Cycling or the gym, which is better? It’s the kind of question that gets thrown about a lot but we thought we’d have a go at answering it.
First off, any exercise at all is good, whether it’s inside, outside, in a park, in a gym, in the middle of nowhere – it all burns calories, works your muscles, and give you a mood-lifting boost of endorphins.
According to the NHS the benefits of exercise are many and manifold. People who exercise regularly have a significantly reduced incidence of cancer, coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis and depression, to name but a few.
The NHS now recommends between 75 to to 150 minutes of exercise a week, and cycling is a great way to get those minutes done for people just starting to get fit and those who have been exercising for years.
Breaking it down, the NHS recommends either 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, or a mix of the two. Handily, cycling can fulfill both of these requirements; a fun cycle along the flat counts as moderate, or a fast or hilly ride as vigorous. Score one for cycling.
Cycling is also such a great form of exercise because it’s accessible, great for any age, low-impact which is perfect for people with joint injuries (though those with knee injuries should seek medical advice before hand) and can work your lower and upper body muscles.
The NHS also recommend at least two weekly sessions of muscle strengthening activity, and the gym wins over cycling for this one, though you can of course do this at home or the park rather than the gym.
Gyms are palaces of exercise variety when it comes to fitness equipment and classes. They have everything from free weights to strange contraptions with straps to yoga classes to dance classes. They’re ideal for those who like to mix things up a bit with their routine.
But don’t let that lull you into cycling is the monotony of following white lines on tarmac. It’s easy to mix up your cycling, and gain a range of fitness benefits too. Long steady miles on the road bike are great for fat burning, intense cyclo-cross races are brilliant for a cardiovascular work out, and technical descents on a mountain bike will work your arms, legs and core, improving your balance and focus.
Cycling Vs The Gym – Effort and Well-being
What about the benefits of exercising outside rather than inside? There are the obvious trade-offs between fresh air vs air conditioning, or exercising in the dry and warm vs exercising in the cold and wet. But there’s more to think about here.
Studies by various researchers have show that those exercising outdoors felt a greater reduction in stress and tension compared to those exercising indoors, and that it can have a positive effect on mental health as well as physical.
Even the colour green itself has a positive effect on how you feel after exercising outside, according to a study at the University of Essex.
And there’s more. Have you ever felt that 30 minutes on a static bike felt like forever while 30 minutes cycling along through woods or along country lanes felt like no time at all? It’s been established that there is a difference in how you perceive effort depending on whether you are working out indoors or out.
Exercise outdoors, and there’s evidence to suggest that although you are putting in the same (or even more) effort that you would in the gym, it doesn’t feel that way.
Also the conditions outside, with for example the cooling flow of air, or uneven terrain are more likely to encourage and enable you to work harder.
All this means that also means that you are probably actually putting more effort, and working harder, when you ride outside, but it won’t feel that way. Bonus!
Cycling Vs The Gym – Cost
With money getting increasingly tight these days, what about the relative costs of cycling versus going to the gym?
On average, people spend about £700 getting a bike, helmet, lights, lock and the essential kit they need to ride. That can seem like a big chunk of cash in one go, but if you purchase your kit through a salary sacrifice scheme or the Government Cycle to Work Scheme, you’d pay that off in smaller monthly chunks of around £35. Read our article on How the Cycle to Work Scheme Works for the lowdown.
The average cost of a local authority gym is £30 a month or £360 a year, rising to around £600 a year if you go to a private gym. So the overall costs are comparable – so long as you actually go to the gym! There’s always a rush to join in January, but on average people only manage to attend regularly for the first 10 weeks so not only are they paying for the privilege, they aren’t getting the exercise either.
Cycling Vs The Gym – Time
And all that’s before you get to the fact you have to get to the gym in the first place, and find time in your life to fit it in around work, home life and social life.
Which brings me nicely onto convenience. The great thing about cycling is that you can use it to get places, say to work. This means that you are using time that you’d otherwise spend sitting on a bus, train or car anyway as your exercise time.
With the government advising up to 2 and a half hours of exercise a week, 5 x 30-minute rides to work or the shops is much more achievable for people with a busy lifestyle than trying to fit in a gym session before or after work.
One time when the gym would certainly win is during the winter storms. Much as we love cycling, heading out in a howling gale, with slippery wet ground and branches and other obstacles in the road is not a good idea. When it’s dangerous to go out, a spin class or turbo training session is a great alternative.
So there are definite benefits to both, but by our reckoning going for a bike ride in the fresh air wins out over the gym.
That said, ultimately of course the answer to the question which is better is ‘whichever works for you’, and a lot of cyclists find that a yoga class, weights session or spinning in the gym complements perfectly the exercise they get riding. If you are thinking about joining a gym, this article on which gym is best for you might help sort the good from the bad.
Though if you ask us, generally speaking cycling wins hands down every time. Now, I think it’s time for a nice bike ride.
Top up your cycling with some yoga, improve your upper body strength with some core exercises and don’t forget to stretch out afterwards! You can do it all in the comfort of your home with our handy guides and videos.
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