Indoor vs. Outdoor Cycling: Are They Equally Effective?

More than 51 million Americans ride a bike yearly, making it the country's third most popular outdoor activity, trailing running and fishing. However, this only reflects Americans engaging in outdoor rides for recreation and doesn't include those who cycle indoors or bike to work. Since indoor cycling is more popular than ever before, the number of American cyclists is undoubtedly much higher.

But one question many are now asking is how outdoor cycling vs. indoor cycling compare. While we know the benefits of physical activity are boundless, is there a difference between indoor and outdoor training?

Let’s find out as we get into the gritty details of indoor vs. outdoor cycling.

Indoor Cycling

When gyms shuttered at the start of the pandemic, at-home indoor training exploded in popularity out of necessity.

And then came the indoor trainers. Although new treadmill designs and strength training machines hit the market, the Peloton bike was the most talked about new equipment. When Peloton boomed, other training apps for indoor cycling followed, like Zwift.

But how effective is indoor cycling?

Benefits Of Indoor Cycling

Indoor training sessions are more time-efficient because outdoors, you may spend 10-15% of your time coasting at zero watts.

However, you must keep a higher intensity level to ensure you get the same training effect as outdoor cycling. Luckily, indoor bikes come equipped with several features to help heighten the intensity.

For one, the flywheel allows you to increase or decrease the bike’s resistance. This means you could choose to cycle at a much higher intensity than most outdoor rides.

The power meter allows you to determine your threshold value or minimum performance needed to achieve an effect from your workout. You can calculate your power training zones when you know your threshold value. The starting value is the functional threshold power (FTP). An FTP test can also help determine your FTP value.

This information helps you know how much effort to put into your workouts for maximum effect. You don’t want to overexert yourself for a small gain.

While running these calculations on a road bike is possible, you’ll need to purchase the additional equipment separately.

Disadvantages Of Indoor Cycling

To cycle indoors, you’ll need more than a bike; you will need either a smart trainer to mount your bicycle on or a stationary bike, like a Peloton.

The sweat rate for a gym bike vs. real bike workouts is also significantly different. Cycling indoors on a gym bike increases your sweat rate, thus causing dehydration and a higher heart rate. This will increase the perceived exertion of indoor cycling, making it feel more difficult.

Indoor cycling also has a limited range of motion. This can cause muscle fatigue faster and stiffness after your workout.

Further, when indoors, you’ll have to focus more on things like breath rate, pedaling technique, and power meter.

In contrast, outdoor cycling allows your mind to drift and wander. It’s easier to relax when enjoying the nature around you, listening to a good podcast on your cycle.

Outdoor Cycling

Some of the most popular and toughest sports competitions include outdoor cycling, such as the Tour de France and triathlons. So does that mean outdoor cycling has an indoor cycling beat?

Benefits of Outdoor Cycling

Cyclists can produce far more power outdoors than indoors. The difference can be up to 70% more power outdoors, giving riders a great workout! The natural terrain creates a more challenging workout and helps build muscles, such as calves, gluteus maximus (glutes), hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), and the tibialis interior.

Plus, with all the fresh air outdoors, you’ll sweat less than if you were indoors. This means you won’t get as dehydrated or feel run down.

Even better, studies show that exercising outside boosts your mental health. So if you’ve been looking for how to relieve stress, outdoor biking is a great solution.

Disadvantages of Outdoor Cycling

Although being in the elements is more exciting than staring at a screen when biking, it also comes with significantly more hazards than biking indoors, especially if you go mountain biking.

The weather and navigating traffic alone can add a challenging and dangerous component you must prepare for.

Further, falling off a road bike is much easier than a stationary bike, meaning you could get scrapes or even break a bone after a fall. 

Determine the Right Cycling Option for You

The Certified Wellness Coaches in Fitlife Food’s Project U program say to figure out whether indoor cycling vs. outdoor cycling is better for you, consider your fitness level and goals, time commitment, and whether you prefer the indoors or outdoors.

Whichever option you choose, both are excellent regarding cycling for your health, whether you want to strengthen your cardiovascular system or focus on weight loss. You can achieve most fitness goals on both bike types.

For example, if you want to run time trials to increase your speed, you can accomplish this indoors or outdoors.

Additionally, suppose you only have time for an indoor ride because you work from home and have a busy schedule. Doing an indoor ride vs. no workout at all would be much better. Just because you prefer one style of biking doesn't mean you can’t switch it up.

Explore Peloton Bike Workouts and Outdoor Workouts

Peloton offers many different types of workout classes, which include:

- Artist Series

- Beginner

- Climb

- Genre

- Internals & Arms

- Live DJ

- Low Impact

- Power Zone

- Signature Series

- Tabata Ride

With Peloton workouts, there’s something for everyone, and you never have to conduct your own training if you don’t want to. You can also participate in group rides with other members and cycling classes with professional instructors. 

Comparing a Peloton stationary bike to actual bike workouts is not so easy. When biking outside, you can still bike with friends, but you’ll unlikely cycle with a professional cyclist. You’ll also need to lead and stay motivated with your own workouts.

However, you can do any workout you want when you’re in charge! You can do a simple ride throughout your city or head to a mountain for a challenge.

Both options give you tons of flexibility and difficulty levels. 

Add Nutrition to Your Cycling Routine 

In the end, when it comes to indoor vs. outdoor cycling, both offer excellent benefits. The best cardio workout for you will depend on your fitness level and goals. So choose the best option for your training plan and general well-being.

And to really make a difference, as many health professionals would agree, health starts in the kitchen! Change up your diet. We offer tasty, curated meals prepared by our chefs that will leave you feeling great about yourself and make eating healthy quick and simple.   

Order healthy meals from Fitlife Foods today.