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There are a number of factors to consider when comparing indoor vs outdoor cycling. Either option will get your heart rate up as well as build up your overall muscular endurance

With indoor and outdoor cycling continuing to rise in popularity, you may have at least thought about adding some cycling into your health and fitness routine. Here, we will go over some of the benefits of adding cycling training sessions as well as how to choose if indoor or outdoor cycling will work best for you. 

Key Benefits of Indoor vs Outdoor Cycling

As triathlete, certified personal trainer and Garage Gym Reviews editor Amanda Capritto points out, “Whether you’re riding a bike on a mountain, on a road, or inside your house, you can see an improvement in your aerobic capacity as well as other health markers.”

coop using Bells of Steel Blitz Bike 2.0

Indoor Cycling

Some of the major benefits of an indoor bike include the convenience to complete a cycling workout in your home. You also have a controlled environment where you don’t have to worry as much about your surroundings. 

Indoor cycling is also a terrific low-impact activity for just about anyone including those recovering from injury or people who have issues such as arthritis or joint pain. With cycling, you can train at a higher intensity or do a lower-intensity training plan while using the same equipment. You also have the ability to adjust the seat and often the handles to help you fit more comfortably on the bike. 

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Outdoor Cycling

While you might not be ready to compete in the Tour De France, getting out there and enjoying the fresh air and a beautiful outdoor ride can improve your mood and overall physical well-being. A 2019 study of 100 older adults found that cycling outside actually improved certain cognitive functions as well as mental health.

Trading in your shorter drives with a bike ride can also make a positive impact on the environment. It’s also a great way to get the family outside and active! 

“Outdoor cycling like mountain biking may be more effective at increasing muscular endurance and power due to the increased and variable resistance,” Amanda says. “With the wider variety of obstacles and terrain, your body activates more muscle groups in order to simply stay on the cycle.”

If cycling by yourself doesn’t seem very motivating, there are options available for group rides with both indoor and outdoor cycling. You can find an indoor cycling class at your local gym or use apps like iFIT, Zwift, or Peloton. If you prefer a group ride outside, search in your area for groups that meet and see if there is a time and place that will work with your schedule. This also helps with the safety factor as you won’t be riding alone. 

Benefits of Indoor CyclingBenefits of Outdoor Cycling
Controlled environmentFresh air
Low-impact exerciseIn-person group rides
May be more convenientUse more muscles
An illustration showing the muscles worked during a pedaling cycle

Indoor vs Outdoor Cycling: Muscles Used

Indoor and outdoor cycling use a lot of the same muscle groups in the lower body: quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. If you are riding an outdoor bike, your body may engage more of the upper body and core muscle groups as it may require more strength and stability to navigate hills and uneven terrain. 

One study showed that cyclists actually need to ride at a higher perceived exertion in indoor settings to get the same cardiovascular benefits as they would if they were completing outdoor training. You could do some time trials on both an indoor stationary bike as well as an outdoor ride and test this theory for yourself. Competing with yourself is always a fun way to add some spark to your exercise routine. 

Both indoor and outdoor cycling are a great workout, and when used frequently in your training routine, may increase the flexibility in your hip flexors as well as grow your range of motion.

Muscles Used Indoor CyclingMuscles Used Outdoor Cycling
GlutesGlutes, quads, and hamstrings
QuadsCalves
Hamstrings Upper back and arms
CalvesCore

Which Burns More Calories?

If you’re riding a bike for weight loss, either indoor or outdoor workouts can be effective. The total of calories burned per ride will vary depending on factors that include the rider’s body weight and the level of intensity. 

According to a report from Harvard Health, a 155-pound person riding a stationary bike indoors at a moderate pace will burn 252 calories over the course of 30 minutes. That same person mountain biking will burn 306 calories over the same time period. We can chalk up the difference to the uneven terrain and corresponding physical demand that riding outdoors places on the body. 

How to Choose: Indoor vs Outdoor Cycling

Choosing between using an indoor trainer or riding outside comes down to a few key factors.

Training Goals

If you are training for a specific competition such as a triathlon, then riding a bike outside is preferable. While you can use tools like an indoor smart trainer to mimic outdoor riding, you should train the way you would compete. You may want to prepare for riding in outdoor elements like wind and heat, or participate in outdoor group rides to practice having other cyclists right next to you.

Access

Which type of cycling do you have better access to? For example, purchasing a bike for indoor training means you could potentially hit a bike workout every day if you want to, but it comes at a price. If you live in an area where outdoor cycling is potentially hazardous due to road conditions or inclement weather, then you no longer have access to riding outdoors.

Personal Preference

Some people simply don’t feel comfortable on an outdoor bike, whether it’s due to balance or the unpredictability of road riding. As with all types of exercise, it is important to choose one that you know you will do consistently. The best part of fitness is that there are a variety of options to choose from to fit your personality, lifestyle, and health and fitness goals.

Final Thoughts: Indoor vs Outdoor Cycling

Indoor and outdoor cycling both offer an abundance of physical and mental health benefits when included in your daily fitness routine. If you’re weighing your options, factor in your personal preference as well as be prepared for the pros and cons of both. 

Indoor vs Outdoor Cycling FAQs

Is outdoor cycling better than indoor?

Outdoor and indoor cycling both target similar muscle groups and provide great aerobic benefits. Each has its key benefits, so it becomes more a question of “Is outdoor cycling or indoor cycling better for you and your fitness goals?” 

Outdoor cycling may offer more intense workouts, demand greater power output and use more major muscle groups than indoor cycling. Indoor riding, alternatively, provides a controlled environment.

Is indoor or outdoor cycling harder?

Indoor cycling has been shown to be harder mentally while outdoor cycling is slightly harder physically. Each option can be as hard or as leisurely as you need it to be to meet your personal fitness goals. Indoor cycling may be slightly easier for beginners who are just getting started as they can focus more on their form and less on keeping a regular outdoor bike upright.

Does indoor cycling burn more calories than outdoor cycling?

According to a report from Harvard Health, outdoor cycling appears to burn slightly more calories.

Why is it better to cycle indoors?

Many people prefer to cycle indoors for convenience and safety. Having an indoor bike in your home offers you the ability to hop on and complete an indoor ride at any time of the day. You also can complete the ride in the safety of your own home without fear of a predator (whether that be a human or animal) following you unexpectedly. It is also a better option for low-impact cardio for your hips, knees, ankles, and joints. 

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