Here’s some rockin’ news: you don’t have to be fit to start cycling, but you’ll sure get fitter when you include it in your every day life.
When I first started cycling, my 6km cycle home included a 2.5km hill at the end. The last 500 metres was very steep. The first time I tackled the hill on a really low gear without stopping, I arrived home purple faced, heart racing and vomited. It was so, so hard.
The next time I did it, I didn’t vomit. The time after that, I only felt slightly nauseous. After a month, I got home and was only pink in the face. After six months I rode up it with ease (and only a slight quickening of the pulse).
The moral to this gross out story? Cycling makes you fitter.
Will I lose weight cycling?
Cycling is sure going to help you lose weight, if that’s what you want to do. It burns a lot of calories at the same time as being excellent for your muscles (which we’ll get to later).
Exactly how good cycling is for your waistline depends on a few different factors: how hard you’re pedalling, what terrain you’re riding on, how far you’re riding, how long you’re on the bike and how much you weigh.
Let’s say you’re a woman weighing in at around 70kgs (if you way less, you’ll burn less calories, if you weigh more, you’ll burn more).
A leisurely ride of an hour at 16kms/hour will burn around 280 calories (which is roughly the same as a ham, cheese and salad sandwich on multigrain bread).
If you work a little harder over that hour, maybe increase your speed now and then or have a hill or two to challenge you, you’ll burn around 420 calories (about the same as a grilled hamburger with salad).
Amp it up to the point where you’re flat out for almost all the hour’s ride and you’re looking at burning anywhere up to 900 calories (which means you can almost eat anything you like – check the back of your food packet you’ll be shocked at how much food 900 calories is).
The bottom line is, cycling helps you burn a lot of calories. With a balanced diet, it will help you lose weight.
What does it do for my muscles?
The main muscles used when you’re cycling are the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. Put simply, the places getting the greatest workout from your pedaling are the bum, thighs and calves (yeah!!).
Each of these muscles is working differently depending on where you’re riding. If you’re schlepping up a hill, your quadriceps (front thigh) will be taking most of the load. If you decide the hill is steep enough to be standing out of your seat, prepare to work your gluteal muscles (bum).
Cycling is also good for a series of other muscles in your body: your biceps will be used while grasping the handlebars up a hill and the muscles in your back and stomach are quietly doing their own thing to keep you stable on your bike.
As cycling is a low impact, low resistance cardiovascular exercise it’s unlikely you’ll build any of these muscles to a point you can show off at a body building competition. Still, you’ll build muscle endurance, which will enable you to ride longer and faster over time.
Will my overall health improve?
It will, if you ride regularly. If you continue to ride and challenge yourself a little with each ride, your cardiovascular fitness will improve.
When your cardiovascular fitness improves, your body rewards you in all kinds of ways: you’ll have a better lung capacity and breathe better, your heart will function better, your stamina will increase and your body will become leaner.