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Is Biking an Aerobic Exercise?

author image Rogue Parrish
An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.
Is Biking an Aerobic Exercise?
Steady cycling provides aerobic exercise. Photo Credit: TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images

Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups of the lower body repetitively and steadily for a minimum of 12 minutes. Anaerobic exercise involves explosive, intense motions that rely on stored glycogen for energy production rather than oxygen and blood glucose. Biking, a popular aerobic exercise at the recreational level, becomes a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise at the competitive level.

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Aerobic exercise, along with strength training, forms the foundation of fitness programs. Aerobic exercise helps you meet cardiovascular goals set by your doctor or trainer. You’ll want to perform it for 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week, so it needs to be something you enjoy, says the Cleveland Clinic.


Biking, indoor cycling, walking, swimming, jogging, dancing and elliptical and treadmill machines offer choices for aerobic workouts. Unlike other forms of aerobic exercise, biking has additional benefits for people who suffer from arthritis or are more than 50 pounds overweight, as it helps the heart without stressing the back and leg joints. Indoor cycling classes, stationary bikes or the purchase of appropriate lights, helmets, gloves, goggles and outerwear for road biking can allow you to ride year-round. According to New York University, 50 million Americans ride bicycles.

Expert Insight

Sprinting at the end of stages such as the Tour de France, or even recreationally up hills or into the wind, converts biking from aerobic to anaerobic exercise. If you are able to carry on a conversation while cycling with occasional stops for breath, you are in an aerobic zone; if you are huffing and puffing, you are likely exercising anaerobically. In “High-Performance Cycling,” Dutch biomechanists Jos de Koning and Knoek van Soest describe the biomechanics of cycling. Intense effort while cycling relies on the anaerobic metabolism, which burns fuel independent of your oxygen supply and generates power of up to 400 to 800 watts, but only for a maximum of 30 seconds. After this, the body needs to switch to its aerobic metabolism. Competitive cycling requires both aerobic and anaerobic endurance, with the former built up on distance rides and the latter by interval training.


Proper bike fit helps you avoid overuse injuries, particularly of the knee, if you pursue cycling as your principal aerobic exercise. At a group indoor cycling class, arrive early and ask the class instructor for help is setting the height and forward or rear position of the seat and handlebars. On a road or mountain bike, update the seat to an anatomically designed model and set the seat post so your knee is slightly bent when on a full downstroke.

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