Cycling burns calories, improves your heart health and strengthens the muscles in your hips and legs. You'll get similar results whether you sit on recumbent or stationary trainer at the gym or you strap on a helmet and head out on a bike outdoors. Which option you choose depends on your personal preference.
Cycling outdoors is generally harder to do because you're fighting natural terrain and wind and your entire body has to work to keep you balanced. When you cycle on an indoor trainer, meanwhile, the machine keeps you stationary so you're less challenged. The extra challenges you face cycling outdoors mean you'll burn more calories, even when you're riding at a similar pace. According to NutriStrategy.com, a 155-pound person burns 422 calories cycling at a light pace outdoors for one hour and 387 calories cycling at a light pace on a stationary bike for the same amount of time.
Types of Cycling
How many calories you'll actually burn depends on how hard you actually work, regardless of whether you're cycling outdoors or on a stationary trainer. That same 155-pound person can burn anywhere from 281 calories cycling at a leisurely rate outdoors for 60 minutes to burning 844 calories racing outdoors. Your calorie burn can also vary indoors. A 155-pound person burns anywhere from 211 calories for cycling at a very light pace to 880 calories for very vigorous cycling for 60 minutes. At the end of the day, you can get an effective calorie burn both indoors and outdoors by maintaining an increased pace.
Indoor Trainers vs. Outdoor Bikes
Indoor cycling trainers work differently than regular outdoor bikes. Indoor trainers have a fly-wheel that provides resistance when you pedal. Once you gain good speed, the wheel keeps the pedals moving, even when you reduce your effort. That means your hamstrings do most of the work as they try to slow down the pedals. When you cycle outdoors, your hip flexors and quadriceps do most of the work to push the pedals and move the bike forward.
Convenience and Boredom
Unlike outdoor cycling, you can cycle indoors year-round without worrying about cold, rain or unsafe road conditions. While some people find it boring to ride stationary in the same room day after day, taking spinning classes with others can get rid of some of the boredom and scorch calories at the same time. Outdoor cycling, meanwhile, can be more than an exercise. You can cycle outdoors as a hobby or a recreational social event. You can even save a few dollars and use cycling as an inexpensive alternative to commuting to and from work.
Kevin Charles is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor with more than 14 years experience working in fitness clubs as well as his own firm: My Favourite Trainer, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has written articles on fitness and nutrition for various Canadian publications over the last 12 years.