I didn’t really consider all the benefits of cycling and spinning until this year. That’s because up until quite recently, I was a total running snob. At my peak in 2013, I was running over 40 km a week. I remember one warm May day that year, I ran a half-marathon in the morning and then spent all afternoon gardening. I wasn’t even sore the next day.
But those glorious days are long gone. A couple months later, a nagging pain in my hip cropped up that wouldn’t quit with stretching or rest. It’s a chronic issue I’m still dealing with today and has limited how much high impact exercise I can do.
But back then, running was my only form of exercise. Resistance training scared me and I felt like any other form of cardio wasn’t worth my time. So not being able to run was a pretty big blow, and I went through a few years of being relatively sedentary as a result. (And gained 20 pounds in the process! 🙁 )
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Then towards the end of last year, I discovered the power of resistance HIIT through a program called Bodyboss. But HIIT alone wasn’t enough: I still needed to figure out some kind of cardio to do on my days in between HIIT sessions. I experimented with the elliptical, the Stairmaster, and rowing machine before I reluctantly tried the stationary bike.
It wasn’t long before I was hooked! Combined with the HIIT, I lost the excess weight and got into the best shape of my life!
Now, indoor cycling – aka spinning – is still my cardio exercise of choice. (I even invested in a spin bike so I can get my cardio in at home!)
Low impact aerobic exercise
Fact: low impact does not equal low effectiveness. Yet, this was a myth that I believed for a long time! The truth is, I only turned to cycling because everything else made me hurt, including the elliptical which still seems to aggravate my hip. It’s the only form of cardio that I can do 3 times a week and not experience any repercussions. As an extremely injury prone person, that’s easily one of the biggest benefits of cycling for me.
High impact cardio like running may burn more calories in less time, but that’s not going to help you if you blow out a knee and need to take two months off, right?
Compliments resistance HIIT beautifully
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you already know I’m a huge HIIT advocate and I do 2-3 resistance HIIT sessions a week. Cycling is the perfect type of lower impact exercise to do in between HIIT workouts. I also found it has made my some of my HIIT sessions easier, specifically workouts that target legs and glutes. I used to really struggle with good form on squats and I think the muscle conditioning through cycling has really helped me perform leg exercises better.
Opportunities to multitask
Sure, you can multitask with other forms of cardio, but there’s a bigger variety of ways to multitask when you cycle indoors. In addition to listening to podcasts or audiobooks while cycling, I can also read, check my email, text, or even take notes while I’m cycling.
But, you may ask, can’t multitasking be distracting and affect your performance? Nope! At least, not according to this study that found that multitasking cyclists actually performed better than when they were solely focused on the exercise.
(Check out this article for more effective ways to multitask and get smarter while you exercise!)
Impressive calorie burn
As far as calories burned per minute, it’s tough to beat running. But how many calories does spinning burn?
I was surprised to learn that it’s quite comparable. In 30 minutes of running at 6 mph, I usually burn around 300 calories.
30 minutes on the bike nets me around 250. As a result, my cardio sessions are usually around 40 minutes just so I can pass that 300 mark that I’m used to, but that’s not bad to say I’m technically sitting the whole time.
(Keep in mind calorie burn is relative to your weight, the less you weigh, the fewer calories you burn and vice versa)
What’s really interesting is that I burn considerably more calories on the bike than I do on full-body cardio equipment, like the elliptical. For some reason, I’m able to push myself harder on the bike.
Lower body muscle toning
One of the reasons I was so hesitant to try cycling was because it wasn’t what I considered a full body workout. And while it’s true that running and the elliptical makes more use of your upper body, cycling is still proven to help burn fat from all over your body, including the midsection.
More importantly, cycling actually helps tone lower body muscles, particularly in the quads and glutes. I have noticed significant gains in my legs – specifically my quads – after cycling regularly for five months.
Like running, cycling is an aerobic exercise that you can do inside or outside. The difference is, once you build endurance on the bicycle, you can actually… go places! (Sure, you can go places running too but it takes at least twice as long to get there!)
I have yet to do this myself but getting a good outdoor bike is on my to-do list. Cycling outside and cycling to work are great ways to get out in nature and save a few bucks on gas. (not to mention it’s better for the environment!)
Amid the physical benefits of cycling is the opportunity to get social with cycling, regardless of whether it’s indoor or outdoors. Just about every gym features spin classes. And every weekend during the summer, I see gaggles of cyclists everywhere I go!
Socializing exercise in this way helps to make it more fun, and offers some extra accountability if you have others who are expecting you to show up!
Other benefits of cycling
Among the previous benefits of cycling that are unique from other forms of cardio, it also reaps all the other rewards of aerobic exercise, like increased heart health, improved cognitive function, better immune system, and better quality sleep.
If you’re just beginning your fitness journey and looking for great aerobic exercise, cycling might be the perfect place to start!
What’s your favorite form of cardio? Let me know in the comments!