Is cycling a good workout? Your need-to-knows, according to the experts

In partnership with SKODA

Cycling has exploded in popularity over recent years and the “bike boom” during the Covid-19 lockdown certainly helped.

According to government statistics, more people are cycling than ever. During the pandemic, 200% more people started cycling at weekends and 100% more people did the same during the week.

But it wasn’t just about cycling outdoors – far from it. As well as the hordes of people dusting off their bikes and getting some fresh air, the nation also saw an explosion in the popularity of indoor cycling. If you tried getting your hands on a spin bike, Peloton or Wattbike during the pandemic and were added to a lengthy waiting list, you’ll know what we mean.  

Whether you’re a fair-weather cyclist, commuter or hardcore fan of zooming about on two wheels, there are many benefits – mental and physical – to be had from getting on your bike. Don’t just take our word for it though. Read on for the myriad reasons that cycling is a good workout according to the experts.

6 cycling benefits that prove it’s a great workout

1. It keeps your heart and lungs healthy

“Cycling is mainly an aerobic activity, which means it works your lungs and heart,” explains Helen O’Leary, a physiotherapist and director of Complete Pilates

Plus, aerobic exercise like cycling is also a great way to improve your cardiovascular health: in fact, riding a bike regularly can increase your cardio health by three to seven per cent, shares George Caines, head of education at Wattbike

Not to mention the fact that cycling for just thirty minutes each day has been found to reduce the risk of several other conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease, he says.

“Plus, when cycling, your heart, lungs and blood vessels all work together at a level that can be completed for long durations of time,” explains Dr Jinger Gottschall, director of applied research at Wahoo Fitness. And this is a benefit, because? Well, completing exercise at this intensity helps to reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke and high blood pressure, she explains.

A woman on a spin bike working out if cycling is a good workout?

2. It’s a low impact exercise

If you’re coming back from injury or getting back into fitness after a break, then cycling is a perfect option. “Cycling puts a lot less stress on the tendons and joints than running,” explains Caines. 

O’Leary agrees, saying that the mixture of muscle strengthening and low impact on the joints makes it a great activity for those with stiff joints or arthritis. “The resistance on the peddles will help to strengthen your leg muscles and further protect your joints.”

“The cyclic movement also increases the movement of the fluid in your joint to help reduce the stiffness,” she explains.

3. It can improve your mental health

By now, most of you are aware of the positive link between exercise and mental health – those handy endorphins can really make a difference to your wellbeing.

“Regular exercise, particularly aerobic activities, have been found to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress,” shares Dr Gottschall. If you’re getting outside on your bike, then the benefits are even greater, she says. Whether you use your bike to commute or for more targeted training, getting outdoors, spinning your legs and taking in big lungfuls of air can help emotional wellbeing, say the experts. 

As well as helping improve your mental health, cycling can also aid brain power, explains O’Leary. “There’s a lot of research which highlights the benefit of being outside and, in turn, how it can help to reduce stress and anxiety. The fresh air can also help you to sleep better and consequently improves your mood and concentration.”

Cropped shot of a young woman cycling in the mountains

4. It conditions and tones leg and hip muscles

Not only is cycling good for your heart and lungs, it’s great for conditioning and toning your leg and hip muscles, too. In fact, it works some of the largest muscles in the body, including the muscles surrounding your hip (gluteal) and thigh (quadriceps, hamstrings), explains Dr Gottschall. 

Dr Gottschall – a sports scientist who has coached both recreational and professional running and triathlon endurance athletes for the last 25 years – offers this advice to make your cycling workout hit all the notes. “Try and cycle across varying terrain (level and hills) as well as varying speeds (quick and cruise),” he advises. “That way, you’ll activate multiple different types of fibres and make everyday activities easier.”

5. It’s a good way to socialise

“Participating in any sport can be great for its social benefits and cycling is no different,” highlights Caines.

As someone who regularly cycles with various friends and groups, I couldn’t agree more. Whether you choose to gather a few mates together for a pootle to your nearest park, join a cycling club for the company on weekend rides or train for a race or sportive, there are so many opportunities to make getting on your bike a social activity, too. 

Even indoor cycling offers the chance to catch up with friends and family while spinning your legs. Platforms such as Zwift and Peloton have functions that enable you to organise virtual meet-ups, while apps such as Discord allow you to chat as you sweat it out.

Young female athlete having exercising class on sports training in a health club.

6. It helps with coordination and balance

Most of you can remember that first feeling of getting on a bike and worrying about falling off, right? So it likely won’t come as a huge surprise that cycling boosts your balance and coordination, too. 

“Cycling requires core stability, limb coordination and balance to maintain your position on two wheels,” explains Dr Gottschall. O’Leary agrees, highlighting the benefits cycling can have for improving balance, posture and coordination, as well as being a great activity to help with weight management.

This article was brought to you in partnership with SKODA

Reading now

Popular Life stories