Everyone knows that bicycling is a great workout. There's nothing like that feeling of a pounding heart, burning legs and ragged breaths that comes from a good cardio workout. And while it's not too hard to get a decent workout with any bike ride, it can be hard to get killer workout -- one that will leave you sore for a few days in a row.
The benefits of vigorous cycling exercise are really amazing, and fall into a few major categories:
- Cardiovascular health
- These exercises will help you to develop a strong, robust and healthy cardiovascular system. Regular cycling can reduce the risk of many types of disease, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung problems.
- Muscular strength
- Cycling is also wonderful for your muscles. It provides low-impact exercise that develops strong upper and lower legs and also supports the muscles of the core, the chest and the arms.
- Beyond all the health benefits, cycling just feels great. It's a lot of fun to jump on a bike for a tough ride. At the end of the day, when you're feeling sweaty and exhausted, you will have a huge sense of accomplishment. You'll also be enjoying the feelings of elation from the endorphin rush. That is your body telling you that it is happy for what you are doing!
Does all that sound pretty good? If so, you're ready for our top five ways to get a killer cycling workout. Let's get down to business with our first workout.
Most cyclists start sprinting pretty early on. It's not unusual to see young kids racing each other through the neighborhood, trying to see who can be first to the end of the block. Sprinting is one of the most natural elements of bicycling, and it's a lot of fun.
It can also be an absolutely killer workout. When you do sprints, try to give 100 percent. Really hammer on those pedals and push yourself to your true limits.
There are many great variations for sprint workouts. You could try, for example, to find your maximum speed on a nearby straightaway. Do a few warm-up runs, gradually ramping up your effort over 10 or 15 minutes to get your body prepared for true exertion. Then, do five to 10 repetitions of a 200m all-out sprint. Use a cycling computer or a stopwatch to keep track of your maximum speed or total time over your chosen course, and try to beat your previous best.
A few words of caution before we move to the next exercise: Sprinting is quite taxing on the system. Make sure to warm up very well before a sprint workout, and if you're not in great shape, allow a few workouts at 70- to 80-percent effort before you go all out. This will prepare your body for the rigors of sprinting and vastly reduce the possibility for injury or muscle strain.
Climbing hills is another quintessential part of riding a bike. If you learned to ride young, you might remember some intimidating hills from your childhood; there's nothing more daunting to bicyclist than a long, steep climb.
And that is what makes hills such a perfect place for killer cycling workouts. Hills not only test your physical strength and endurance, but they also test your mental strength and grit -- perhaps to a greater degree than any other cycling exercise.
To get a great workout, you need to find a good hill. Not just any little bump or low angled rise will do. You want something steep and/or long (although, of course, you should tailor the steepness and length to your fitness ability -- always pushing yourself to do a bit more or go a bit faster than in the past).
If it's a long hill, a single lap might be great exercise; a few miles of steep uphill riding can be killer, especially if you really go after it and put in a full effort. If you don't have easy access to a long hill, a shorter hill will do. Do a series of intervals on the shorter hill, using the descent as a short break and attacking fiercely on the climb.
3. Long distance
Another wonderful form of cycling exercise is long-distance rides. As you might suspect, long rides build up endurance over strength or cardiovascular capacity. But endurance is a wonderful thing to have, and riding 20, 50 or 100 miles can be a great way to get a killer workout.
When you get started with long distance, you'll have to build up. Early on, 10 miles might be a long ride for you. However, any reasonably fit cyclist can expect to be able to ride 50 miles a day in relatively short order.
To make your long-distance workouts more intense, increase your speed. Ride the same route (or the same distance) again and again, and try to decrease the time it takes you. Another way to add difficulty is by carrying extra weight. Many touring or bikepacker cyclists carry 30–60 pounds of gear, which will certainly make a ride more difficult.
All of the above exercises apply to both mountain bikes and road bikes, but if you're looking for a more mountain-specific exercise, try riding some trails. Singletrack mountain bike trails can be phenomenal exercise, especially when they involve significant uphill riding and/or when you take them at speed.
Riding trails tends to develop a slightly different, more responsive kind of fitness than riding on the road. That's because the cyclist has to respond to quickly-appearing obstacles, is likely to be alternating between standing and sitting almost constantly, and may have to conquer a wide variety of terrain types in a short distance.
All in all, trail riding can be truly killer workout. One way to make sure you're tired when you get home: always go out with people who are a bit more skilled than you are, so that your limits will be pushed on each ride.
Our last killer cycling exercise is another key part of cycling: races. There is nothing like a race to stimulate you to put out your best effort. There are races held around the country for both men and women and in a variety of cycling disciplines.
Any race is likely to test you to your limit, and as you advance through the rankings you may find that what used to be a killer workout is a warmup day now. Racing will truly test you. You can find out more about cycling races in your area on the USA Cycling website.