Cycle Your Way to a Better Body Image

Exercise Can Be a Great Way to Improve Your Self-Esteem

Woman Taking a Spin Class
Christopher Futcher/Getty Images

Whether your goal with indoor cycling is to slim down and lose weight, get stronger, train for an event or sweat out your stress, you can gain one extra bonus without any additional effort: an improvement in your body image.

Simply put, your body image is the mental representation you have of your body; it reflects the attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions you have about your body and its shape and size.

It also reflects how comfortable you feel in it. It’s normal to like certain parts of yourself and not others. But having a generally poor body image can have strong ripple effects on your overall well-being, your state of mind and your behavior. It can be a good idea to take steps to improve your body image, whenever possible.

It can be easy to do this with indoor cycling, among other forms of aerobic exercise. After all, numerous studies have found that when people engage in regular aerobic exercise for a significant period of time, they experience improvements in their body image. Research has even found that women who exercise during pregnancy respond more favorably to physiological changes in their bodies than women who are sedentary during the nine-month stint.

Body Image and Science

When it comes to boosting body satisfaction when you’re not pregnant, aerobic exercise can trump resistance training.

In a 2014 study involving 46 young women with underlying body image issues, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, found that when the women did aerobic exercise three times per week for eight weeks, they reported greater improvements in their evaluations of their appearance and a more substantial drop in social physique anxiety than those who did strength-training three times per week.

Additionally, a 2012 study from the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Canada found that when 30 overweight adolescents rode a stationary bicycle while listening to music for an hour at a time, twice a week, for 10 weeks, they made significant improvements in their body image as well as their perceived academic and social competence. As far as their body image improvements went, they experienced a boost in their appearance esteem, weight esteem and overall sense of their physical appearance, even if they did not lose any weight. 

How Cycling Improves Your Self-Esteem

There are many different ways through which aerobic exercise, especially cycling, can improve your body image. For one thing, indoor cycling is a powerful mood-booster thanks to the release of endorphins and other feel-good brain chemicals. It can also be an incredible way to enhance your sense of self-efficacy. You might find yourself leaving the gym with extra confidence after a tough class. Indeed, as you gain aerobic fitness, stamina and muscle strength, you may shift from a mindset that criticizes your body to one that views it as a generator of power and strength.

But you don't have to wait for that to happen naturally. You can take a variety of steps to nudge the effects in the direction of greater body appreciation. Here’s how:

  • Focus on what your body can do. Instead of becoming preoccupied with how it looks, which is incredibly easy to do in our youth and beauty-obsessed culture, make a concerted effort to appreciate your body as an instrument of strength and power right now. Tune into how your muscles feel as they push the pedals and  how your lungs and heart feel as you exert yourself. Then, tune into the physical changes you experience as you gain strength, speed, stamina and power in your pedal strokes when you engage in regular indoor cycling sessions.
  • Check out your muscles. With regular indoor cycling, you’re bound to develop curves in certain places as you develop greater muscle strength in your calves, the fronts and backs of your thighs, your triceps and your glutes. Don't hesitate to look at them and appreciate them. Be proud of this muscle definition—it’s a badge of fitness and strength!
  • Give yourself a break. Some days, you just don’t have what it takes: It’s true for indoor cycling participants and instructors alike. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep the night before or you’re just plain tired that day. The underlying reason you’re not at your peak performance doesn’t matter, as long as it's just an occasional funk. If it's a one-off, simply shrug it off and cut yourself some slack for not being in top form and give your body points for doing the workout anyway.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others. It’s a losing proposition, any way you slice it. Compare yourself to a triathlete in your cycling class, and you’re going to feel as though you don’t measure up. Compare yourself to an out-of-shape newbie, and you might feel briefly superior before guilt sets in. So stop playing the comparison game! Instead, think about what you can do now compared to what you could do when you first started indoor cycling. Appreciate the difference!
  • Embrace an empowering mantra. The mind is a powerful tool and having a few well-chosen words—a mantra!—at your disposal can inspire you to persevere or kick up your effort a few notches when fatigue sets in and feel a sense of pride in what your body accomplishes. Not only that, but continuously say to yourself “I’m tough; I’m strong!” or “I’m a force!” or “I’m unstoppable!”—and you’ll come to believe it and view your body as strong, capable and awesome.
  • Nurture your body. After an intense indoor cycling session, treat your body to an extra set of feel-good stretches, a date with a foam roller to ease muscle soreness or a massage or luxurious soak in a hot tub. Slather on a decadent moisturizer in a scent you enjoy. Relax and bask in what you've achieved. 

Remember, your body is an amazing gift—learning how to be grateful for what it can do, both in and out of the cycling studio, can help you take pride of ownership in it. Cultivating body gratitude can also inspire you to work harder, perform better and venture beyond your comfort zone while feeling a strong sense of pride and contentment.


Khodamoradpoor, M., et al. “The Effect of aerobic exercise and resistance training on women’s body image” in Archives of Applied Science Research, 2012, 4(6): 2345-2349. 

Martin Ginis, KA, et al. “The effects of aerobic- versus strength-training on body image among young women with pre-existing body image concerns” in Body Image, June 2014; 11(3): 219-27.

Goldfield, GS, et al. “The Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Psychosocial Functioning of Adolescents Who Are Overweight or Obese” in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, November/December 2012; 37(10): 1136-1147.

Continue Reading