Like it or not, indoor biking is a fitness trend that refuses to diminish. It seems like nearly everyone is guilty of flocking to a couple of classes per week or has even made the plunge and added something like a SoulCycle at-home bicycle to their home workout space. And for valid reason: Indoor biking has incredible benefits for both men and women, from your muscles to your mental well-being. (Psst, here are more workout bikes to give you an intense workout at home, and some Peleton-bike alternatives.)
As any dedicated cyclist knows, there’s much more to the sport than flashy indoor bicycles with on-demand, interactive workouts. Cycling is one of the finest forms of cardio you can engage in, particularly for the long haul. “Cycling is non-weight-bearing, so it decreases the risk of injuries due to deterioration of your joints, especially your knees,” says Robert Mazzeo, Ph.D., associate professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Knees are commonly the first joints in the body to indicate signs of aging, so it’s crucial to take care of them over your lifetime with healthy, gentle forms of cardio, such as cycling, he explains.
With that understanding, if you’re hopping on the bike for the first time, it’s a good concept to consult with your physician initially. That way, you can incorporate any specific suggestions. Once you receive the all-clear, here are a few ways you can anticipate your body and mind to benefit when you start cycling.
What to Anticipate When You Initially Hop On the Bike
The first time you begin cycling, whether at home on a fantastic recumbent bicycle or in a group workout class, can be daunting. Frequently, there are clipless pedals and numerous configurations to the seat height and handlebar depth.
As a general guideline, you want your seat to be at hip-bone height when standing next to the bike and your handlebars to be even with your seat (or slightly higher). “A common error people make is they elevate their handlebars very high and their seat really low, and that’s not going to enable them to activate their core,” says Maddy Ciccone, an ACE-certified personal trainer and master instructor at SoulCycle in Boston.
It’s customary for a novice cyclist to desire to ride as frequently, as long, and as vigorously as possible. Thanks to the emission of pleasurable endorphins during physical activity, that euphoric sensation you’re experiencing might alleviate the impact of stress and discomfort in your body. However, if you push yourself too hard, it could lead to potential injury.
Instead of going all-out, prioritize frequency initially, as advised by Matt Wilpers, a former NCAA athlete, IRONMAN-certified coach, and Peloton instructor. “I prefer to initiate my athletes with (at least) three sessions per week, lasting 30 minutes each, consistently for four to six weeks,” he suggests.
Direct Benefits of Indoor Cycling
You’ll lessen your risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A regular cycling routine is a fantastic method to decrease LDL cholesterol (the “unhealthy” type that can raise the risk of heart disease) and elevate your HDL cholesterol (the “healthy” kind). Furthermore, cycling can enhance your glucose tolerance by reducing insulin resistance, potentially reducing the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
Your posture will improve. You have probably witnessed a peloton — the collective term for a group of bicycle racers — leaning over their bikes as they race through the city and wondered if they experience back pain. The answer? Probably not. As long as your bike is correctly adjusted from the handlebars to the pedals, cycling generally maintains a neutral posture for your back, explains Wilpers. Poor posture is typically a result of stiffness — and if anything, cycling typically improves posture. “Exercising with poor posture is challenging; you won’t be able to sustain it for long,” says Wilpers. That’s why instructors devote a significant amount of time to ensure you have the correct form before you even start pedaling.
You’ll naturally begin to burn more calories. “Each time you engage in physical activity, your body composition [the ratio of fat in your body compared to muscles, bones, water, and organs] changes — gradually replacing fat with muscle,” explains Wilpers.
Muscle is a energetically lively tissue, which implies it consumes calories instead of hoarding them,” he states. On average, a half-hour cycling session can assist you incinerate anywhere between 200 and 450 calories, if not greater, contingent on your weight and velocity.
What to Anticipate After One Month of Regular Bicycle Riding
Following a month of consistent bicycling, your body has likely adjusted enough to the bike to begin progressively increasing the intensity. “Within a month, you can commence augmenting your exertion roughly 10 percent every two to three weeks,” states William Bryan, M.D., a certified orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.
Since your endurance and stamina have also most likely enhanced by this stage, that implies it’s time to shift from prioritizing frequency to duration, mentions Wilpers. He suggests attempting to extend your initial 30-minute biking sessions to 45 minutes to an hour instead.
Benefits of Indoor Cycling After One Month
You’ll be prepared to engage in cross-training, which will contribute to a better defense against injuries. “The more you demand from your body, the more the minor details begin to matter,” affirms Wilpers. Cross-training may not have a direct impact on your biking performance, but it fortifies your resistance to injuries, he notes. “When it comes to cycling, everything originates from the hips and pelvis, so ensuring good pelvic stability is crucial. Since cycling often involves movement in a static plane—forward or backward—you have to consider your abductors [the muscle group running along the lateral side of the thigh aiding leg movement and rotation at the hip joint] and adductors [the muscle group extending from the pubic bone to the femur along the inner part of the legs],” he elucidates. (Looking for a starting point? These cross-training workouts were designed to complement each other.)
You might observe a leveling off in your progress, but this also indicates that your body has become more efficient. After approximately six weeks of bicycling, experiencing a plateau is common, known as a “base” in your training by exercise physiologists. “Your body will have become more efficient, enabling you to generate more power with fewer heartbeats per minute, which means you can begin engaging in maximum heart rate/maximum effort exercises,” explains Dr. Bryan. (Here’s a guide on how to determine—and train within—your personal workout heart-rate zones.)
You’ll start noticing more defined muscles. Bicycling is inherently endurance training, engaging slow-twitch muscles, also referred to as fibers that are resistant to fatigue and focused on sustained, smaller movements.
That implies you most likely won’t significantly enhance muscle mass (unless you’re consistently riding uphill and sprinting); instead, you’ll cultivate lean, toned muscles, especially in your quadriceps and gluteus maximus, clarifies Wilpers. “This is termed training specificity. The muscle fibers in your legs that you’re enlisting that are receiving the most stimulation will considerably gain strength,” adds Mazzeo.
What to Anticipate After Several Months of Indoor Biking
Following a few months of consistently getting on the bike, you’ll likely feel like an expert. Continue doing your thing, but don’t forget to assess yourself, both physically and mentally. Stay attuned to any physiological changes you observe, and don’t hesitate to connect with your doctor if anything feels off. (Here are some typical cycling errors to keep in mind.)
And remember: You don’t have to convince yourself to saddle up every day. On certain days, you can pedal while working, with the finest under-desk bike, for something less demanding. If not, that’s perfectly fine as well. Motivation comes and goes, and it’s alright to acknowledge that, says Wilpers. What truly matters is sustaining drive, he notes. “Drive is highly consistent because you’re motivated towards accomplishing objectives,” he explains. With that in mind, engaging in various challenges, whether virtually or in real life, is helpful in maintaining that drive, says Wilpers.
Long-Term Indoor Biking Advantages
You’ll enhance your maximum oxygen uptake (or VO2 max). In other words, over time, cycling aids in your body becoming more proficient in delivering a greater amount of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. This means increased blood flow to the muscles, resulting in greater gains for your body.
You’ll begin to notice enduring mental health benefits. You probably experience a surge of euphoria after each individual cycling session, but research demonstrates that regular exercise of any kind can assist in alleviating long-term depression. It’s always crucial to prioritize your mental well-being through healthy habits like exercise. “If you can find an activity where you can mentally switch off for 45 minutes, that will have a much more profound impact on you than any cardio or fitness class can,” says Ciccone.
You can increase your progress, thanks to your augmented training load. “You’re able to handle working out frequently, for longer durations, and you’re able to recover more effectively from more intense workouts,” says Wilpers. After several months of cycling, most individuals can ramp up their routine to five to six sessions per week, he adds.
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