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This or that: Indoor or Outdoor Cycling

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Amy Graber PT, DPT

New Year’s Resolutions are right around the corner! Our team of private physical therapists hopes you incorporate one healthy lifestyle change into your goals for the new year.

One idea could be….cycling! The indoor cycling craze has been around for awhile, but is it as good as getting outdoors on the old-fashioned two-wheel bicycle? In case you got a stationary bike like a Peloton for Christmas or are thinking about kicking up your cycling goals in the new year, we asked one of our mobile physical therapists, Amy Graber PT, DPT, the differences between indoor and outdoor cycling. Is one better than the other in terms of health benefits?

This or that: Indoor or Outdoor Cycling

What are the differences between indoor and outdoor cycling?

An indoor bike or stationary bike can offer a steady aerobic workout and the rider can get a pretty consistent challenge for the majority of the ride. Since there is limited external movement allowed with a stationary bike, you are dialed into mechanics and optimal alignment more so than you would be with an outdoor ride.

An indoor bike will be a challenge for your legs in the sense that there isn’t any variation in the terrain, incline, or surface. So you’re really working the same muscles in isolation consistently. 

On an outdoor bike, you may have spurts of anaerobic activity when you are climbing or pushing speed, though there are more ebbs and flows to a natural outdoor ride, which allows some variation in muscles that are being challenged.

Which is better – indoor or outdoor cycling?

There are obvious pros to using a stationary indoor bike like no interruption from weather, less variability in training, and safety. There is also less time commitment involved with indoor cycling. If you have a stationary bike or Peloton at home, you may be more inclined to workout given that you do not need to spend any extra time commuting or getting started. If you are participating in a cycling class, you may be more motivated to push yourself with the encouragement of an instructor.

Use of an outdoor bike would be a benefit to those who have limited self-motivation. Most research points to outdoor physical exercise as more engaging and more likely to keep people coming back. It also allows for periods of rest and variability of muscles utilized with changes in riding posture, so you’re going to get more of a full body workout. Fun ideas for outdoor cycling include mountain biking, road biking, or mixed terrain — all of that variation keeps things interesting! Especially if you can enjoy nice weather and sunshine.

The exertion of the rider and the duration of the ride will determine the calories burned.

Which will burn more calories – indoor or outdoor cycling?

I beat you can guess what we are going to say — it depends! You can get an equally good workout on either indoor or outdoor cycling. The exertion of the rider and the duration of the ride will determine the calories burned.

When choosing which type of cycling is best for you to burn more calories, we suggest choosing the one that engages you the most! If you find it more invigorating to spend time outside – opt for outdoor cycling! If you can get in the zone in a class or at home – start your engine on your stationary bike!

The best type of exercise is the one that you enjoy.

Ready to get started with your cycling goals?

Need recommendations before starting a new exercise routine this year? Thinking about incorporating cycling into your new year’s resolutions? Need mobile physical therapy in Scottsdale? Contact us at Fit Family Physical Therapy for a free physical therapy consultation phone call. We can address your concerns and help you determine an appropriate exercise plan or address any pain prior to starting a new cycling routine. Skip the line with physician and insurance wait times, talk to us, and start your path to pain- and symptom-free activity today!

You can also check out our exercise library on YouTube! As always, if you’re unsure about your ability to perform any of these exercises, reach out to us or a healthcare provider first.


About the Author
Amy Graber PT, DPT

Amy Graber PT, DPT has practiced physical therapy in a variety of settings. She has worked specifically with the pediatric population, assisting infants and young children reach developmental milestones, or rehabilitating young athletes. Amy has also worked extensively with adult patients and finds equal joy in helping adults reduce disability and reach their movement potential. She has specific experience with orthopedics, gait & balance training, and geriatrics.

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