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Is Bike Commuting Enough Exercise? It depends…

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Hopefully, you’re already sold on the benefits of bike commuting versus using a car, but is bike commuting enough exercise?

Of course it’s environmentally friendly, but how much is enough for your health?

Read on to find out whether your daily cycling commute is sufficient to meet your fitness goals.

First Up, How Much Exercise Does An Average Person Need?

To maintain a basic level of good health, it’s recommended you should do 150 minutes of exercise per week at a moderate intensity.

Or you can do 75 minutes of exercise at a vigorous intensity.

Applying some basic math to that, you’d only have to cycle 30 minutes per weekday to meet this requirement.

That means a minimum 15-minute bike ride each way at a moderate pace.

What Is Moderate Intensity On A Bike And What Is Vigorous?

Perhaps the most reliable determinant of intensity is how you feel on the bike.

If you’re riding at a moderate intensity, you can easily hold a conversation with someone riding alongside you.

At higher intensities, it’s hard to hold a flowing conversation (or sing, or whistle) without regularly stopping for air.

But if you have to ride fast to get to that point, you have few fitness worries.

How Beneficial Is Cycling Compared To Other Activities?

You can get an idea of how intense cycling is by comparing it to other activities in terms of calories burned.

Below is a table that does this for three different weights of people during a 30-minute activity.

Calories Burned in 30-minute activities (Info: Harvard Health Publishing)

chart showing number of calories burned in 30 minute activities including bike riding, running, swimming and walkingPin

You can see a comprehensive table akin to this one on the NutriStrategy website.

Of course, the figures given are only an approximation.

Relatively few sports or activities compete with either running or cycling in terms of calories burned.

Video: How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Is It Ok To Ride To Work Every Day?

It’s more than okay to cycle every day, since it means you can get in all your recommended aerobic exercise before the weekend.

That assumes you’re riding 30 minutes per day, otherwise you’d have to increase intensity.

Even if your fitness aims are loftier than reasonable health, bike commuting is tremendously beneficial.

Many racing cyclists aspiring to great things still have 9-to-5 jobs in the meantime.

Commuting is often part of a serious training plan.

Former GCN presenter Matt Stephens, who was the British National Road Race Champion in 1998, incorporated his commute into training over several years.

In terms of becoming run down or fatigued, you might find it beneficial to track your fitness using one of the many online fitness trackers available.

You’d typically need a heart rate monitor or power meter to measure your effort.

A good fitness tracker will tell you if you’re “overtraining”, which can leave you feeling exhausted for weeks if you persist with it.

If you’re a keen cyclist who rides many miles at the weekend, you may feel uninclined to bike commute five days per week on top.

Most training plans allow for one or two days off the bike.

Video: Commuting By Bike To Work Every Day For 1 Month

How To Make Bike Commuting More Challenging

How do you make bike commuting more challenging if you want to ramp up your fitness beyond a basic level?

Here are some ideas:

  • Extend the distance – it’s usually possible to take a longer route into work. Time spent on the bike, however slow you are, increases aerobic fitness.
  • Add some hills – climbing a hill forces a sustained effort that will increase your heart rate, leg strength and fitness.
  • Intervals – ride as hard as you can between landmarks, lampposts, signposts or traffic lights, provided you can do so safely. Do this up to 5 times once your fitness improves.
  • Sprintsintermittent sprints of 10 to 30 seconds are said to maximize physiological adaptations within short rides. These are top-end intervals that start and finish in a high gear (big chainring, small rear sprocket.)
  • Strava segments – love them or hate them, Strava segments are essentially random intervals that will make you fit even if they affect your ego. You can dial them into many compatible bike computers.
  • Threshold – ride as fast as you can all the way home. Threshold usually means an elevated power level or heart-rate level that you can sustain for an hour before exhaustion. Don’t do this until you’ve built some fitness.
Video: How To Use Your Cycling Commute As Training

Can I Ride My Bike To Work And Do Other Types Of Exercise As Well?

By all means, yes, you can ride to work and do other types of exercise.

If you want to continually increase fitness, which has a ceiling most of us never reach, you’ll spend a lot of your time fatigued.

Your fitness will soon plateau if you do the bare minimum 150 minutes of moderate exercise widely advised.

That’s okay if your primary aim is to stay healthy—worthwhile in itself.

You obviously shouldn’t exercise with such intensity that you can’t do your job.

A vital part of any fitness regime is sleep and recovery.

Some movement is better than total inertia between strenuous workouts.

Though it’s counter-intuitive, rest days don’t usually mean doing nothing.

You can go for a walk or a low-intensity bike ride.

What Activities Complement Cycling?

Some exercises are beneficial to cyclists because they focus on areas that enhance cycling performance.

These include:

  • Yoga – helps with flexibility, strength and breathing
  • Hiking – strengthens glutes, hamstrings, hip muscles, quadriceps and core
  • Running – takes less preparation than a bike ride and boosts aerobic fitness
  • Swimming – good cardio exercise that increases breathing capacity
  • Walking – gentle exercise that improves cardio fitness and muscle endurance
  • Weight training – helps build muscle volume (and retain it in older cyclists)

Don’t Forget About Your Diet!

When integrating a new exercise regime into your daily life, it’s important to think about diet.

Indeed, the shifted focus on getting fit and healthy is enough to positively influence the way many people eat, too.

For a short bike commute, you don’t need to eat anything specific beforehand to sustain you.

Your body will have enough stored glycogen to fuel any ride of up to an hour or slightly more.

Even hydration isn’t really necessary if you’re only riding 15 minutes at a time.

For longer commutes, take a bottle of water.

With the above being said, you can still adopt healthy eating habits to keep you going throughout the day.

A bowl of porridge is a cycling staple because it drip-feeds you with energy over a long period.

That should stop you falling asleep at a desk.

Bananas won’t hurt either!

Porridge oats and banana can be great before riding big distances. Pin

Immediately after a bike commute, you ideally need an intake of carbs and protein.

This will kickstart energy replacement and help muscle repair.

One way to achieve this is with smoothies made with fruit and nuts, seed or yoghurt.

Avoid the temptation of glutting on junk food after a bike ride, perhaps by raiding the vending machine at work.

Get ready for a healthier lifestyle!

Read more: What food to eat before long rides

Video: The Best Recovery Smoothie

And That’s It!

Bike commuting is a great way to stay healthy.

If you want, it can also form part of a “serious” training plan with an end goal in mind.

Either way, it’s good for you and the environment.

Did you enjoy this article?

You’re welcome to leave a comment or share it with friends.

Read more: Bike commuting tips and tricks guide

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Mark Whitley
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Mark is the founder of BikePush, a bicycle commuting website. When he's not working on BikePush, you can find him out riding.

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