Cycling is a great low-impact exercise, but the weather doesn't always cooperate with your ideal workout schedule. Indoor cycling is a smart alternative to riding your bike outdoors, and it's now easier than ever, thanks to an increased number of at-home bikes and cycling apps on the market.
Here's how indoor cycling can help you lose weight and build endurance without leaving the comfort of your living room.
Why You Should Try Indoor Cycling
The best type of exercise is the type that you feel motivated to do each day. If you like cycling, then you can reap a slew of benefits that come with hopping into the saddle.
1. Indoor Cycling Can Be Good for Your Mood
A January 2016 review published in Frontiers of Psychology shows that cycling can manage levels of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which means you deal with stress and anxiety more productively. Short on time? Not a problem: December 2013 research published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine showed that just 15 minutes of riding a stationary bike can decrease cortisol levels.
2. It's Easier on Your Joints
Whether you're inside or outside, hitting the bike is a low-impact activity that's gentle on achy joints. Cycling is often used in rehab for joint-related issues since it eliminates the pounding common in other forms of exercise like running.
Through indoor cycling, you can build muscle around your joints. One March 2016 study published in the Journal of Rheumatology show that regular cycling (as well as swimming) can reduce stiffness and joint pain commonly associated with exercise.
3. It Burns Lots of Calories
Cycling is a full-body workout that can be done at any intensity, and riding for 30 minutes at more than 10 mph can burn 295 calories for a 154-pound man, according to MyPlate.
So if you're looking to lose weight, indoor cycling can help, says Todd Buckingham, PhD, an exercise physiologist with the Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation Performance Lab. "Be consistent with your biking workouts. One workout a week isn't going to make a difference in your cardiovascular health or your weight loss. Try to ride every day for at least 30 minutes each day."
4. Indoor Cycling Is Lower-Risk
A stable exercise bike can be a safer workout than a treadmill or weights since you're sitting comfortably in one place. Plus, there's no there's no traffic or weather to contend with, says Emily Booth, the education manager for cycle at Life Time fitness centers.
Biking indoors avoids cycling-related dangers from vehicle traffic or dangerous roads, making it a helpful alternative for anyone living in an area that isn't favorable for outdoor cyclists.
Read more: 11 Amazing Benefits of Biking
5. You Can Do It Wherever, Whenever
One of the most common workout excuses? "I just don't have the time." You can cycle indoors for as little or as much time as you want, in the comfort of your own home. "Stationary biking is a great alternative to outdoor cycling for many individuals due to the convenience," say Booth.
Plus, you control the speed. Want to pick up the pace with some interval training? Get after it, you speed demon.
6. It Can Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals
Cycling can be an intimidating sport to break into. If you're nervous about exercising around other people, an indoor cycling routine can help you reach your goals from the comfort and security of your own home.
And of course, it can also be social; indoor cycling classes allow you to enjoy these benefits in a team atmosphere. "If you're riding with a friend with a different fitness level than you, [stationary cycling] lets you ride together, but at your own individual pace," Booth says.
7. Indoor Cycling Builds Endurance
Just like many other forms of cardio, indoor cycling helps keep your heart healthy while strengthening your endurance. "Stationary biking is excellent for cardiovascular fitness for all of the same reasons that outdoor cycling is, with the added benefit that there is no 'coasting' on a stationary bike. You have to work continuously," says Booth.
8. It's Fully Customizable
Unlike outdoor cycling, where you're at the mercy of your local terrain, you can change the intensity of an indoor cycling ride instantly by adjusting the resistance, says Booth. The key is to add the right amount of resistance.
If you have the tension knob on your bike set to the easiest setting, it's going to be really easy to pedal — but you won't have enough resistance to help build as much muscle as you would if you were to set the tension knob higher.
How to Get Started With Indoor Cycling
Before you get riding inside, it helps to understand your gear options, from setting up your outdoor bike in the garage to splurging on a stationary bike. Choose the setup that makes the most sense for your available room, budget and workout needs.
Bike trainers are low cost and take up about the same amount of room as your bicycle does. There are two types. The first — a direct drive trainer — replaces the back wheel entirely and includes something called a "cassette" for shifting gears while you train. Direct drive trainers also provide resistance for strength training, mimicking tough hill climbs or headwinds. Brands like Tacx and Wahoo pair well with virtual cycling apps.
The second type — a friction trainer — uses fluid or magnetic resistance to make it more difficult to pedal, which gives you a better workout. Friction trainers are also more compact than direct drive trainers, and this budget-friendly option from Blackburn folds up easily in the back of your car. The most important thing if you're going to go the indoor trainer route? Safety, safety, safety.
"Make sure your bicycle is properly secured," says Parker Ramspott, an expert bike mechanic and owner of Laughing Dog Bicycles in Amherst, Massachusetts. "I've seen way too many broken bikes from unsecured trainers."
Rollers make for a low-tech indoor cycling setup, using only three metal cylinders for the bike's wheels to perch on. These require a fair amount of technique, since your bicycle isn't secured to the device in any way. "Rollers teach you how to ride a bike," says Ramspott. "Trainers are good for exercise, but rollers improve your form. It depends on what you're looking for and if you feel comfortable enough to use them."
Do they take time to master? For sure. But rollers have the potential to make you a more skilled cyclist by perfecting your pedaling stroke and balance on the bike. You'll waste less energy rocking back and forth, making you a faster and more efficient rider.
Indoor cycling machines have evolved considerably from the one languishing in your parent's garage. Today's best cycling machines mimic real riding conditions with elevation and resistance. Some also let you input routes, races and cycling challenges from around the world.
Most options can also be connected to cycling apps, which allow you keep track of your training and compete against others online. Interactive options from brands like Peloton, FlyWheel and Nordic Track, are a great place to start.
- Frontiers in Psychology: "Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review"
- BioPsychoSocial Medicine: "A clinical study of the efficacy of a single session of individual exercise for depressive patients, assessed by the change in saliva free cortisol level"
- Journal of Rheumatology: "Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis"