Is Bike Commuting Enough Exercise? – (POSSIBLY)


With a full time job, 5 children and recently having moved to a house that we’re renovating with our own blood sweat and tears, my time to dedicate to exercise is very limited. I used to fit in dedicated training sessions into my weekly routine before, which is impossible at this point. I was curious if I could kill two birds with one stone by bike commuting and if I could replace some/most/all of my training with bike commuting. Here’s my experience after over a year.

Is bike commuting enough exercise?

A 7-10 mile commute can be covered in 25-45 minutes and doing it 3 to 5 times a week provides enough cardio exercise for most people. Since cycling doesn’t give a full body workout, it is recommended to do some complementary upper body training to stay in perfect shape.

In a nutshell, you will learn 3 important things in this post:

  • Cycling to work can be sufficient cardio exercise
  • The only three bodyweight exercises you need to complement your cycling
  • How fast you can expect to lose weight cycling to work

How much exercise do you need?

Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., a Mayo Clinic doctor suggests that most healthy adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise per week, but more exercise is even better. These should be spread out over the course of the week, which means that it’s better to do 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week than 150 minutes of exercise once a week. Also, for best results, you should aim for at least 30 minute sessions if possible.

Bike commuting fits perfectly this recommendation, as most commutes are 25-45 minutes long each way and cycling 3-5 times a week for 50-90 minutes (you need to return from work), means that you will get anywhere between 150 (3 x 50) and 450 (5 x 90) minutes of cardio exercise a week. That’s a huge thing! 

What does it mean in calories?

Cycling to work 3 times a week with a 1 hour round trip means that you will burn around 1500-2000 calories, the amount of energy stored in about ½ lb of fat. Cycling to work 5 times a week with a 1.5 hour round trip will burn about 3700-5000 calories, the equivalent of about 1.25 lbs of fat. Coupled with a healthy and balanced diet has incredible health benefits. It can contribute to weight loss a great deal, or help you maintain your weight. You can read more about the amount of calories you can burn and how it influences your weight in this other Bike Commuter Hero article.

Bike commuting to gain weight

If you struggle putting on weight, it can help with that too, since it enhances your appetite. I meet an 83 year old cyclist on my way to work several times a week. Whenever I meet him I talk to him for a few minutes. He is a role model to me in a way. He regained his appetite after a long sickness and being unable to eat for a long period by picking up cycling and running.

Complementary exercise

Riding the bike in itself is not sufficient to have a well-balanced, strong body. It takes care of cardiovascular exercise and lower body muscles, but it doesn’t work on the core, shoulders and arms. Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a lot of time to tick those boxes either, and you don’t need a gym membership, even if you live in a small apartment.

Dr Laskowski also suggests that each of the major muscle groups should be moved at least twice a week for a set, each of which consists of 12-15 repetitions, which will get your muscles sufficiently tired.

This is mostly in line with my personal experience. Even though my aim isn’t to build an impressive beach body, the exercises I do are sufficient to keep my muscles toned enough, and most importantly enough in shape so I can deal with anything life throws at me. 

My recommendation for muscle training consists of three exercises, which will move most of the major muscles in your upper body: shoulders, biceps, triceps, core and pecs. These exercises are pull-ups, push-ups and dips. Keep in mind that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all training plan, so this is my routine as a 176 lbs (80 kg) 10’11’’ (180 cm) man in his late 30s. 

  • 3-4 sets of 8-12 pull-ups 
  • 2-3 sets of 6-10 dips
  • 3 sets of 20-30 push-ups 

If you do the above routine 2-3 times a week besides regular bike commuting, you will build a very strong physique as well as a strong and healthy heart. 

How long does it take to go from unfit and overweight to fit and strong?

Depending on your current state of fitness/unfitness, it may take 3 months to 2 years to reach your goal in terms of body weight and composition. The main thing is to get started and to enjoy the process, because you will find out that the destination is the commitment, not reaching the goal weight or fitness. Those are only milestones.

Having said that, a healthy pace of weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week. While you can achieve this with a healthy diet alone, bike commuting and strength training can accelerate your results and make some really remarkable changes. Your overall well-being is much better when you’re not only the right weight, but also fit enough for your age.

Bike commuting as exercise vs. diet

When it comes to weight loss or weight control, diet is the most influential factor in the equation. As the cliche goes, “You can’t outrun (in our case outride) your fork”. 

If you’re trying to find out whether bike commuting is enough exercise for you to control your weight and lose belly fat, I recommend that you read this other article I wrote.

Happy Riding!

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