On Your Health

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As Easy as Riding a Bike: A Look at Cycling

23 May 2016

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They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but did you ever imagine your favorite childhood pastime would become your favorite activity as an adult? The popularity of cycling and spin classes has skyrocketed in the past decade, and it’s easy to see why. From enjoying the fresh air during a roll around the lake, to the competitiveness of a spin class, cycling is a great sport for people of all ages and physical abilities.

Cycling Through the Years

Bicycles have been around since the early 1800s for transportation, recreation and sport. The structure of the bike has changed and improved since then, and its popularity has not diminished. Still used for transportation, cycling has expanded in the competitive and recreational spheres. The first documented cycling race was held in 1868, with famous events like the Tour de France (which began in 1903) still exciting the world today.

The stationary bike was first created in the late 18th century and has transformed the exercise community. Stationary bikes have paved a way for people to enjoy a ride in the gym or the comfort of their own home.

Outdoor Cycling vs. Indoor Spin Classes

Two main ways to spin some calories while working out are indoor bikes and classes, and outdoor recreational cycling. Both Oklahoma City and Tulsa have networks of bike trails if you are interested in breathing some fresh air and enjoying beautiful weather. If you’re more interested in making cycling a part of your at-home fitness or gym routine, spin classes are offered at facilities throughout the state including YMCA Healthy Living Center. But if you’re new to the activity, how do the two options compare?

Indoor Cycling

Spin classes, held indoors at gyms or exercise facilities, are notorious for getting your heart pumping and sweat pouring. Indoor spin classes typically keep your heart rate between 75 and 95 percent of its maximum. The classes normally operate with high-intensity intervals and are known for fast-paced music as well as motivation and encouragement from the instructor.

It is important to note that spin bikes have what is called a “flywheel,” which essentially allows the wheel to keep moving even after you stop pedaling. This forces your hamstrings to work harder to slow down the pedals as they come around. Outdoor bikes are built without a flywheel, and as a result, you primarily use your hip flexors and quadriceps to move against the friction of the road and resistance from the wind.

Outdoor Cycling

Cycling outdoors has many benefits, but outdoor cycling can sometimes challenge average cyclists to get their heart rate up in the same way that a spin class can. Not only do you have to pedal quickly, you also need to navigate the roads or biking trails, balance the bike and practice safe riding. So, outdoor cycling can be more recreational for the average cyclist.

Don’t discard the idea of cycling outside just yet! Riding outside will work more muscle groups than indoor classes including your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, shins and calves. Be sure to work long and hard enough to feel a good impact on these muscles, as opposed to just cruising downhill. Outdoor cycling also provides changes in scenery and helps you connect to nature, something an indoor class cannot offer.

The Benefits of Cycling

Whether you choose to ride indoors or outside, cycling is a great cardio activity. Cycling is a low-impact sport for health and fitness, often chosen by athletes who are either recovering from injury or seeking a sport that is easier on their joints and bodies. Unique to cycling is its ability to draw fans from every walk of life – from elite athletes to beginning spinners – because you can start at any fitness level. In addition to being a great muscular workout, cycling is also a great aerobic workout. You can tailor your workout to gradually raise your speed and stamina, increasing your aerobic abilities and becoming a stronger cyclist. Regular cycling can stimulate and improve your heart, lungs and circulation, as well as reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you’re interested in taking a spin class and giving cycling a try, YMCA Healthy Living Center offers 50-minute classes throughout the week, included in the fitness center membership, where you can burn up to 500 calories and enjoy your ride to health.