Cycling for fitness can be a frightening prospect even if you already know how to ride a bike.
While a recreational ride may be leisurely, when it comes to fitness, cycling is about time, effort, and, most importantly, maintaining a beneficial heart rate that changes your physiology and leads to improvements in overall health.
That means fitness cycling is typically faster and more intense than recreational riding, demanding more of your body and posing more inherent risk.
It is also a great cardio exercise that shreds calories and is easy on the joints, muscles, and bones.
So, if you like biking, it can be worthwhile to pick up the pace and make it part of your workout routine.
And, even if you don’t like biking or don’t know how to ride a bike, the fitness potential may make it worthwhile to learn.
What is cycling?
Cycling is really just riding a bicycle (or a unicycle, tandem bike, recumbent bike, etc.).
It doesn’t matter if you are riding that bike for fitness or for fun, to work or on a several-day excursion.
It’s all, technically, cycling.
However, there are some distinctions that separate what most riders think of as “cycling” with what most riders think of as “biking.”
Cycling vs Biking
Generally speaking, you might say cycling is a more structured, defined form of biking.
You can bike on sand or grass or off-road.
Cycling typically refers to riding a bike on a road, designated bike path/trail, or in a cycling event.
Due to this, the term “biking” encompasses popular forms of riding a bike, like mountain biking and fat biking, while the term “cycling” does not.
However, it’s important to keep in mind these designations are more vernacular than real. Riding a bike is cycling and cycling is biking no matter where you do it.
However, for the most part “cycling” refers to riding a bike on paved or designated, flat surfaces, while “biking” encompasses everything else.
Benefits of Cycling
The benefits of cycling are well-documented and many for those who make cycling part of a regular exercise routine.
Some benefits of cycling include:
- Improved lower-body strength (especially in large “slow-twitch” muscles)
- Improved bone health
- Improved joint health (especially knee, hip, and ankle health)
- Improved flexibility (including the lower back)
- Improved endurance
- Improved heart health (including lower blood pressure)
- Improved respiratory rates
- Improved sleep
- Improved cognition
- Enhanced immune response
- Reduced inflammation
- Weight loss
- Increased life expectancy
Fresh air and time outdoors, which in itself can:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce aggression
- Improve overall mental health
Is cycling bad for knees?
Cycling is a low-impact activity that requires an ongoing, circular motion of the legs and no contact with a hard surface, which makes it easier on the knees than high-impact activities like running and dancing.
However, that same circular motion is a recipe for overuse injuries due to the sheer repetition.
You can reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries while cycling by:
- Making sure your bike is a proper fit. (See more at Getting The Bike Size That’s Right For You.)
- Adding cycling to your exercise routine slowly. (Even if you bike every day, increasing your pace can make demands of your body.)
- Only riding as long as you feel comfortable. (No need to overdo it. Any cycling you add to your workout provides good cardio and leg-strengthening benefits.)
- Working on your leg strength. (Weak knees are vulnerable knees.)
- Always warming up before you get on your bike.
Is cycling good for knees?
It might seem strange, but even with the potential for overuse injuries, the answer to the question “Is cycling good for knee pain?” is “Yes.”
Since cycling is low-impact, it doesn’t put a lot of strain on the joints or muscles around the knees and will help strengthen them overtime.
So, if you’re careful in how you go about adding cycling to your fitness routine, it can be beneficial even to arthritic knees.
It’s simply a matter of starting slowly, knowing your limits, and heeding them.
Is cycling hard?
Cycling isn’t hard in the most general sense of the word.
Anyone who can ride a bicycle can start cycling at a more intense level.
However, cycling does take plenty of endurance and keeps heart and respiratory rates up for extended periods of time.
Under certain conditions, namely when pedaling uphill, it can also be strenuous.
That means cycling for fitness is more difficult than riding a bike recreationally.
Is cycling everyday bad?
No, daily cycling is not bad as long as you do it at an intensity level that doesn’t put too much stress on your body.
For most people, a moderate cycling speed that keeps heart and respiratory rates up without overly taxing the muscles is an ideal level of intensity to prevent over-exercising.
If you’re doing a lot of hills or your muscles are sore after a bike ride, though, you should step back and incorporate more rest time between your rides.
Cycling every day is actually a perfect cardio solution if done at a pace that allows for rest and recovery.
If you do go on a bike ride every day as part of your fitness routine, cycling can serve as your main form of both aerobic and cardio exercise.
You will not, however, get enough of an upper body workout to maintain strength in your arms, shoulders, chest, and core through cycling, nor is it ideal to use cycling as your only form of lower body strength-training.
To keep legs evenly toned, you should still be incorporating exercises like squats, leg lifts, and lunges, which will improve flexibility and strength in the upper legs as well.
Cycling is not an adequate strength-building exercise on its own.
How far should I cycle?
Like running, snowshoeing, or any other endurance sport, when it comes to cycling for fitness, it isn’t about the miles put in, but the time put in.
Current medical guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity) per week.
Though, more is better.
One hundred and fifty minutes per week translates to 30 min/day 5 days per week (or around 22 min/day every day of the week).
With those guidelines in mind, it’s clear time and heart rate matter more than distance, and heart rate varies by individual.
So, aim for 30 minutes with your heart rate in its moderate to peak range.
At 8 -10 mph (a very respectable range of speed for new cyclists), 30 minutes translates to 4-5 miles.
Is 30 minutes of cycling a day enough?
As detailed in “Cycling Everyday” above, when it comes to aerobic and cardio benefits, 30 minutes of daily cycling (at a moderate pace) is sufficient for good health.
It does not, however, provide enough muscle-strengthening benefits to serve as your sole source of exercise.
Is cycling a good workout?
Yep. Cycling, like running and calisthenics, relies solely on the power of your own body.
This makes it a great workout.
Is cycling good cardio?
Cycling isn’t just good cardio, it’s one of the best cardio exercises you can do.
Is cycling good for weight loss?
Cycling is great for weight loss.
The constant motion and work against resistance takes tons of energy.
It’s also easy to increase your pace with cycling (once you’re comfortable on your bike), which makes it easy to up your calorie-burn.
And, high-intensity cycling burns a LOT of calories.
Calories Burned Cycling
How many calories you burn while cycling depends on the usual things – your weight, your pace, resistance, and heart rate.
But even moderate cycling is a quality calorie-burner.
The average 150-pound cyclist can expect to burn 9-10 cal./min. at a moderate pace of 12 mph, or nearly 300 calories in 30 minutes of cycling.
Increase that pace by 2 mph, and the same cyclist will burn 11-12 cal./min, or an extra 30 to 60 calories over 30 minutes.
And this is all on a flat path.
Head uphill (increase your resistance), and you can add an extra 100 calories, on average, over 30 minutes.
Does cycling build muscle?
While, like many bodyweight exercises, cycling is more of a muscle toner than a builder, if you’re just getting started with cycling you can expect to see some muscle growth in your lower body from your glutes down.
If you cycle up hills, you will likely see your muscles grow even more, especially your calf muscles.
Since there is only so much resistance cycling can provide (even on hills), though, at some point growth will level off and your leg muscles will simply become more defined.
Does cycling make your legs bigger?
If you’re starting from sedentary (or from doing very little leg work), it’s likely your legs will see some growth from cycling. (Especially if you’re hitting those hills.)
So, your legs might get bigger at first.
Cycling is not a great muscle-builder, though, so muscle growth will level off pretty quickly and muscles will continue to get more toned instead.
After that, your legs might actually grow smaller due to fat loss, though leg muscles will appear more defined
What muscles does cycling work?
Cycling works the lower body muscles most of all. Pedaling is where most of the work is put in on a bike and the action of pedaling activates the:
Proper cycling posture, however, involves the entire body.
Holding onto the handlebars and maintaining your balance on a bike uses the:
- Arms (biceps, triceps and forearms)
- Upper back
How much each muscle group gets worked on a bicycle depends heavily on the type of bike and how you’re riding it.
A stationary bike doesn’t require as much balance as an upright, outdoor bike, for instance, and therefore doesn’t demand as much of the core.
A recumbent bike lets you recline, so doesn’t demand as much of the core, back, or arms.
However, a standard upright bike engages the whole body.
It just works the lower body harder.
How to Learn Cycling
Learning to cycle for fitness is as easy as learning how to ride a bike.
I know, easier said than done for adults who never learned to ride a bike when they were kids.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning to ride a bicycle for the first time.
Riding a bike is entirely about balance and is something you can only get a feel for by doing it.
If you’re interested in the many health benefits riding a bike provides, but never learned to how to do it, check out How To Learn To Ride A Bike (As An Adult) to help you get started.
Bikes for Beginners
The most essential piece of equipment you’ll need to start cycling for fitness is a bike, and the most important thing to ensure with that bike is that it’s the proper size.
An improperly sized bike is hard on your body, forcing you to stretch to reach the handlebars and pedals if it’s too large and putting increased stress on your knees if it’s too small.
Having a bike too big or too large also makes it easier for your body to get in the way of your pedaling and makes it harder to stop, which increases the risk of accidents.
Basically, the right size bike is important.
For more on bike sizing, see Getting the Bike Size That’s Right for You – What Size Bike Do I Need for My Height?
Dressing to Cycle
Aside from your bike, all you really need to get started with cycling for fitness is some sensible clothing and a safety accessory or two.
Riding a bicycle may be one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the U.S. (and the world), but it’s also a heck of a workout.
Few activities offer the same heart-pounding benefits of a good bike ride.
It is low-impact, high-endurance, and works the entire lower body, while also being so easy on the body people of most any age can do it.
If that’s not enough, cycling is also an eco-friendly form of transportation that can save you both money and time (if you combine your commute and daily workout into one).
So, when you’re searching for a form of exercise that doesn’t impose on your life, that doesn’t make you have to stop everything to do it, cycling is an ideal activity to consider adding to your workout regimen.
If you get into the groove of cycling to work or school or the grocery store, you can even make cycling your main form of cardio and only have to throw in a few strength-training exercises for a complete workout.
Need some inspiration to hit the road? Check out Inspirational Cycling Quotes.
Want more yuks with your cycling content? Check out Bike Puns To Give Cyclists The LOLs.