Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise we can do. Along with running and swimming, cycling is placed in the category of the most effective aerobic exercises. As the Styrkr endurance cycling team knows, not only are there physical benefits but also a huge range of other positive aspects to cycling.
In this article, we take a look at what cycling does to the body and also at the multitude of benefits biking has as a whole.
The physical benefits of cycling
Let’s start by checking out some of the physical benefits of cycling and how your body changes as you get out on your bike more and more.
So, what does cycling do to the body? Here are our top 10 physical benefits of cycling:
The obvious place to start. Pedalling uses several key muscles and ligaments in the leg. With a single pedal stroke, you will be calling into action your shin muscles, calf muscles, quadricep muscles (front thigh), hamstring and your glutes (bum). It goes without saying that if you cycle regularly you will see and feel a difference in your legs. If you get the right level of protein in your diet and mix-up low and high-intensity bike rides or gym-bike workouts, these muscles will get stronger and stronger, recover quicker (less sore post-cycle) and start toning up. In turn, as these muscles are connected to other parts of the leg, you will see improvements in other areas such as joint mobility (ankles, knees and hips) and strengthening and protection of these joints.
Torso & shoulders
Cycling will help strengthen muscles in the upper body, shoulders and arms. This is because of the posture you have while cycling. Undoubtedly, it is the leg muscles that are working hardest, but plenty of muscles in the upper-body are also needed for balance, turning and overall control of the bike. You’ll workout your back muscles a lot as your posture changes, strengthening your lower and upper back significantly. The deltoids (shoulder muscles) will be needed to control the handlebars and to almost pull the bike up hills and climbs. Furthermore, if you have stronger, tighter abdominals, this can help to relieve stress on the lower back as you cycle and also improve leg speed and strength, increasing your pedalling power.
Control of the bike comes almost entirely from the arms. On many roads and trails, there are plenty of bumps and obstacles to be navigated and your biceps, triceps and forearm muscles will take the most burden and be strengthened as a consequence.
As mentioned earlier in number 1 on this list, your leg muscles will get increasingly stronger which will lead to the strengthening and increased mobility of your joints. Your ankles, knees and hips will all benefit from cycling as the muscles around them become stronger.
Cycling is an aerobic exercise. Just like running and swimming, cycling will get your blood pumping and your heart rate right up. As a result, regular cycling improves blood circulation and cardiovascular strength. This has a range of overall benefits, including the dramatic reduction of ever having cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, as well as lowering blood fat levels.
Just as with the heart, cycling will stimulate your respiration rate to much higher levels as the body needs more oxygen to those muscles working hard. Regular cycling (as well as running and swimming), will actually increase your lung capacity over time and greatly improve lung health. As a consequence, this will allow you to keep going further and further.
As you continue to cycle and workout, your stamina and endurance levels increase. This leads to having more energy in other areas of life such as at work and home. The Styrkr team are an energetic and enthusiastic bunch when they’re in the office, I can assure you.
Even modest cycling will improve your immunity levels, but those of us who go a bit harder and longer will receive a huge boost to the immunity system. This is because as we exercise more, we are improving our blood circulation and increasing it too, which means more white blood cells (our body’s defence system) are pushed and moved around the body quicker and in greater numbers. Cycling in winter is a great thing to do.
Balance & coordination
You only need to look at a small child learning to ride a bike to understand how cycling improves balance and coordination. As we get older and take on more challenging bike rides such as endurance events across mountains and deserts, or through dense forests, your balance and hand-eye coordination is tested more and more and is improved.
As with all aerobic exercises, taking regular exercise and mixing up low and high intensity workouts will lead to weight loss. However, it is important what you eat too. Cycling is great for weight loss if you cycle regularly and make sure you’re eating a balanced diet.
Is cycling good for strength?
Yes. As you continue to cycle you will be working out all of the areas mentioned above in our list. This will certainly lead to increased strength. It is important to say that a good nutritional plan will help significantly to make your muscles stronger and reduce recovery time. If you feed your body the right fuel, you’ll see radical changes.
The non-physical benefits of cycling
There are plenty of non-physical benefits of cycling too. After talking with some of the Styrkr team we’ve made a short list of the positive aspects of cycling on the non-physical side of things.
Mental wellbeing & head space
A lot is going on around us at the moment, not all of it as we would like. We’ve been through a lot recently. Add that to the daily obligations we all have, it can be a bit too much. Cycling offers a quality way to remove yourself from the daily grind. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it has a huge range of benefits for your overall health, both physical and mental.
Contact with nature
If you can, cycle in natural places where the urban sprawl cannot be seen or heard. Cycling on forest, hill or mountain trails, or even country roads where you are surrounded by green open spaces, the sounds of nature and the elements will give a huge boost to your morale and wellbeing. Indeed, many endurance cyclists remark that this is one of the best aspects of the sport and do find a spiritual positivity through cycling in nature.
Exercising is known for its stress relief properties. The science is that as we exercise harder, and put our body under stress, it produces endorphins (aka the happy chemical) in greater numbers. A good workout makes you feel good and reduces stress. Cycling is not only a good workout, but it is also fun anyway, so you’re doubling up on those stresses or anxieties that you might have.
Environment & pollution
Cycling basically has zero impact on the environment. For those of us who care about the planet, we know that we are doing no harm to it as we cycle. If you can, commuting to work by bicycle has so many advantages, including:
- It’s often quicker
- There’s no traffic or packed trains to deal with
- It's better for you
- It doesn’t damage the planet
- It’s free
As we keep cycling, we get stronger, our stamina and endurance levels increase giving us more energy. Feeling strong and energetic gives us confidence to take on challenges that perhaps we wouldn’t have done before. Completing an endurance cycling race, or hitting a weight-oriented objective, or beating a personal best time, feeds the mind with positivity which makes us more confident people out there in the world.
Cycle to work schemes
These days there are a range of bike to work schemes where the organisation or government basically pays for your bike and then you pay back the money in instalments. But moreover, the cost of the bike and all related equipment is tax free and deducted from your monthly salary before the tax-man takes his bite. This means you can actually save up to half the cost of a brand new bike. This is great for those who are just starting out and want to get their hands on a decent bike, without breaking the bank.
Kicking bad habits
If you’re looking to quit a bad habit, such as smoking or general procrastination and laziness, cycling (as with any form of exercise) is a great way to fight the withdrawal symptoms of addiction and destroy the sedentary lifestyle. As we said before, cycling has a range of health benefits both physical and mental, and this encourages and stimulates the body and mind into becoming stronger and more determined, as well as more confident to do more.
Cycling is free. Cycling is fun. Cycling is rewarding. Commuting to work by bike will save you, these days, hundreds if not thousands of pounds annually. Also, what better way to spend a weekend than out in nature with friends and/or family? It is certainly a cost-saving way to have a great time without going to the pub or out-and-about in the town spending cash unnecessarily and with little reward. If you’re lucky enough to have kids, getting them out in nature for a bike ride and having a picnic is a beautiful way to spend the day and they’ll be getting all the things kids crave: adventure, fun, exploration and quality time with you. It won’t burn a hole in your pocket too!
Cycling is a hugely beneficial activity. It has a plethora of positive aspects on your body and mind and is an eco-friendly and economically-friendly way to have a great time. Get out there and see for yourself! You won’t regret it.