Cyclers who enjoy riding outdoors face the same conundrum every winter – the choice to brave the cold and stay outside or to switch to an indoor stationary bike.
Meanwhile, avid spinners attend their indoor cycling classes well into the summer months, staying cool and dry(ish), while paying a premium for the privilege.
But when it comes to effectiveness – that is, calories burned, fat torched and muscles strengthened – which form of cycling is best? While the answer is hardly cut and dry, here we explain both the benefits and drawbacks to spinning versus outdoor cycling.
Incline, Speed And Other Factors
With all things being equal, including speed and incline, riding a stationary bike will not raise your maximum heart rate as much as cycling outdoors. That’s because wind resistance and uneven terrain will add a small, but noticeable degree of difficulty to your workout.
If you’re an avid spinner trying outdoor cycling for the first time, don’t be surprised if it feels a little funny at first. “A spin bike is locked in a vertical plane, so by nature, there isn’t a lot of side-to-side movement,” Peter Glassford, a cycling coach for Smart Athlete, tells Greatist. “If you watch someone standing while pedaling outside, you’ll see the bike move from side to side under them, and that requires more balance and coordination, plus more muscle activation for stability.” The more muscles you engage, the more of a total-body workout you’ll get.
However, keep in mind that it’s pretty rare for a spinning workout and an outdoor cycling workout to be exactly the same. For example, it’s much easier to add difficulty as you see fit on a stationary bike. Want to really feel the burn? Simply turn up the incline and put the pedal to the medal. An outdoor cycling routine will require you to plan a route that’s appropriately challenging in advance. Which brings us to…
Both Can Be Killer Workouts
If you’re looking for a quick workout that burns crazy calories, few will get you there like a hardcore spin class, which burns 400 to 600 calories per hour on average. There’s a reason why you’re soaked in sweat after spinning — it’s intense.
Compare that to going for a leisurely ride outdoors, where you’ll burn as few as 100 calories per hour if you’re not racing or challenging yourself. However, you could burn upwards of 800 to 1,000 or more if you’re really grinding it out — but the choice is yours. In a spin class, the instructor will tell you how much resistance to add and encourage you to keep working harder, whereas outdoors, the road determines your level of resistance.
The Beauty Of The Great Outdoors
While going riding outdoors does require getting out all of your bike gear, it can also make for a much more interesting ride. For people who see spinning as a special form of torture, the enticement of an outdoor workout can get them up and riding.
Of course, on a stationary bike you can listen to music or enjoy your favourite podcast, and all in a climate-controlled environment. It’s all a matter of preference.
A Note On Safety
It’s easy to say that an indoor bike is obviously safer, but that may not always be necessarily true. Outdoor cyclists need to be careful of traffic, pedestrians, route changes and hidden obstacles.
Indoor spinners may find they strain their back or hurt their knees far more than an outdoor bike, because stationary bikes, while adjustable, aren’t custom made or chosen with the cyclist in mind.
When it comes to outdoor cycling versus indoor cycling, there is no “better” workout. It all comes down to how you like to exercise. Whether you prefer to challenge yourself in the great outdoors, or love the structure and encouragement that a group spin class has to offer, the number one thing is you get on that bike and get moving.