Training Tips

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cycling – Is One Better?

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cycling – Is One Better?

Cycling, whether you do it outside going from point A to point B or ride a stationary bike indoors, is a great cardiovascular activity. Riding a bike is easy on the joints, improves fitness, builds muscle, and promotes weight loss and maintenance. 

So, does it matter if you cycle indoors or out? There are several advantages and disadvantages to each type of cycling. In many cases, it comes down to personal preference. Any type of cycling is better than no activity at all, so encourage your clients in whichever activity they prefer. 

The Benefits of Cycling

Before getting into the details about which is better, consider all the benefits of any type of cycling. Your clients need regular cardio workouts for optimal health and to meet fitness and weight goals. There are a lot of different ways to do cardio, but cycling has some benefits that make it an ideal choice for many.

Cycling is Easy on the Joints

A lot of cardio exercises, like running or aerobics-style classes, are tough on the joints. Weight-bearing workouts can strengthen the joints to some extent. But for anyone with injured, painful, or arthritic joints, this kind of cardio is a no-go zone. 

Cycling, on the other hand, is gentle on the joints. You put your weight on bones in the pelvis, not the hip, knee, ankle, and foot joints. On a bike you can improve range of motion in stiff joints and get exercise with less pain. For clients who are carrying significant extra weight, cycling is a gentle way to get started on shedding pounds. 

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cycling – Both Build Muscle

Both types of cycling improve cardiovascular fitness and help build muscle. The downstroke on a bike works the glutes, quads, and calves. The upstroke uses the hip flexors and hamstrings, especially on bikes with clips or straps to keep the feet locked in place. To a lesser extent, you’ll also work your core and shoulder muscles when cycling. 

Cycling Burns Calories

Depending on the intensity and speed of the ride, a 155-pound person can burn between 260 and 614 calories per half-hour when cycling (1). This makes it a great activity for weight loss and weight maintenance, with plenty of room for variation. Because you can burn so much in just 30-minutes of intense cycling, this is also an efficient calorie-burning activity. 

If your clients aren’t into cycling, there are other cardio options you can suggest. For those who really drag their feet on any type of cardio workout, give them a lot of choices for variation and to make this important component of exercise more appealing. 

Indoor Cycling Pros and Cons

Spin classes are popular at most gyms. Many people also enjoy using stationary bikes indoors on their own time and at their own pace. There are some great benefits of cycling this way but also some downsides. 

Benefits of Staying Inside to Cycle

Any cycling is better than none, so if you have clients who want to stay inside, encourage it. Several pros of indoor cycling include: 

  • Indoor cycling is often more comfortable than being outside, thanks to climate control. You’ll avoid things like sunburn and windburn. 
  • You can watch television or streaming services while cycling indoors, and that can be motivating for many people. You may stay on the bike longer if you can get into a good program. And, listening to music or podcasts while cycling outside isn’t recommended for safety reasons.
  • Cycling on a stationary bike is generally very safe. Bar forgetting your feet are strapped in and falling off as a result, it’s hard to get hurt on a stationary bike. 
  • High-intensity interval training is easy to do on an indoor bike, especially those with programmed workouts already on them. 
  • Group cycling classes, like spinning, are fun and motivating for many people. If you do it with friends, you have built-in accountability. 
  • At home, you can cycle in private and with fewer distractions than in a gym or outside. 

The Downside to Indoor Cycling Workouts

There are also some drawbacks to indoor cycling. Some of these come down to personal preference, but they’re also typical complaints: 

  • Cycling indoors can be boring. The scenery never changes and there are no fun, challenging terrains. 
  • Some people find spinning classes to be too intense. Some even find the classes too intimidating to even get started. 
  • It’s up to the individual to vary the intensity and tension on a cycling workout. If you don’t push yourself, the workout can be too easy. 
  • Classes cost money, including gym fees. 
  • An indoor stationary bike for the home can also be expensive. 
  • You don’t get to enjoy the variety, nature, fresh air, and natural terrain of an outdoor ride. 

If your client needs advice on what kind of indoor bike to use, do you have the answer? Make sure you have the right information on recumbent and upright bikes so you can provide an appropriate suggestion. 

Outdoor Cycling Pros and Cons

Perhaps the biggest barrier to cycling outdoors is the cost of buying a bike. However, there are ways to get a bike at the right price and many reasons to consider getting outside to ride at least occasionally. 

The Advantages of Heading Outside to Cycle

For weekend warriors who love to cycle, there is no substitute for getting outside, hitting the trails or the roads on a bike. Here are the best reasons to consider cycling for real: 

  • You get to go somewhere. Indoor cycling can get old fast, but when cycling outside you can change up the route and explore new places. It’s hard to get bored when biking outside, and this, in turn, can be motivating.
  • Get things done when cycling. Outdoor biking allows you to be efficient with working out and chores. If you have errands to run, get a basket for your bike and ride to do them instead of driving. 
  • Exercising outdoors provides a mental health boost. Studies show that just five minutes of outdoor activity provides benefits, including reduced tension, stress, depression, and anger. Being in nature also improves mood and self-esteem. Bonus points, or even more significant benefits, for cycling near water (2).
  • You can push yourself more with natural terrain when cycling outdoors. If you choose a route with hills, you’ll have no choice but to increase the intensity. For this reason, outdoor cycling generally burns more calories than indoor stationary cycling (1).
  • Outdoor cycling can be a solitary, reflective activity but also a social gathering. Cycling in a group is fun and motivating, especially if you go out for breakfast or a beer after the ride. 

The Cons of Outdoor Cycling

Again, one of the most important disadvantages of cycling outdoors is that you need a bike, which can be expensive. A gym membership and the cost of spinning classes may seem more reasonable for many people, especially since it comes with access to weights and other equipment. There are a few other downsides to biking outdoors: 

  • The weather may get in the way of cycling outside. Especially if you live somewhere with harsh winters, there may be long stretches of time when you just can’t get outside on a bike. 
  • During hot summer days, there are risks of sunburn, dehydration, and heatstroke, factors that can be eliminated or controlled better indoors. 
  • Cycling outdoors comes with some safety risks. With any type of cycling, you may fall off the bike, get scraped up, or even break a bone. On roads, cars can be a real danger, even a fatal one. 
  • Paved, dedicated bike trails are much safer than cycling on the road, but not everyone has easy access to them. 
  • Mountain biking will protect you from cars and provides some challenging terrain, but it also comes with greater risks of more catastrophic falls. 

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cycling – Should You Be Doing Both?

There isn’t really a right or wrong answer to which type of cycling is better. There are many factors to consider, and the right choice is different for everyone. For instance, maybe you have a client who is interested in cycling but has no access to safe trails. Indoor cycling is a better choice. Another client may struggle to stay motivated on a stationary bike but is happy to get out on challenging trails a few times per week. 

If you have clients who enjoy cycling, help them weigh their own pros and cons. Consider also the fact that it may make sense to use a combination of indoor and outdoor cycling. If it’s a long drive to trails, maybe they can only bike outdoors once per week. On other days, they can keep up with their workouts at the gym. 

Cycling both indoors and out is a great fitness activity. No matter how they do it, your clients will get major benefits from adding cycling to their regular workout routines. 

Learn everything you need to know to guide clients, to help them choose the best workouts, and to help them meet their goals. Check out the ISSA’s self-guided study program for becoming a certified personal trainer.

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References

  1. Harvard Medical School. Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, August 13). Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People with Three Different Weights. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities
  2. Barton, J. and Pretty, J. (2010, March 25). What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? Environ. Sci. Technol. 44, 3947-55. Retrieved from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es903183r

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