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Exercise Bike vs. Real Bike – Pros & Cons

As you continue on with your fitness journey, striving toward better cardiovascular fitness, one question that you may ask yourself from time to time is which method of cardio training is best.

If you’re a cyclist at heart, continuing on with your cycling is a wise move. Generally speaking, most of us tend to do the things we love more consistently, so if you enjoy riding a bike, you’re less likely to fall off the wagon if this is your chosen method of cardiovascular training.

So this now brings you to two different options: the exercise bike at the gym or the real bike out in the great outdoors. Which is the better bet? Which will improve your fitness level the most? Which has a better payoff for your time invested?

The answer is not as black and white as you might think. Understanding the key differences between these two methods of exercise training is important so that you can figure out which answer is right for you. Keep in mind there is no right or wrong here – it’s all about what works best for your own individual body. Figure that out and you’re set.

Let’s look at the key things that you’ll want to know.

The Fresh Air Experience

The first and potentially one of the most important things to consider and one that you may actually overlook in it all is the overall experience. When you ride your bike in the great outdoors, you get the benefit of being able to take in fresh air, see sights around you, and really feel like you’re out there living.

Now compare that with riding inside staring at a wall. Most people would agree that outdoor cycling is far more exciting and interesting, therefore the time does tend to pass quicker.

If you’re someone who struggles with workout boredom and finds themselves ‘clock watching’ as the minutes tick by, chances are good that you will really appreciate the fact that you can have a change of scenery by going outdoors.

You also get the freedom of choosing where you cycle when outdoors. You can take a totally different path from your last workout, creating a brand new workout. You hit the bike at the gym, apart from actually switching gyms, it tends to be the same old thing over and over again.

Finally, let’s not forget the feeling of accomplishment. While some people don’t struggle with this, others will find they feel more like they actually did something when they can say they biked from point A to point B. On an exercise bike, you are staying in one spot the entire time.

Climate Considerations

Another factor to consider is the climate. This is where going outdoors is going to hold you back. If it’s rainy, snowy, or just very windy, this can put a serious dent in your workout program.

It can make doing that workout session uncomfortable at best or cause you to skip out entirely at worst. It’s unfortunate when you have sky-high motivation but the thing to take you away from your workout is something that is completely out of your control.

The weather is unpredictable sometimes so this can really put a damper on your overall progress.

Time Of Day Issues

Likewise, you also need to think about the time of day that you exercise. This can go either way. If you are a very early morning exerciser, some gyms may not be open at that time. Likewise if you exercise very late at night.

But at the same rate, you may not feel comfortable heading outside during these hours either, so in that scenario, the best case is to find a 24 hour gym.

It’s important that you think realistically about when you are going to workout and maintain your schedule so you can best figure out where is going to be most suitable to getting those workouts in.

Another nice thing however is the great outdoors doesn’t shut down for major holidays whereas the gym often does.

Safety Concerns

You might also want to consider adding some safety concerns into the mix. Do you live in an area that you feel is safe to be cycling around? Remember that you are going to encounter all kinds of things while riding your bike outdoors: traffic, pedestrians, and even wild animals depending on where you live and cycle.

You need to be prepared to deal with these things if you choose to bike outdoors. While a motorist vehicle and cyclist crash don’t happen often, they do happen so you must be skilled at riding your bike outdoors if on major city streets. Safety should always come first.

You won’t see a passing car while you’re in the gym.

The Ability To Use The Recumbent Position

One really great thing using an exercise bike in the gym is the fact that you have two different seat position options: you can either sit upright as is traditional or you can use the recumbent position.

Very rarely do you ever see recumbent outdoor bikes, so this allows you to change up your workout if you choose to go in the gym. The upright bike is going to primarily work your quads while the recumbent bike will put more emphasis on the hamstring muscles as well.

It’s a good thing to change up how you are cycling from time to time as a means of cross training to help prevent injury and avoid burning (and overtraining!), so using an exercise bike can allow for this.

With outdoor cycling, your only option for cross training is actually just doing another mode of cardio training altogether such as running on the treadmill or running up a flight of stairs.

Distance/Calorie Tracking

If you are someone who loves keeping track of the numbers as you go about your workout session, you’ll probably really enjoy using an exercise bike over an outdoor cycle.

While you can wear calorie tracking devices now while you bike, these types of things are actually less effective for cycling as they are designed to monitor step count.

You’re better off using the calorie count on the exercise bike, making sure it’s calibrated for your own body weight. While these will never be 100% accurate either, they will give you a much better indication of how many calories you are actually burning.

In addition to that, using an exercise bike is also going to allow you to better track how far you’ve gone if you are training for a certain distance even and want to monitor that closely with your training.

Once again it’s not impossible to track this on an outdoor cycle, but it is far more convenient to do so on an indoor one.

A Case Of HIIT Training

If you are someone who likes to get involved in high intensity training, there are pros and cons to each of these modes of exercise as well.

With outdoor cycling, you can more easily speed up to that sprint pace as needed, ensuring that you are able to progress at maximum intensity.

The drawback? It’s much harder to ensure you are at the exact same intensity each and every time.

Other factors such as terrain can come into play and you really only can go by feel. Things such as how fatigued you are on a particular day can impact how challenging a particular speed feels so this could cause inconsistencies in your training.

For some people, this isn’t a huge deal but for others who like to closely monitor progress, doing their sessions on an exercise bike will likely be the superior choice.

A Case Of Multi-Tasking

Finally, if you are someone who does like to multitask while getting your workout in, for instance if you want to do some reading, watch your favorite TV show, or listen to a pod cast, this is more easily done in a gym setting.

While listening to a podcast isn’t too hard on an outdoor bike provided you don’t have the music so loud that you aren’t able to hear traffic, you definitely aren’t going to be reading or watching TV.

If you have an easy recovery cardio session planned and you just want to zone out and forget that you’re exercising, using an exercise bike indoors can help with this.

Outdoors, it’s still just you, the bike, and the road.

Do keep in mind though that when training hard, multitasking can be detrimental because it can take your focus off how hard you are working. So in that case, if you are too tempted to turn on the TV while in the gym, hitting the road outside may be a better option for you.

So don’t overall all of these factors when making your decision. Know that you only need to consider yourself when deciding what to do and what you think will help ensure that you have the best and most consistent workout possible. At the end of the day, that is really what is going to determine whether you see maximum results.

Photo credit: Nutthaseth Van/Shutterstock; g-stockstudio/Shutterstock; Pavel1964/Shutterstock; TORWAISTUDIO/Shutterstock

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