point and duration.
As you can see from the MET examples above, there are plenty of workouts that are harder than pedal exercisers per minute. Even at home, mini steppers, stationary bikes, rowing machines, etc. can be better.
Pedal exercisers are still a budget-friendly way to move more while seated but these other equipment options may align even more with your training goals and budget.
2. Can lead to suboptimal posture
Pedal exercisers are used in a seated position. You don’t have to sit perfectly straight every second of the day to be healthy but using this piece of fitness equipment can lead to suboptimal posture.
To avoid this, you can put reminders on your phone or post its to sit (at least somewhat) straighter.
3. Some models can get noisy
Quality models keep this down but pedal exerciser workouts can get somewhat noisy. Over time your model may need some lubrication to avoid squeaking.
In certain locations and during certain activities noise is somewhat you want to avoid. For example at work or at home where you want to stay focused and not disturb other people.