Indoor Vs Outdoor Cycling [ Which Is Ultimately Better? ]

Indoor Vs Outdoor Cycling
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Let’s face it

You either enjoy staying indoors with warmth or getting outside in (sometimes) the cold.

Would you consider yourself a person who enjoys a spin class with a group or prefers cycling by yourself?

Even though indoor and outdoor cycling perform the same task and required outcome, they do have some differences you’ll actually be surprised to here!

So as I said this all comes down to your preference.

Some people prefer to train indoors with the fast-paced pumping music that really kicks their workout into 2nd gear.

This is more of a controlled environment where you can pick your pace, your duration, your resistance and how hard you want to work.

Some, on the other hand, prefer to train outdoors in scenic routes and actually see the distance they have cycled.

How you cycle outdoors depends on a number of variables such as the terrain, weather, traffic, stop signs and other hazards.

So, let’s firstly have a look at some of the more obvious pros and cons of each.

Indoor Cycling

Pros

Cons

  • Warm environment
  • Motivating music
  • Very convenient
  • Can choose your intensity at inclines
  • Great for socialising
  • No scenic views
  • Don’t own a spin bike (if you’re attending a spin class)
  • Only have allocated class times (if you’re attending a spin class)

Outdoor Cycling

Pros

Cons

  • This is real cycling!
  • Cycle anytime you want
  • You own your own bike and gear
  • Cycle anywhere you want (in the real world!)
  • Enjoying beautiful scenery
  • Great for your mental health by connecting with nature
  • Can be a much cooler or colder climate (depending on the weather)
  • Less convenient
  • Can’t choose your incline
  • Need ongoing repairs
  • Need to pay attention to other road users (if cycling through cities)
  • Can be slightly more dangerous than indoor cycling

So, these are some of the more obvious differences between indoor and outdoor cycling but what I want to jump into more than anything is the mechanics behind the two and what type of cycling is ultimately better.

Your Energy Expenditure

As we’ve seen, there are a number of variables to take into account when cycling indoors or outdoors.

However, what energy expenditure really comes down to is

  • The Cyclist’s Weight
  • The Duration of the ride
  • The Intensity

These 3 factors are what determines best how much energy (or calories burned) a cyclist uses during any given cycle whether it be indoors or outdoors.

According to Sport Dietician & Endurance Coach, Bob Seebohar, Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) is the best grading system that measures the energy cost of physical activity.

It ranges from 0.9 (sleeping) to 23 (running at a very fast pace) and can calculate the energy expenditure and intensity of an activity that allows to compare individuals of different weights.

Bob Seebohar seen that, according to the MET Chart, a cyclist weighing 80kgs (176lbs) cycling at 150 watts expends around 7.5 calories per minute.

If he cycled at this rate for 1 hour he burn in the region of 450 calories.

Now, if the same cyclist cycled for 1 hour at 200 watts, he would burn around 574 calories.

Same cyclist, same length of time training, same bike, same weight – however one thing has changed

That’s right – the intensity of the ride!

Now this can go for both indoor and outdoor cycling

Some people think that it’s being indoors in the heat that helps burn off those extra calories

Yes, they would be right to a certain extent but that is mainly down to water loss as your dehydrating quicker.

In essence, whether your cycling indoors or outdoors – your energy expenditure (or calories burned) simply comes down to the intensity of the cycle.

Which Is More Difficult?

This all comes down to you really and how hard your cycling

Indoor spin classes are great at really hitting the needle on the head when it comes to delivering an intensive, motivating, sweat-dripping cardio workout.

It’s the environment you’re in.

Surrounded by your peers, trying to keep up with the class, motivating rhythmic music and the shouts of the spin instructor directly in front of you.

These factors alone help you to push yourself past your own boundaries that you thought was your limit into new uncharted waters!

Keeping up the intensity of the class, mixing it up with interval training and up and down on the saddle is going to make you push harder, make your leg muscles work more and essentially burn off a mass amount of calories.

Check out this handy little calculator that determines how many calories you can burn.

Outdoor cycling can tend to be harder in the sense that it’s only you that’s got your back.

You need to have greater willpower and want it more to deliver a really intense cardio workout!

This simply comes down to the type of person you are.

When cycling outdoors, no-one is shouting and yelling telling you to push harder or to crank up the resistance.

You need to have this in your own mind, you need to really turn on that engine within you to deliver an explosive workout.

Now, some people do prefer outdoor cycling and prefer cycling for longer periods of time.

By cycling for longer you can burn off a great number of calories that equates to a 45-minute or 1 hour spin class.

It’s really what you feel is best for you!

Now, when outdoor cycling there are factors that need to be taken into account.

Firstly, Your Terrain

If your cycling on a straight flat road, your limited by how much you can increase your interval training.

However, if your in the countryside with rising hills and constant inclines – then your body is going to be working harder to push those pedals and really crank up that resistance.

Wind Resistance

Wind resistance is another big factor with outdoor training.

Cycling against the wind creates drag and drag creates greater resistance.

With resistance, your having to push yourself harder and really activate those quads and hamstrings that bit more!

Your Balance

Another factor that can make outdoor cycling harder is your balance.

You see, with a normal indoor spin bike, it’s weighted to the ground with a large wide base to reduce movement.

However, with an outdoor bike you need to really engage your core to keep your balance and the bike upright.

An outdoor bike tends to use more of your hip flexors and abdominals that keeps the bike tipping one way or the other.

Lastly, Gravity!

Whenever you’re outdoor cycling and start on the incline of a hill or a mountain  – what do you do?

That’s right, you’re coming off the saddle and pushing forward by standing.

What this minor change in position does is that it moves your weight that is supported by the saddle onto the pedals.

You now have the force of gravity pushing your full body weight down into the pedals.

To take advantage of this force, keep your centre of gravity directly above the pedals.

This is going to help you push deeper into each cycle rotation, really activating those leg muscles and offer an absolute cardio burnout!

So, when it comes to difficulty 

It’s hard to say, like I said before, it depends on your intensity first and foremost but there are pros and cons to each that can make them as difficult as each other.

Let’s Talk Convenience

When it comes to convenience, indoor cycling is the clear winner here.

You simply throw on your gym gear, grab a water bottle and towel and attend your local spin class.

Even better if you have your own spin bike and working out from home!

You could have your workout done and dusted within 45 minutes

Outdoor cycling needs more preparation.

You need to put on all of your outdoor cycling gear, helmet, water bottle, grab your bike and finally plan your route.

Understandably, nothing much to be argued about but if you’re looking to get the most out of an effective workout, you need to look at what hills and slopes are in your area. 

Yes, you can interval train on a straight, flat road but it’s the climbs and downhill drifting that’s going to provide that effective HIIT cardio workout.

When looking at conveniency, indoor cycling tends to be less time consuming but at the same time providing a fat-shredding workout.

So, Which Is Better For You?

As I said before, this all comes down to the type of person you are.

You either prefer the natural surroundings of being outside or enjoy a sweat-dripping workout indoors. 

Now, some people actually love a good spin class as well as an outdoor cycle.

It helps mix your cycling routine up and keeps it enjoyable.

I would actually recommend trying out both and see what suits you better.

Conclusion

In oversight, both indoor and outdoor cycling are amazing at offering a full cardio workout.

There are things that people prefer over another with each type of cycling.

However, for me, I prefer indoor cycling simply down to a few factors:

  • It’s convenient
  • I can knock out my workout within 45-60 minutes
  • I don’t need to buy any extra gear
  • I have my own spin bike (Check out a list of the best spin bikes here)
  • I control my own intensity and crank up the resistance when I want
  • It’s a safer option compared to cycling on the road

As I said, those are my deciding factors but what do you feel is better for you?

Leave me a comment or drop a question in and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

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