Bike Commuting Is Good Exercise…But Here’s What Else You Need

Published Categorized as Bike questions & beginner guides, Cycling tips, Lifestyle & general cycling

Daily cardio is essential for basic health and function. Bike commuting is a great way to build it into your life.

However, it does not provide the strength or mobility training that we also need on a regular basis. It may also create or worsen muscle and posture imbalances—especially if you commute to/from a desk job.

In this article, we’ll learn exactly what exercise it does and doesn’t provide, and how you can fill in the gaps for a body that works, feels, and looks well!

Disclaimer: this article is my opinion based on research and firsthand experience. I am not a physician and this is not medical advice. Consult a qualified professional before making any changes that could affect your health.

This article might contain affiliate links. As a member of programs including Amazon Associates, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Bike Commuting Is Enough Cardiovascular Exercise

The WHO, CDC, and American Heart Association all recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (like a brisk walk) or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio (like a jog) each week.

You can easily meet cardio recommendations by bike commuting 15 minutes each way, every weekday, at a moderate level of effort. That’s how long bike commutes take to cover 2-3 miles in the city, so most commutes are at least that long.

You can always ride harder for more intense cardio. However, limiting yourself to the exertion of a brisk walk minimize sweating and perhaps avoid the need to shower at work.

If you drive to work (or take transit without much walking), then it’s important to carve out more time for cardio every day. While cycling may be slower from door to door, it often saves time by replacing a separate cardio exercise session.

Bike Commuting Is Good for Weight Loss

Regular bike commuting is a good weigh to lose weight gradually and sustainably. You can reasonably expect to lose 2-3 pounds of fat per month just by replacing a sedentary commute with a bicycle commute. Take care not to increase your food intake or reduce other exercise to compensate for the added activity.

According to the Mayo Clinic, one pound of body fat contains about 3500 calories (on average). If you weigh 185 lbs, then you will burn about 170 calories in 15 minutes of cycling (at a moderate pace of 12-14 mph). Assuming your commute is just a 15-minute ride each way, you’ll burn 340 calories/day or roughly two pounds of fat per month.

You will probably lose weight faster if you

  • Weigh more
  • Have a longer commuter
  • Ride more vigorously during the same period.

However, any other changes in diet or activity could make weight loss slower or faster.

Remember that your metabolism gradually slows down as you lose weight. It’s perfectly normal if fat doesn’t keep melting off like it might at first. That’s not a bad thing. Your body simply doesn’t have to work as hard to move itself, which means less energy burned for the same activity.

Remember, bike commuting is not a “quick fix” for weight loss. It can be part of an overall healthier lifestyle that helps you get and stay lean, but it cannot make up for unhealthy habits in other aspects of life.

Bike Commuting Is Not Complete Exercise

Although bike usually exceeds guidelines for cardio, it does not significantly improve strength or mobility. Those are both necessary for a healthy and balanced body. Supplement your bike commute with strength/resistance exercise at least twice per week, and stretching/mobility exercise as often as possible.

Cardio is the most essential kind of fitness for simply remaining alive. However, it’s not sufficient to help us move well, perform normal daily activities, and avoid injuries. All those things require well-developed muscles, good coordination and bodily awareness, and a wide and controlled range of movement.

In fact, the repetitious movement and static posture can lead to tightness and muscular imbalances unless you counteract them with other, targeted forms of exercise.

Fortunately, bodyweight exercises and simple stretches can provide everything that bike commuting doesn’t.

Why Bike Commuting Alone Isn’t Enough

Bike commuting is sufficient cardio, but it does not significantly improve strength or mobility, which are necessary for a healthy and balanced body. Supplement your bike commute with strength/resistance exercise at least twice per week, and stretching/mobility exercise as often as possible.

Cardio is the most essential kind of fitness for simply remaining alive. However, it’s not sufficient to help us move well, perform normal daily activities, and avoid injuries. All those things require well-developed muscles, good coordination and bodily awareness, and a wide and controlled range of movement.

In addition, riding posture and the repetitive pedaling motion may leave certain muscles feeling tight and sore.

Fortunately, bodyweight exercises and simple stretches can address all the above. Below, I’ll cover the approach I use to move and feel my best.

The Exercises Every Bike Commuter Needs

It’s easy to do full-body strength and mobility work at home.

It’s even better if you have access to a gym or a public fitness/calisthenics park, but your bodyweight (plus a couple accessories) is plenty!

Bodyweight Strength Training Basics

Here’s a simple approach that has let me build strength despite a busy life…and without getting too fatigued to ride to work the next day!

(There are infinite variations on exercises, sets, reps, and so forth. Even with professional guidance, it still takes diligence and some experimentation to find what works best for you. This is just a starting point that I’ve personally found valuable.)

On at least two non-consecutive days each week, do 3-4 sets each of:

  • A couple upper-body pushing exercises, like push-ups or dips
  • A couple upper-body pulling exercises, like pull-ups or inverted rows
  • A lower-body exercise focusing on quadriceps, like squats with one or two legs
  • A lower-body exercise focusing on hamstrings and glutes, like hip bridges or single-leg deadlifts

Keep your form as strict as possible, using slow and controlled reps (about 1 second in either direction), and stop when it becomes hard to maintain perform form.

It’s great to reach around 12+ reps in your first set of each exercise, but that’s not always possible. You can try easier or harder variations, like moving your hands in or out for push-ups, or supporting your feet for pull-ups. The ExRx exercise library is a great resource on technique, exercise variations, and muscular anatomy in general.

Simple Steps for Better Mobility

Cycling uses your quadriceps (the large muscles on the front of each thigh) more heavily than any other muscles. They often get overworked, leading to fatigue, soreness, and tightness. In fact, extremely tight quadriceps can actually cause lower back pain—something I’ve dealt with for years.

Depending on your riding posture, you may also experience neck and chest tightness. That’s a bigger issue with road bikes, since the forward-leaning posture requires more support from chest muscles, as well as more neck extension to see around.

Working at a desk also causes or worsens similar issues, so it’s critical to stretch and foam roll regularly.

As often as possible (even multiple times per day!), spend a few minutes on things like:

Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist if you experience more than minor soreness or stiffness. Speaking from firsthand experience, there may be significant posture or movement problems that are hard to notice by yourself!