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Lately I have decided that I need to get into shape. I have heard that most of weight loss begins in the kitchen, and I understand the concept of calories in -> calories out very well.

My question comes when I look to the exercise portion of my actions. I have very poor endurance on nearly all forms of cardiovascular exertion, except while biking. I can bike, get my heart rate up and keep it there without feeling pained or like I have to give up. when running or doing a stair-climber in the gym I simply cant match the length of time keeping my heart rate up that I can while I am on a bike. My friends (in much better shape than I) warn that only biking for cardio could lead to poor muscle development and less progress as my body will be too used to the motions.

Question:

Is there any reason that using just a bike, stationary or not, for all of my cardio workouts would be detrimental to my goal of increasing cardiovascular endurance, lung health, muscle growth/health and losing weight?

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(I'm going to ignore the fact that the nutrition side of things is much much more complex than calories in vs calories out and focus on the exercise part).

If your main concern is burning calories (exercise for weight loss), then your friend is right, you want to do exercises that you are very inefficient at. You see this all the time in people who take up jogging in an attempt to lose weight, they hit a point where they've become so efficient at jogging that they have to continually jog for longer to get the same weight loss effect.

Cardiovascular endurance also falls into this efficiency concern; you are going to be more cardiovascularly "fit" at activities and movement patterns that you're more efficient at than those you aren't. If you can bike faster for longer than I can, but I can row faster for longer, who has more cardiovascular endurance?

For muscle growth, honestly, lift weights. You might see some muscular growth on your legs from using an exercise bike, but it'll be dependent on your level of exertion. If you use the bike on it's easiest difficulty, you'll see less muscular growth than using it at a much tougher difficulty. Plus, there's no upper body stimulus on an exercise bike (unless you're using it in a way I'm unfamiliar with).

Having said all that, there are a few different schools of thought on all of this. Phil Maffetone, from my limited reading, suggests longer sessions at a limited heart rate (I believe 180 - age, with a little wiggle room) to enable the body to use fat stores as an energy source. StrongFirst combines this with their antiglycolytic approach. CrossFit seems to want you to work until you collapse and almost drown in a puddle of your own sweat, then keep going.

If you do want to stick to using an exercise bike, there's no reason you can't mix up different modalities, do some sessions as longer, slower, lower heart rate sessions and some as high intensity interval training (HIIT, NOT HIT, that's something different).

Motivation also plays a massive part of this. If I tell you you'll get much better results running than biking, but you hate running, you're less likely to actually go for a run. People think that they can keep pushing themselves to do something they don't enjoy in order to get results, and it may well be true for a while, but at some point motivation is going to fade away, so I'd suggest that whatever you do, make sure you enjoy at least part of it.

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  • This really explains it in a way I hadn't thought of. In reference to your first line about the complexity of nutrition: Is there a good question on this stack I could look to to gain some more insight on that? I'll dig around a bit too
    – Flats
    Mar 1, 2022 at 14:32
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    @Flats unfortunately no to the nutrition thing, but there are good resources out there. A little critical thinking though can prove the point, do you think you'd look better eating your daily calorie requirement in chocolate bars, or meat and vegetables? Nutrition is a massive topic with no definite answers, some people thrive on a vegan diet, some on a carnivore diet, some on a ketogenic diet, some on a low fat diet. They do pretty much all agree that you should avoid sugar and processed food though, so that's a good start
    – Dark Hippo
    Mar 1, 2022 at 15:13
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Is there any reason that using just a bike, stationary or not, for all of my cardio workouts would be detrimental to my goal of increasing cardiovascular endurance, lung health, muscle growth/health and losing weight?

Yes for the following reasons:

  1. Boredom
  2. Overuse injuries
  3. Safety
  4. Well-rounded fitness

Boredom

You stated that you currently enjoy bicycling the most. While this may be true, it may not be after you've been bicyling non-stop as your only form of cardio over the next 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc... Eventually, the excitement and hype of bicycling may die down, and this may not even be entirely in your control. For example, you may have to move to a different area that has roads that are not as conducive to cycling, the gym you use to cycle indoors may switch to bikes you don't enjoy etc...

In any of those (or other) circumstances, it's beneficial to have some alternative means of cardio exercise.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries generally occur when parts of the body repetitively perform the same motions over and over either for too many repetitions, bearing too much load, or when some combination of too many repetitions and too much load are present. While overuse injuries can be limited by "working one's way up slowly" (such as increasing mileage on the bicycle a couple miles per week), in my experience, just doing one form of exercise indefinitely always leads to overuse injuries at some point.

Perhaps most importantly, when you do suffer from a cycling-related overuse injury, you can potentially continue to get the benefits of exercise by doing another activity that allows the injury to rest and recover. If cycling is your only form, you may have to cease exercise completely or try something entirely new.

Safety

There are other physical safety reasons why I choose to run rather than bike. For example, if my cardio day lands on a rainy day I usually run. Why? Because I don't want to risk riding over some slick surface on the asphalt, losing my traction, and crashing. I also don't want to deal with lousy automobile drivers losing control of their vehicles and hitting me. It seems they are already bad enough when it's sunny and dry.

Well-rounded fitness

You may notice other positive effects of engaging in other forms of cardio (and strength training) that will offer a more well-rounded fitness regimen. For example, bicycling works a finite group of muscles and supportive tissue - running and swimming works other groups and aspects of muscles and connective tissues. I've actually seen muscle tone develop independently different by all of these exercises. Additionally, studies have shown that bicycling actually decreases bone mineral density beyond not working out at all. However, exercises such as weightlifting, running, and jumprope - basically exercises that are either weightbearing or high-impact - increase bone mineral density.

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