Surprising Body Benefits from Indoor Cycling

Three more good reasons to get back in the saddle . . .


You know that indoor cycling is a kick-ass sweat-fest that can torch loads of calories, and you know it’s a great workout for your cardiovascular health and fitness. But if you’re an indoor cycling junkie, you may feel guilty that it doesn’t count as a strength-training workout (to boost your muscle mass) or as a form of weight-bearing exercise (to protect your bones). Well, go ahead and kick that guilt to the curb, because I’ve got news for you: It counts for more than you think!

Here are three eye-opening ways indoor cycling is fab for your bod:

Building Muscle Strength It doesn’t rival weight workouts but indoor cycling can help you build muscle strength. In a 2010 study at the University of Palermo in Italy, researchers found that when sedentary, overweight women did three sessions of indoor cycling per week for 12 weeks, they experienced a 2.6 percent increase in their lean muscle mass and a 5 percent decrease in body fat. Similarly, a 2015 study from Taiwan found that when people with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes participated in a 12-week program of stationary cycling, they gained significant muscle strength in their lower bodies.

            In particular, indoor cycling can boost muscle strength if you’re fairly new to resistance training and on the lower end of the spectrum for muscular fitness, says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.

“We’re talking about a continuum—the [strength-building] effects are less impressive if you’re highly trained.” Still, if you want a form of cardio exercise that offers some strength-building benefits, your best bets are indoor cycling or stairclimbing with resistance, Bryant says. Just be careful with the resistance load: If you’re pedaling at a low cadence with high resistance, this increases the shearing forces on the knees, Bryant says, which could lead to knee injury.

Boosting Balance It may seem hard to imagine how riding a stationary bicycle could enhance your balance, given that balance isn’t even required for the activity. But research has found that it can. In a study at the University of Findlay in Ohio, researchers had a group of women between the ages of 40 and 60 undergo three different balance tests before doing a four-week interval training regimen on a stationary bike three times per week; after four weeks, the women performed significantly better on the balance tests than they did before the study began. Similarly, research from Brazil found that a 12-week indoor cycling program improved balance (by 60 percent) and muscle endurance (by 24 percent) in older adults.

Protecting Your Bone Mass Competitive road cyclists have been found to have lower-than-average bone mineral density, perhaps because it’s a non-weight-bearing activity that puts little mechanical load on the bones. This is one reason why cross-training (in the form of walking, running, or weight-lifting) is critical for cyclists.

But here’s a surprise: Mountain biking and indoor cycling rides that simulate hill-climbing may actually protect your bones. In fact, a study at the University of Utah found that mountain cyclists have a significantly higher bone mineral density in their lumbar spines and thighs than endurance road cyclists or a control group.

           What’s more, a 2009 study from the U.K. found that sprint cyclists had greater bone mineral density in their lower legs than endurance cyclists or controls did. “If the goal is to optimize and promote bone mass, out-of-the-saddle pedaling against resistance [in indoor cycling] can bring about bone remodeling,” Bryant says. “Even pedaling against resistance in the saddle will provide some stimulus toward bone development when the muscles contract.”

            So don’t write off indoor cycling as doing nothing for your bones, muscle mass or strength, or balance. On the contrary, it can boost your benefits in each of these areas. So climb on that bike and ride on!

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