6 Benefits of Cycling
If you want to mix up your cardio routine and get a killer lower body workout, try cycling. Whether you’re riding on the road or spinning at the gym, cycling is a great way to build muscle, improve your stamina, and lose weight.
Ready to start pedaling? Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of cycling and how you can make the most of your time while spinning your wheels.
The 6 Health Benefits of Cycling
These six incredible benefits of cycling are all true, whether your bike is stationary or it’s actually taking you somewhere.
1. Cycling Improves Endurance
As long as you challenge yourself, the continuous, repetitive movement of cycling can help boost both your cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular endurance, says Dr. William Kelley, physical therapist, ATC, C.S.C.S, and owner of Aries Physical Therapy in South Florida. “Endurance helps with overall fitness by allowing you to effectively and efficiently maintain a higher heart rate for a longer period of time.” As a result, you can sustain intense physical activity longer and push yourself harder in workouts.
2. Cycling Is Easy on Your Joints
When you’re on a bike, your primary motion is contracting and extending your leg, but unlike running, there’s no impact. “The joints are not loaded and [they] move throughout their range freely without shock or compression at high levels,” he explains.
That means there’s less stress and strain on your hip, knee, and ankle joints. As a result, you’re less likely to get injured—even when you’re logging high mileage and performing high intensity workouts such as interval training.
Cycling is particularly helpful for older individuals and people with joint pain. “You can ride easy if needed,” says Tara Parsons, a USA Cycling-certified coach and the vice president of rider development for Century Road Club Association, the largest bicycle racing club in the United States.
That also makes cycling an excellent recovery exercise—whether you’re bouncing back from an injury or just recovering from a tough workout—not to mention a great starting point for beginners, says Parsons. “It’s a great way for those who haven’t had a regular fitness routine to return to exercise.”
3. Cycling Strengthens Muscles
Pumping your legs on a bike primarily works your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, but it also engages your calf muscles. Every time you push down on the pedals, you flex your calves, which are comprised of two muscles — the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.
However, because cycling is typically a high-repetition, low-resistance sport, Kelley says it’s not the best way to optimize muscle growth—unless you also do high intensity work such as interval and hill training. “Cycling at higher resistances, such as mountain biking up steep inclines, is a better power and muscle size generator,” he explains, “but general street cycling is still an effective fat-burning tool.”
You’ll also improve your muscular endurance, so your legs can carry heavier loads for longer periods of time.
4. Cycling Can Improve Your Mood
Like most forms of exercise, cycling can help elevate your mood and energy levels. Exercising in general is a good way to improve your confidence and self-esteem, but doing challenging cardio also releases endorphins, which are known to boost your mood.
5. Cycling Can Help You Lose Fat
If you’re just starting out, any type of cycling can help you torch fat, including leisurely, steady state riding. But as you become fitter, you’ll need to weave higher intensity work (e.g., interval training) into your training program and regularly switch up your workouts (e.g., by alternating between, say, steady state riding, interval training, hill training, and tempo work) each week.
And keep in mind that cycling only assists with weight loss if you dial in your diet, too. “It is easy to overeat after rides,” Parsons says. So be sure to calculate how many calories you should consume each day to lose weight safely and keep it off, and then eat a balanced, healthy diet that fuels your workouts and fitness goals.
6. Cycling Is Versatile
All you need to get started is a bike and the will to ride it. “Cycling is definitely a sport for everyone,” Parsons says. “No matter how far or fast you ride, you can feel the joy of piloting yourself through space.”
Best of all, cycling is easy to fit into your day. You can cycle to and from work as part of your commute, do a spin class, hit the trails (if you have a mountain bike), or burn through intervals at a local office park to name just a few possibilities. “Find what appeals to you,” Parsons says, “and just have fun.”
The Bonus Benefits of Cycling Indoors
Riding a stationary bike may not be as exciting as cycling outdoors, but it can offer a great (and potentially more time efficient) workout in a controlled environment, Parsons says.
In addition to the six benefits of cycling we’ve already covered, the chief benefit of indoor cycling is that you don’t have to battle the weather or navigate unnerving terrain — you can just focus on your form and pace without distraction. Plus, you don’t have to worry about safety risks like distracted drivers or getting doored.
That doesn’t mean riding a stationary bike is easy, though. You can replicate outdoor pedal tension by increasing the resistance. This forces you to work harder and expend more energy, even when you’re spinning your wheels in place.
The ability to change your intensity quickly and easily also makes indoor cycling an efficient and effective choice for interval workouts, hill simulations, and sprints.
The Bonus Benefits of Cycling Outdoors
Perhaps the greatest benefit of cycling outside is the sheer variety of routes and terrain available to you. It’s a great way to experience nature and see new sights. That goes a long way towards keeping boredom at bay and fueling workout motivation.
What’s more, exercising in the sunshine and fresh air can help improve your mental well-being. “The joy and freedom of riding outside cannot be matched,” Parsons says.
And here’s a big one: you’re not using any gas. You’re not emitting any exhaust. It’s just you and your pedals, being kind to the environment as you get where you’re going.
How Long Should I Bike For a Good Workout?
How much you should cycle a day or week depends on your fitness level, goals, workout type, and schedule.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following as the minimum amount of exercise for adults: two strength-training workouts per week and either 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like steady-state cycling) or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (like interval training).
If you’re new to cycling, start by riding twice a week at a moderate intensity. “Once that becomes a comfortable routine,” Parsons says, “try to move up to three times a week with two shorter rides and one longer ride.”
Once you’ve built a solid fitness foundation and are beginning to feel strong and confident on your bike, opt for interval cycling, a tough spin class, or longer rides with more hills. (The hills can be virtual if you’re on a stationary bike.)
“You will really start to see your fitness come along when you are consistent,” Parsons says, “but know that it is okay to take an easy week or a rest day if you’re feeling fatigued.”