Ah yes, the age-old question. Which is better – outdoor or indoor cycling? Like all great debates, there are many factors to consider before making a decision. There are obviously pros and cons to both workouts so let’s take a side-by-side look at what’s really better for increasing heart rate, burning calories, and increasing muscle use.
Anyone who has ever done an indoor cycling class will vouch that this is an awesome cardiovascular workout. Everything from the music to the instructor are elements of the workout that contribute to the increase in heart rate. A study by the American Council On Exercise (ACE) showed that a typical indoor cycling class will keep you between 75 to 95% of your maximum heart rate consistently throughout the exercise. This basically means that you will burn more calories at a faster pace.
If you’re a serious or professional cyclist, you can easily get your heart rate just as high outdoors as you would get in an indoor cycling class. However, for most recreational or beginner cyclists, achieving 75 to 95% of their maximum heart rates can be tough. When out on the road, they have to pay attention to their environments and focus on navigation. Then they also need to work on pedaling faster while keeping their balance. Because there’s a lot more to juggle when outdoor cycling, it is more challenging to maintain a consistently high heart rate.
In terms of difficulty, indoor cycling can be easier because of the flywheel, which is a 30-40 lb. wheel that provides the resistance and keeps the pedals moving. Because of the flywheel, it’s easier to slack off and let the bike do the work for you,” since once you get that wheel spinning, it’s very easy to keep it spinning. The advantage is that you can tailor the workout to your needs because you can adjust the resistance quite easily. So you can totally make it harder!
The number of calories you can expect to burn while riding outdoors depends on your speed and intensity. To be honest, you can probably burn roughly the same amount of calories exercising indoor or outdoor, provided you work at a similar intensity.
Indoor cycling tends to use more hamstring muscles because of the flywheel. Your hamstrings have to work harder to slow down the pedals as they come around. In contrast, outdoor cycling uses more quadriceps and hip flexors because you’re pedaling the friction of road and wind resistance.
Outdoor cycling gives you a more of a whole body workout since all of your muscles are being tested when you’re on the road and need to adapt to different paces, terrains and surroundings. You also use your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, shins and calves more. So as long as you keep up speed and intensity, you will hit those muscles with enough force to make them stronger.
You’re going to get a great workout no matter which you choose. Both outdoor and indoor cycling have a lot of benefits so it really comes down to what you prefer.