Will Cycling to Work Get Me Fit?


If you’ve ever finished your bike commute with your legs aching, your heart pounding and proudly boasting on or two tell-tale sweat patches on your clothes, you’ll likely have wondered how it’s benefiting your body.

Could cycling to work really be helping you to get fit and healthy? Or is it just a fun and convenient way to get to work whilst reducing your carbon footprint? 

You’ll be very pleased to know that the answer is “Yes! Almost certainly.

Any type of cycling will boost your cardio fitness, help you burn fat, build your strength and endurance and help get those feel-good workout endorphins flowing. It’s also a great way to fit exercise into your day if you’re short on time or you have kids.

Cycle to work regularly, be mindful of the distance and intensity of your rides, clean up your diet and you should start seeing excellent results.

Keep reading to find out:

  • Does cycling to work give you a good workout?
  • Does cycling build muscle?
  • Can cycling to work help me lose weight?
  • How many calories does cycling burn?
  • Related Questions

Does cycling to work give you a good workout?

Cycling to work can give you a fantastic hard workout. Or it can leave you feeling relaxed, calm and definitely not out of breath.

It all depends on how hard you push yourself, how often you cycle, how fast you ride and of course, how challenging your route is (hills, terrain, weather conditions, etc.).

Leisurely pedaling along watching the birds obviously isn’t going to give you the same workout as flying down the highway, dripping with sweat.

Having said that, cycling is almost always a great form of exercise. Even if you are taking it easy, you’ll be gently increasing your heart rate and setting a great foundation for endurance and lasting fitness.

If you want to get a good result, you’ll need to challenge yourself and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Do that and you will get fit, lose weight and even build muscle mass.

You see, when you cycle, you’re using most of the major muscle groups including those in your legs, bum, hips, abs and arms. This gets your heart rate up, gives you a great cardio workout and boosts your resting metabolism.

Being a low impact form of exercise, it’s also a fantastic way to stay in shape if you have any niggling health problems, you’re just starting to exercise or you’re recovering from an injury.

As you get fitter, you can easily tailor your cycling workout so that it keeps you feeling motivated and challenged as well as providing those results you want. If you want to add more, it’s also super easy to add other complementary activities to your schedule without feeling too exhausted or overloaded.

Besides all of that, it’s much more fun to get outside and feel the wind in your hair than head to a dull, stuffy gym.

Does cycling build muscle?

If one of your main fitness goals is building muscle, you’ll be pleased to know that cycling can definitely help.

To explain how, let’s take a look at cycling mechanics and what your body is doing when you pedal.

Cycling involves two main forms of movement.

One is known as the ‘power’ phase where your muscles are engaged and you’re pushing down on those pedals by using the muscles in your legs, thighs and bum. The next is known as the ‘recovery’ phase and it’s when your hip flexors and hamstrings engage to complete the cycle.

All this time, your abs are working hard to keep your body upright, stabilize your body weight and aid the upwards movement of your legs. If you cycle uphill, you’ll also notice how tired your arms feel after a short period of time.

So, if you push yourself and continually add new challenges such as steeper hills and trickier terrain, you will build muscle.

Can cycling to work help me lose weight?

The short answer is ‘Yes! Most definitely!’

An encouraging study by the University of East Anglia confirms that cycling to work can help you lose a significant amount of weight. “Switching from private motor transport to active travel or public transport was associated with a significant reduction in BMI of −0.32 kg/m2,” they commented in their paper.

But you don’t need a study to tell you that. Most of us have noticed how much looser our clothes feel when we’ve been cycling to work on a regular basis.

Cycling gets your heart rate up, helps you to burn calories, tones your muscles and improves your overall fitness. As it does this, it also lifts your metabolism so you can burn more fat when you’re sitting there on your sofa watching Netflix.

However, if one of your main reasons for commuting by bike is to shift a few pounds, make sure you’re tailoring your workouts to make sure this happens.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to burn fat by pushing yourself so hard that you feel ready to vomit! Instead, invest in a wrist heart rate monitor and make sure you keep your heart rate within the fat-burning zone. This is usually around 70% of your maximum heart rate.

[N.B. To calculate your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. If you’re 39 years old like me, you’d calculate 220-39 and get 181.]

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, just aim to keep your pace to a point where you feel slightly out of breath but you can hold a conversation with ease.

It’s also a good idea to mix up your cycling sessions and find time for around three more intense workouts. This helps kickstart your fat-burning process and get you fitter, faster.

How many calories does cycling burn?

Calculating calories burnt can be complex as it does depend on your age, size, gender, activity and even your genetic makeup.

As a rule of thumb, commuting by bike is relatively moderate exercise and will burn around 300 calories per hour on average. This is about one McDonalds hamburger (no cheese) or a Jack in the Box Breakfast Jack.

Ramp up the intensity and you could be looking at 600+ per hour plus which is about the same as a Taco Bell Fresco Steak Burrito Supreme with a Caramel Apple Empanada on the side.

Bear in mind, though, that a pound of body fat (around 450g) is said to contain around 3,500 calories. This means you’d have to do a lot of cycling if you want to lose weight with exercise itself.

It’s a much better idea to combine your commute with a few easy tweaks to your diet. For example, keep those snacks under control, reduce your portion sizes and make healthier food choices whenever you can. You’ll notice results much faster that way. 

As you can see, cycling to work is a great way to lose weight and improve your fitness levels without having to go to the gym or pay hundreds of dollars a month for the privilege. Keep challenging yourself, mix up the intensity of your rides and watch your diet. You’ll soon be feeling fitter and stronger than ever.

Related Questions

Can you lose stomach fat by cycling? You’ll certainly lose weight by cycling to work but you’ll see better results for belly fat loss if you cross-train with specific ab exercises and tweak your diet too.

Is running or cycling better for losing weight? Both are great ways to stay active and get outside. However, cycling is low impact so better for those new to exercise.

How can I increase my cycling distance? It’s easy. Go further. Eat for endurance, cross-train and consider taking the scenic route on your way home.

Is 30 mins per day of cycling enough? For optimal fitness, one hour per day is best. However, 30 minutes is good for beginners or those adding cycling to an existing workout regime.

How long does it take to get fit cycling? Fitness takes time. But if you ride your bike at least 3 times per week for an hour you should see results happening quickly.

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