There are many different ways in which you can incorporate a cycling workout into your routine, and this doesn’t necessarily have to be outdoors. You can buy your own indoor stationary bike to use at home, or attend a spin class with others at your local gym. Cycling can be a relaxing, easygoing activity if you ride around outdoors, or it can be made into an intense workout session depending on your abilities and needs. To achieve a higher fitness level, you do not need to cycle for hours and can instead pedal for a few minutes a day. However, what actually makes cycling a good workout?
It’s a great cardiovascular exercise
Cycling involves several different large muscle groups working together at the same time, which will increase the demand on your heart and this is what makes you feel breathless. Even though it is primarily classed as a cardio exercise, cycling can help to strengthen your core and lower body, especially if you pedal with a lot of resistance. It has been proven to improve your aerobic capacity, which is how effectively your cardiovascular system can provide oxygen to working muscles in your body. Certain types of cycling, such as HIIT (high intensity interval training), involve a short burst of exercise with a high amount of effort followed by small rest periods. This can improve your VO2 max, or how much oxygen you are able to use during exercise, as well as improve blood pressure and how sensitive your cells are to insulin.
It’s a low impact exercise
Cycling is a great alternative workout to high-impact cardio exercises, such as running and jumping. This is because it is much more gentle on your joints, tendons and ligaments, making it a better option for people who are looking for an intense workout that is easy on their body.
It strengthens your lower body and core
When you are pedalling, your glute, quad, calf and hamstring muscles are activated. You can challenge these muscles further by increasing the resistance setting on your bicycle. However, although cycling can build muscles and strength, this will only happen over a long term period and it is not as effective as resistance training if this is what you want from a workout.
Your leg muscles are not the only ones being challenged when you are pedalling, as proper cycling will also work the muscles in your back and core. You will need to engage the muscles in your torso when you are trying not to hunch over the handlebars of your bike, and you may feel these getting stronger if you stick to cycling for long enough.
It improves your posture
If you ensure that you have good form when you are cycling, it can also help to improve your posture. Good form requires you to have your spine in a neutral position, not arched or rounded, with your shoulders pulled down and back instead of hunching over. Additionally, by practising good posture, you can improve the poor posture that you may have acquired from hunching over a desk whilst at work.
It reduces your risk of disease
As with many types of exercise, cycling has been found to reduce your risk of some diseases and health conditions. Research has linked cycling to work with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death. Similarly, an earlier study found that cycling, whether for commuting or done recreationally, was associated with helping to lower the risk of type 2 Diabetes in adults.
It can boost your mood
Cycling can have many mental as well as physical benefits. For example, cycling outdoors can be better for your mood, with many studies highlighting the physiological benefits. One of these studies found that individuals who chose to commute to work via bicycle had a much lower risk of feeling stress compared to those who arrived in another way. There has also been a lot of research into the positive effects that being outdoors can have, meaning that cycling for leisure can also make you feel better mentally.
It can help you to lose weight
If you cycle often, especially if this is at a high intensity, this will assist in lowering your body fat levels. If you include sprint or strength training alongside regular cycling, this can improve your metabolism and build muscle in the short term, meaning that you can also burn calories whilst your body is resting.
It can lower your cholesterol levels
One of the many other health benefits of cycling is that it can improve your cholesterol levels, which will in turn boost your cardiovascular health and decrease your chances of suffering from a stroke or heart attack. Regardless of if you are cycling indoors or outdoors, this exercise can boost good cholesterol levels (HDL), lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower triglyceride levels.
It can help you to sleep better
According to research, moderate aerobic exercises, such as cycling, can increase the amount of slow wave sleep that you can get each night. Slow wave sleep is a stage of deep sleep in which your body and brain can rejuvenate. Additionally, exercise can help with anxiety, which is thought to be one of the main causes of insomnia amongst people, which will improve sleep. Exercise will also raise your body’s core temperature, making it work more efficiently as it will try to cool down to balance this. This will help you to cool down faster to prepare for falling asleep, in the same way that taking a warm bath would.
Overall, cycling is a relatively easy exercise to begin, as it can be done indoors or outdoors, and has numerous health benefits. It can be the ideal workout for people who are looking for more gentle exercise or are recovering from an injury (although they should consult their doctor before starting). Commuting via bicycle can be a great way to fit in a workout if you normally have a packed schedule, and it can also be a good activity with family or friends.