Try This 30-Minute Cycling Workout

Amp up your bike ride with this challenging 30-minute interval workout.

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Indoor cycling is great when the weather is rainy or cold, but there's nothing better than getting outside on a sunny, warm day for a bike ride.

"There's something really nice about covering distance and being in the fresh air and sunshine," said Jim Rutberg, a cycling expert for Carmichael Training Systems and Strava in Colorado.

Rutberg created a 30-minute interval workout that can be done indoors on a stationary bike or outside. If you decide to venture outside and you're a beginner, try doing the workout in a loop first so you can log the distance without getting too far from home. Once you feel comfortable, turn it into an out-and-back ride and explore new terrain.

Benefits of Cycling

Cycling offers a variety of benefits to your physical health, overall well-being, and the environment.

Helps You Meet Your Physical Activity Goals

Cycling is an efficient way to meet your physical activity goals. Most adults should aim for 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.

Here are a few ways physical activity is beneficial to your health:

  • It allows for more independence as you age.
  • It improves your overall well-being.
  • It prevents chronic diseases like heart disease and depression.

Can Be Incorporated Into Your Daily Routine

Since cycling is also a method of transportation, it can be a convenient way to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. If you ride a bike instead of driving your car to work, you can get in your physical activity within your regular schedule.

Research found that people who switch to active transportation for their commute have increased levels of physical activity and physical fitness.

Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Since cycling can also be used as an alternative to driving, this is beneficial for the environment since it reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, which can lessen the health effects of climate change.

Some health effects of climate change include:

  • Increased heart-related illness
  • Injury from floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events
  • Worsening lung and heart disease

You can reduce your carbon footprint if you choose to ride your bike instead of driving.

How To Gauge the Intensity Level

Before starting the workout, you should know how to tell if you're biking at an "easy" or "fast" level.

There are many ways to gauge your intensity level—like with a heart rate monitor—but you may not always have a monitor handy. Instead, you can use a "talk test" to track your efforts:

  • Recovery or easy level: This level means you can speak casually without pausing for a breath.
  • Endurance pace or moderate level: This level means you can speak one to two sentences at a time and have to pause briefly to breathe.
  • Fast or hard level: This level means you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing to breathe.

For timed intervals, use a watch, or you can time the distance between landmarks, like phone poles, and use those as your markers.

The Warm-Up

Here is an eight-minute warm-up routine you can do before getting into your cycling workout:

  • 3 minutes of easy riding
  • 1 minute of fast pedaling (high cadence, low resistance)
  • 1 minute of easy riding
  • 1 minute of fast pedaling (high cadence, low resistance)
  • 2 minutes of easy riding

The Workout

Here is the full workout:

  1. Start with six 30-second speed intervals separated by 30 seconds of easy recovery.
  2. Accelerate for 30 seconds, then pedal lightly as you slow down for 30 seconds. Remember that these aren't sprints so much as fast, seated accelerations.
  3. For 3 minutes, 30 seconds, do easy recovery.
  4. After recovery, do an eight-minute tempo interval, biking at a comfortable but hard pace—on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being as hard as you can go, effort should be a six on the rate of perceived exertion. Your breathing should be deep and controlled, nowhere near panting.
  5. Cool down with an easy pace for five minutes.

Risks of Cycling

Cycling is a great method of physical activity for most people—even older adults. Research found that cycling can help older adults improve their strength, balance, and mental status.

However, older adults should be more cautious when it comes to cycling since they are more prone to cycling-related injuries. Cycling comes with the risk of collision with motor vehicles, and injuries can include:

  • Hand and wrist fractures
  • Head trauma
  • Strains and dislocations of the joints

Since cycling can provide great benefits, older adults can make a few modifications to reduce their risk of injury. For instance, using stationary bikes has been shown to reduce falls in older adults. If older adults still want to bike outside, they should look for places with biking-friendly infrastructure, such as dedicated biking lanes.

Who Should Avoid Cycling

Cycling may not be for everyone; some older adults may be unable to participate. Cycling is not recommended for older adults who:

  • Are experiencing cognitive decline
  • Have physical impairments
  • Have recent injuries
  • Require assistance with daily activities

A Quick Review

Cycling provides many benefits. It can help you reach your physical activity goals, it's an exercise you can incorporate into your daily routine, and it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This 30-minute cycling routine can be done indoors, on a stationary bicycle to reduce the risk of fall or injury, or outdoors where you can explore new terrain and get fresh air.

Older adults who want to try cycling should have extra caution since they are more likely to experience falls and injuries. Older adults with physical impairments, recent injuries, cognitive decline, or require assistance with daily activities should avoid cycling.

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  2. Green S, Sakuls P, Levitt S. Cycling for health: Improving health and mitigating the climate crisisCan Fam Physician. 2021;67(10):739-742. doi:10.46747/cfp.6710739

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measuring physical activity.

  4. Ikpeze TC, Glaun G, McCalla D, Elfar JC. Geriatric cyclists: assessing risks, safety, and benefitsGeriatr Orthop Surg Rehabil. 2018;9:2151458517748742. doi:10.1177/2151458517748742

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