Cycling can be more than a fun childhood pastime or an eco-friendly way to run errands. In fact, there are tons of benefits of cycling that may just inspire you to add it to your workout routine.
One big perk of riding? Cycling is a really versatile form of exercise that can be scaled to different fitness levels, lifestyles, and goals. You can, for example, cycle indoors on a stationary bike, either in a group class or solo in your own home. Or you can pedal outside on a moving bike. You can go all-out for an intense Tabata session, or you can pull back, pedal easy, and let the great outdoors take over as the star of the show.
However you choose to ride, know that you’ll be doing your body—and your mind—some serious good.
Curious about all that bikes have to offer? Read on for everything you need to know on the benefits of cycling, plus expert tips for beginners on how to start riding.
What kind of exercise is cycling?
If you’re looking to add cycling into your routine, you may be wondering what type of exercise it is considered. The answer: Cardio. Stellar cardio.
Cycling is a “really, really great cardiovascular exercise,” Nikki Pebbles, NYC-based certified personal trainer and certified Schwinn cycling instructor, tells SELF. That’s because it involves multiple large muscle groups working together simultaneously, which increases the demand on your heart and thus makes you breathless.
While cycling is primarily cardio exercise, it can also help strengthen your core and lower body, especially if you pedal with lots of resistance. In that sense, cycling can be a “hybrid” of cardio and strength work, Natalie Qayed, NASM-certified personal trainer and owner/master instructor at Cycle Haus Nashville, tells SELF.
That said, cycling isn’t the most effective way to build strength, so if that’s a goal of yours, you should also pencil in dedicated weight training sessions off the bike.
What’s the difference between indoor and outdoor cycling?
Besides the location, of course? Both indoor and outdoor cycling offer a host of physical and mental benefits (which we’ll get into in just a minute). But there are some pretty big differences between the two. If you’re new to riding, indoor cycling may be a better way to get started on the bike, says Pebbles.
Indoor cycling tends to be less intimidating than outdoor cycling since there are fewer elements to contend with. On a stationary indoor bike, you don’t have to worry about weather, traffic, or potholes in the road, says Pebbles. Instead, you can focus your full attention on maintaining good form and giving 100% effort.
Another plus of indoor cycling is that it gives you more control over exactly how hard your workout is. On a stationary bike, you can increase or decrease the resistance at any time (usually with a quick turn of the resistance knob), whereas on a moving bike, you are at the mercy of the surrounding terrain. Also, on a stationary bike, you can incorporate light weights and choreographed dance moves—popular elements in many group cycling classes that may make the workout feel more fun. (Fair warning though: Some experts, including Pebbles, don’t recommend combining cycling and upper-body strength moves—here’s why.)
Of course, there are some advantages to outdoor cycling. A big one is that you can get fresh air, sunlight, and nature, all of which make you feel fantastic. And it can also function as transportation, so you can cross off your workout and your commute at the same time. Still, outdoor cycling, especially if you’re pedaling along a busy road, is inherently riskier and oftentimes doesn’t come with the specialized instruction of an indoor cycling class. That doesn’t mean to avoid it, though! If you’re looking to get into outdoor riding, try finding a cycling group in your area so that you can learn from more experienced riders. Check out USA Cycling’s club search tool to learn about groups near you.