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The science of cycling

If you haven’t cottoned on to the power of pedalling, you’re missing out, says Les Mills writer Emma Hogan, as she highlights the latest science and shares six great reasons why indoor cycling is still riding high in clubs around the world
Published 11. May 2023

#1 Cycling is an enjoyable way to kick-start a fitness regime

With pumping music, motivating instructors and tested programming, indoor cycling has proven to be a particularly effective way to get hooked on exercise. This was highlighted by an eight-week study where exercise newbies eased into exercise with three Les Mills RPM™ indoor cycle classes a week – and the vast majority didn’t miss a single workout.

Bryce Hastings, Les Mills’ head of research, says the 95 per cent compliance rate is almost unheard of in a fitness trial. “It speaks volumes about the enjoyable nature of the workout and its positive effects,” he adds.

#2 Indoor cycling gets you fit… fast!

Powering through just three cycle workouts a week can do wonders for your fitness. Research shows that just eight weeks of regular cycle workouts can lead to improved cardio fitness – we’re talking an 11.8 per cent increase in VO2 – as well as reducing body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Indoor cycling can reduce body fat
Three RPM classes a week for eight weeks can dramatically reduce body fat

According to researchers, it’s the varying levels of intensity within the cycle workout that are an important factor in maximising muscle adaptations and producing comprehensive health benefits.

It’s why workouts such as RPM are based on the science of cardio peak training, which combines the cardio endurance of steady-state training with the transformative fat-burning benefits of high-intensity interval training. The workout is structured to maintain your heart rate at an aerobic training base of between 60 and 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate, interspersed with peaks of intensity that push you to 85 to 90 per cent of your max.

#3 High-intensity interval cycling gets you even fitter

There are plenty of studies highlighting how high-intensity interval training (HIIT) drives muscle activation and fat-burning capacity, but most of these studies are based on conventional weight-bearing HIIT exercises such as burpees, squat jumps and lunges.

Indoor cycling spinning
In an eight-week study, RPM hooked 95 per cent of exercise newbies

The exception is an interesting study by Professor Jinger Gottschall at Penn State University in the US, which detailed how high-intensity interval cycling can be a great, low-impact way to enjoy the transformative results of HIIT.

Study participants added just two 30-minute Les Mills SPRINT™ workouts – Les Mills’ HIIT cycling programme – to their weekly regime and significantly improved cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal fitness. They also reduced body fat mass and blood pressure, while enhancing glucose tolerance and strength.

#4 Cycling cuts fat from your waistline

Regular cycling doesn’t just result in toned and shapely legs: it can be a great way to reduce your waistline too. One study showed that in just eight weeks, exercisers doing RPM three times a week managed to cut an average of 3cm from their waistlines, as well as reducing body fat by 13.6 per cent. This is important, as fat that’s stored around your middle is often dangerous visceral fat; a disproportionately large waistline is an indicator of several serious health risks.

Les Mills sprint
Cycling is the second most beneficial activity for emotional health, after team sports

#5 Cycling helps your mental health

Jumping on a bike is shown to be one of the best ways to beat stress, depression and poor mental health.

Over a three-year study, 1.2 million adults recorded their physical activity, as well as detailing how many days they experienced any stress, depression or other emotional issues. Researchers concluded that cycling was the second most beneficial activity in terms of emotional wellness, beaten only by team sports.

#6 Cycling can slow, and even reverse, the ageing process

Forget pills and potions: research indicates that pedal power could be the elixir of youth.

In a study of 125 amateur cyclists, researchers found the cyclists maintained consistent muscle mass and strength as they aged, as well as stable levels of body fat and cholesterol. In the process, they reduced their risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, while their production of disease-combatting T-cells was still functioning as well as in much younger people.

There’s even evidence that cycling can reverse the ageing process and shave up to 20 years off your biological age. Sound too good to be true? Here’s the evidence.

If that isn’t a reason to jump on the nearest indoor bike right now, we don’t know what is!

Les Mills Sprint instructor sweating with open mouth
SPRINT can bring all the benefits of a HIIT workout without impacting the joints

Emma Hogan is a writer for global group workout leader Les Mills. A longer version of this article was published on Les Mills’ Fit Planet in November 2022.

Published 11. May 2023

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