The 7 best cycling workouts for challenging indoor and outdoor rides

Get fit and strong with these seven sweaty cycling workouts

woman riding bike outside and woman on spin bike inside on peach background
(Image credit: Future/Getty Images)

Cycling workouts are great for building strength and improving cardiovascular fitness without the risk of injury, thanks to the low-impact nature of this activity. For some, cycling is a means to an end to get them to and from the office, while for others it's their go-to workout, whether they're cycling the roads or on a stationary bike at home. 

To help you get the most out of your bike, whether traditional, e-bike, or stationary spin bike, here we share expert-approved cycling workouts for indoor and outdoor cycling. Track your workouts (see our picks of the best fitness trackers) and get ready to transform your fitness routine. 

Why is cycling a great workout for women over 40?

The past few years have seen a “bike boom” as seasoned and newbie cyclists hit the roads to explore their local area. And it's not hard to see why—not only is cycling great for improving fitness levels, it can also benefit your mental wellbeing by boosting feel-good endorphins. Research (opens in new tab) published in Nature found spending two hours a week in nature can improve overall wellbeing—which makes cycling outside all the more appealing.

Spinning has also rapidly grown in popularity, with giants such as Peloton seeing their users double to 2.3 million people. Gabriella Guevara, founder of the rhythm-based spin practice The Cadence Club explains, “I think working out, in general, can be very intimidating, but the stationary bike offers a gentle approach for those who have little to no experience with exercise.”

Physically, cycling is a great form of strength training for women. As we age, we lose bone density. Cycling can help combat this natural loss and reduce the risk of osteoporosis by building strength and toning muscles while still being kind to joints. For those on a weight loss journey, cycling workouts will get your heart rate up, boost your metabolism and help you burn fat while working out and at rest. 

close up of woman cycling indoors

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best indoor cycling workouts 

1. HIIT cycling workout

High-intensity interval training is a popular indoor cycling workout for beginners, as it breaks a 30-minute ride into short bursts of effort and recovery time. It can bring variety to your stationary rides and will turn your body into a fat-burning machine. “Follow-along classes or structured workouts are produced to initiate changes in heart rate throughout the workout. This has been proven one of the most effective forms of fat loss vs a 'stagnant workout' such as walking or running," says Guevara. 

Equally, the short bursts of effort in this ‘on’ time will help build your muscles, speed, and overall stamina on the bike. Give it a try yourself, and you're set to feel confident and strong after completing this workout. 

How to do a HIIT cycling workout: 

  1. Warm up for 5 minutes
  2. Give your maximum effort for 30 seconds
  3. Ride easy for one minute
  4. Repeat the cycle 10 times
  5. Cool down with a 5 minute ride

2. Tabata workout

Tabata is an acclaimed version of high-intensity interval training usually structured as a four-minute workout but it can be stretched out to 30 minutes. The routine is broken down into eight sets of 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by a 10-second rest. 

This form of spinning is named after researcher, Izumi Tabata. In his 1996 study (opens in new tab), Tabata discovered athletes who did the workout five times a week for six weeks improved their metabolism and anaerobic capacity more than those who performed endurance workouts. 

As with all forms of cardiovascular exercise, cycling is about building stamina. Don’t expect to be able to do a Tabata workout five times a week from the beginning. It's a challenging workout that will take time to build up to but can be a great goal to set yourself as you kickstart your indoor cycling journey. 

How to do a Tabata workout: 

  1. Warm-up with an easy five-minute ride
  2. Give your maximum effort for 20 seconds 
  3. Gently ride for 10 seconds 
  4. Take one-minute recovery
  5. Repeat the set eight times 
  6. Cool down with a five-minute ride 

3. Endurance workout

Endurance workouts rely on consistent effort throughout the duration of your workout. Instead of a short burst of intensity, you'll give your maximum effort for one to five minutes, followed by the same amount of recovery time. 

Gentler than a HIIT workout or other forms of cardio such as running, cycling endurance workouts are great if you're prone to injury or want to go easy on joints. But don't be fooled, you'll still workout up a sweat and get your heart rate up. "Riding on a stationary bike is extremely low-impact, but you can achieve a workout of the same intensity of burpees and jump, without your body taking a beating," says Guevara.

It's highly recommended for those at the start of their fitness journey (see our guide to fitness for women over 50 if you're new to working out for more top tips).

How to do an endurance workout:

  1. Warm-up with an easy five-minute ride
  2. Ride at your maximum effort for one-five minutes 
  3. Recover with a gentle ride for the same amount of time as your ride 

4. Rhythm based rides

For a fun indoor cycling workout, opt for a rhythm-based ride. This allows the beat of the music to dictate your pace and can be a nice break from endurance and HIIT cycling workouts. 

“Rhythm-based rides hardly have any metrics. For inexperienced riders or beginners, this is really enticing because it isn't numerically competitive," explains Guevara. Listening to your favorite songs is the best workout motivation, but it's also an opportunity to discover new music and allow the beat to “help move your body” as Guevara says. 

It keeps the workout varied and allows you to focus on the movement as opposed to the clock. “The music, as well as the element of surprise not knowing what song or pace to expect next, keeps the workout interesting, motivating, and fun!" Guevara adds. 

How to do a rhythm-based ride: 

  1. Warm-up with an easy five-minute ride
  2. Put on your favorite playlist or a cycling playlist from your chosen streaming service
  3. Listen to the beat of the music and push the pedals in time with the beat 
  4. Set a timer for how long you'd like to ride, and then ignore everything but the music in your ears as you move 

woman and man cycling outside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best outdoor cycling workouts

1. Attack intervals

Interval workouts are great for working up a sweat on outdoor rides. If you live in a relatively flat area, the best way to add intervals is by changing the speed or cadence of your ride. 

Increase your speed for two or three minutes in moderate gear before taking a two-minute recovering ride and then repeating. Each set will increase your threshold pace and allow you to sustain these periods of attacks. Remember consistency is more important than giving everything to the first interval and being depleted for the rest of the ride. 

How to do attack intervals: 

  1. After a quick stretch, warm-up for five minutes
  2. Increase your speed to a high level for two minutes
  3. Take a two-minute recovery ride 
  4. Repeat five times 
  5. Cool down with a five-minute ride and stretch session 

2. Hill Charges

When you've gained some confidence cycling outside, challenge yourself with hill charges. One for the more experienced cyclist, to complete hill charges you'll stand up out of the saddle and charge up a medium incline as fast as possible. 

If there are only one or two hills in your area, you can always freecycle back down as your recovery and turn round to repeat the hill charge.  This routine will send your heart rate sky high and you can swap between a seated and standing position on the incline to really push yourself. For those new to the activity, investing in an e-bike might be best as it will give you an extra push and surge in confidence to make it to the top. 

How to do hill charges: 

  1. Warm-up with an easy ride for five minutes  
  2. Stand out of the saddle and increase your speed for 30 to 60 seconds up an incline 
  3. Sit back in the saddle and ride gently for two minutes 
  4. Repeat the cycle five times 
  5. Cool down for five minutes 

3. Endurance intervals

Endurance workouts help improve the power you create on the bike in 40-60 second bursts of effort. With a quick recovery time, these intense surges of effort on medium to high gear will improve your cardiovascular fitness as well as your confidence in controlling your bike outside. Monitor your efforts with your fitness watch or on a workout app

How to do endurance intervals:

  1. Ride easy for 10 minutes 
  2. Accelerate for 40-60 seconds 
  3. Recover for 20 seconds 
  4. Repeat the cycle five-10 times 
  5. Cool down for 10 minutes 

w&h thanks Gabriella Guevara (opens in new tab), founder of the rhythm-based spin practice The Cadence Club (opens in new tab) for their time and expertise. 

Jess Bacon is a freelance journalist, blogger and former editor with over six years of writing experience. As a screenwriter and journalist, Jess is keen to tell her own and other people’s stories through words, photos and film. She’s passionate about discussing young people's mental health, grief and feminism in life and how it's portrayed in the media, film and literature. Alongside her by-lines at renowned publications, Jess regularly speaks at charity events and festival panels about loss, mental health and Marvel. Along with her love of writing, Jess is an avid reader, spin enthusiast and dog-lover.