Fitter, stronger, smarter: There is hardly a healthier endurance sport than cycling – that’s what cycling enthusiasts and experts say. We give tips on training and cadence – for beginners and advanced users.
That’s why cycling is so healthy
The WHO – i.e. the World Health Organization – repeatedly emphasizes how good cycling is for fitness. Cycling is “the all-round package,” says Ingo Froboese from the Center for Health through Sport and Exercise at the Cologne Sport University. Anyone who pedals regularly is not only good for their body, but also for their psyche.
“Within the first five minutes in the saddle, blood flow increases. We immediately have increased energy consumption and thus increased metabolic activity,” says the sports professor. The muscles are strengthened and the immune system is optimized.
There is also a social element that should not be underestimated. You can cycle great with colleagues, friends and family.
in short: Those who cycle regularly are stronger and fitter. Cyclists who stay in the saddle all year round rarely catch a cold and get sick less often.
“Hardly any other sport improves physical fitness as effectively as cycling,” reports the German Society for Sports Medicine and Prevention (DGSP).
That is why cycling is suitable for everyone
The secret to the success of cycling would be unthinkable without one component: the saddle. Around 60 to 70 percent of your body weight is supported by the saddle. This protects joints, and nobody overexerts themselves that easily. The threshold for overweight people to do sports, for whom jogging would not be an option, is also lower.
Therefore, the sport is suitable for everyone:
- Cycling is uncomplicated, “an activity that anyone can do once they have learned it,” says sports scientist Froboese. For comparison: jogging, another widespread endurance sport, is technically more demanding because of the special running technique.
- Cyclists are more flexible when it comes to exercise than people who do team sports, for example.
- It doesn’t matter how old you are: “Cycling is suitable for all ages,” says Professor Rüdiger Reer, Secretary General of the DGSP.
What you should pay attention to when doing bike training
5 tips to ensure that the training is successful and efficient:
- Persistence: Rolling comfortably to the bakery every day certainly doesn’t make you unfit, but you shouldn’t expect any permanent training effects. For this you have to pedal vigorously on a regular basis – the breathing and heart rate are noticeably increased.
Tipp: If you are just getting on the bike, three units per week of 20 to 40 minutes are sufficient.
- Frequency: Experts like Ingo Froboese recommend a cadence of 60 to 80 crank revolutions per minute for motivated beginners. You can determine this using a bicycle computer. To do this, you have to network it with a cadence sensor on the crank. As you gradually get fitter, you can increase the cadence to 100. This brings additional training effects. Tip: The same applies to interval training – so do intermediate sprints from time to time.
- Energy: You shouldn’t overdo it – “While you’re cycling, you should be able to talk easily without getting out of breath,” advises physician Reer. Otherwise there is a risk of overloading.
- Puls: “When I stop, the pulse should not be higher than 180 minus my age, but at least 100 beats,” says Prof. Froboese as a rule of thumb.
Tipp: You can easily monitor this with a wrist fitness tracker or a chest strap that you connect to a smartphone or bike computer via Bluetooth.
- joints: Be careful with high gears: “In order to protect your joints, you should choose a light gear and pedal continuously,” advises Reer. Because if the gear ratio is too high, it can become a stress test, resulting in knee joint pain and rapid muscle fatigue. “Lots of exercise, little stress” is the motto.
Then a training plan makes sense
Cycling fits perfectly into modern, sometimes hectic life. “In contrast to a sports club or a fitness studio, cycling is easy to integrate into everyday work or family life,” says DGSP Secretary General Reer.
Tipp: If you don’t have time, you can commute to work by bike, for example, and the exercise unit for the day is already done. You don’t necessarily need a training plan like a pro. Marking fixed days of the week or free slots in the calendar for the after-work round can be disciplining.
The basic rule is: Keep going! Because if you don’t cycle regularly and for a long time, you risk losing training effects. In order to become noticeably fitter by switching to a bike, you should last at least six weeks – and keep going.
Tipp: Several shorter routes often bring more than long distances in one go. You should also give your whole body a 48-hour break to regenerate after a training session.
How cycling affects health
This endurance sport not only strengthens the cardiovascular system and muscles, but cycling also prevents many typical civilization diseases, writes the DGSP – for example…
- High blood pressure – blood vessels remain elastic due to stress
- Osteoarthritis – joints are ideally cared for
- Strokes and vascular calcification – through better blood supply
- Breast, colon, prostate and many other types of cancer through general strengthening of the immune system and because the functionality of the organs is optimized.
Cycling lowers the risk
- a heart attack
- developing diabetes because it has a positive effect on sugar metabolism
- a lipid metabolism disorder (hypercholesterolaemia) because it improves lipid metabolism
- Being overweight because built-up muscles require more energy, even at rest
- And it can relieve asthma because the lungs are better ventilated and the exchange of oxygen is better.
Does cycling make you happier and smarter?
Yes, says Professor Reer. Because it not only ensures that so-called happiness hormones are released: “Cycling also increases the ability to concentrate and makes you smarter. Improved cerebral blood flow, an increase in the neuroplasticity of the brain and a beneficial change in neurotransmitters in the brain have been documented as mechanisms.”
Could cycling prolong your life?
Cycling makes the heart muscle stronger, pumping more blood through the body with each beat. “The heart gets more displacement,” says sports professor Froboese. “If I permanently reduce my heartbeat by an average of ten beats per minute, then in six years I will save a year of heart work.”
A life-prolonging effect in years cannot be quantified, but long-term cyclists can count on a longer heart function.
How much weight can I lose by cycling?
Because you don’t automatically exert yourself as much as you do when jogging, the direct effect of losing weight is less – but there is a positive but.
The overview shows the energy consumption (calories per hour) for a person weighing 70 kilograms compared to other endurance sports (source: Techniker Krankenkasse):
- Cycling, 8 to 12 kilometers, 260 kilocalories per hour
- Hiking on level to hilly terrain 320 kilocalories
- Cycling, 15 to 18 kilometers, 400 kilocalories per hour
- Medium-pace breaststroke or freestyle swimming 480 kilocalories
- Jogging, 12 kilometers per hour 840 kilocalories
Basically: The longer and more intensely you stay in the saddle, the more calories you burn. If you stay in the saddle for an hour, you burn between 200 and 800 kilocalories (Kcal), depending on your speed, age and body weight.
But: Because you also build muscle through cycling, this also has a positive effect on weight loss. The good news: If you drive regularly, the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells increases. These “power plants” increase energy expenditure even when the body is at rest. “So the real effect is changing the body so that I burn more calories even when I’m not cycling,” says Froboese.
Tipp: Bite and endurance are therefore required – the organism is trained to access fat reserves as an energy source.
These muscles are exercised when cycling
It is undisputed that cycling builds muscle. Just think of the typical cyclist’s calves – whether in the Tour de France broadcasts or in amateur athletes.
If you stick with it, you too will soon have well-contoured legs. Because cycling actively trains these muscle groups:
- upper and lower arms
- shoulders as well
- on the upper and lower back
This means that almost all muscle groups in the body are more or less involved in the movement process when cycling.
Tip for regeneration: After the tour you should stretch regularly – especially the front parts of the thighs. This does not have to happen every time, but it works like a small wellness cure.
The exercise is very simple: You stand on your right leg, bend the left one backwards and pull it up to your bottom with your left hand, and hold it. Then it’s the other side’s turn.
Many cyclists forget this: Supplementary training is a must. “Professionals do it, amateurs often forget it,” says sports scientist Froboese. Above all, you should train the muscle groups of the upper arms, back and shoulders to prevent tension.
You should pack everything for a bike tour
Some tips on what should not be missing on the next bike tour.
First basic rule: “The water tank has to be full,” says Froboese. So drink a large glass of water – preferably lukewarm – before the bike ride starts. Within the first two hours, water is sufficient as food, say sports physicians.
Energie-Shot: On longer tours you have to supply the body with carbohydrates – bananas, for example, provide energy. If you are more ambitious about cycling, you can also use concentrated power gels. Many bicycle dealers have them in different flavors in their range. Such gels are often fortified with sodium – important to compensate for mineral loss through sweating.
Tipp: Isotonic drinks or sodium powder in a drinking bottle have a similar effect.
Power-Food: Even more important is the right diet after exercise – otherwise you risk losing the training effect, and asceticism is not healthy either.
In order to start the build-up process in the body and its regeneration, it is best to provide yourself with a combination of carbohydrates and protein, advises Froboese. Low-fat quark with fresh fruit or eggs with bread are great combinations to provide the body with the building materials it needs.