Is Biking Aerobic or Anaerobic? Understanding the Difference

Author: Kier

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Are you ready to take your fitness to new heights? Then strap on your helmet because we’re going to show you how. Although cycling is known for being a great aerobic workout, there can sometimes be a dynamic interplay with another important energy system – the anaerobic system.

In this article, we’ll explore these powerhouse systems and discover how they work together to boost your overall fitness. So, whether you’re a leisurely cyclist or a hardcore enthusiast, get ready to boost your cycling potential!

Key Takeaways: Is Biking Aerobic or Anaerobic?

  • Biking for aerobic fitness improves your heart health and can aid in weight loss or management.
  • Aerobic training boosts your stamina, endurance, and flexibility.
  • You can incorporate anaerobic training into your cycling through HIIT, hill climbs, and sprinting techniques.
  • Combining anaerobic and aerobic exercise is great for maximizing your overall fitness.
  • Factors like intensity and duration can affect whether cycling is aerobic or anaerobic.

Aerobic Exercise and Biking

Don’t let the name fool you! Better known as cardio exercise, aerobic exercise is any kind of physical activity that increases your breathing and heart rate for an extended period of time.

These aerobic exercises involve continuous movements of large muscle groups at a moderate pace. In turn, this allows your body to take oxygen in and use it for energy.

When you’re cycling, you are effectively using your aerobic energy system to boost your cardiovascular health, endurance, and overall fitness.

closed up shot of cyclist wearing yellow green

Cardiovascular fitness

Biking for aerobic fitness can help to strengthen your heart muscle, improve circulation, and enhance the efficiency of your cardiovascular system. This means that when you’re cycling, you’re reaping all of the health benefits that are associated with aerobic activity.

In fact, you’ll actively be working towards lowering your resting heart rate, blood pressure, and your risk for heart disease.

Endurance and stamina

Aerobic training improves your endurance and stamina by challenging your body to keep up with continuous physical activity for long periods. As you cycle, your muscles will learn to use oxygen more effectively. And, over time, you’ll be able to ride for longer without feeling fatigued.

Weight management

Do you have a weight loss goal? Or maybe you just want to manage your weight more effectively? Either way, aerobic training is a great way to burn calories to maintain a healthy body weight. When you cycle regularly, you’ll start to increase your energy expenditure and burn fat, leading to weight loss and a boost in your overall health.

Low-impact exercise

Biking is a low-impact exercise that puts minimal strain on your joints. Unlike other aerobic exercises like running, cycling is a great choice for anyone with joint issues. Plus, it’s a fantastic idea if you want to increase your aerobic capacity without putting stress on your body.

Anaerobic Exercise and Biking

Anaerobic exercise is characterised by intense bursts of energy that are performed at high levels of intensity. However, unlike aerobic fitness, these exercises require energy without the presence of oxygen. Instead, your body relies on glycogen and other energy sources within your body to fuel anaerobic training.

These anaerobic energy bursts typically last from a few seconds up to about two minutes, depending on the intensity and the individual’s fitness level.

While cycling primarily uses aerobic power, it can also incorporate anaerobic components. This is particularly true during certain types of cycling training.

Sprints and high-intensity intervals

Cycling can include anaerobic training through sprints or high-intensity interval training. Usually, these exercises involve pedaling at maximum effort for short periods that range from a few seconds to several minutes. Of course, they are also followed up by a recovery period to allow your body to rest and regain energy.

Hill climbs and uphill cycling

Cycling uphill or tackling hill climbs can be tricky. But the good news is that it can help to increase your anaerobic capacity and quickly shift your body into anaerobic metabolism.

As you train, you can start to challenge yourself to steeper inclines. In turn, this means your muscles will work harder to overcome the resistance and you’ll have a higher level of anaerobic energy production.

two cyclists nearing the summit of the col de la madeleine

Track cycling and sprinting techniques

If you’re a competitive track cycler, chances are you’re tapping into your anaerobic energy system without even realizing it! Techniques like standing or flying starts and explosive accelerations rely heavily on anaerobic power to generate more speed. This means that they use quick bursts of energy as part of an anaerobic system.

Calorie burning

When you’re engaged in anaerobic exercises like intense cycling, your body will benefit from a metabolic boost – even when you’ve finished your workout. Most anaerobic exercises create an oxygen deficit, which your body works to restore during your post-workout rest. This leads to more effective calorie-burning and fat oxidation.

Combining Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise in Biking

Combining aerobic and anaerobic activities during your rides can be a great way to reap health benefits and maximize your overall fitness and performance. When you integrate both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems into your routine, you can also achieve a more well-rounded fitness profile.

Is Biking Aerobic or Anaerobic?

But how do you combine these energy systems? Below, we’ve listed some of the easiest ways to use them together in your cycling regime.


I am not a qualified trainer. The exercises listed are based on my personal experience. If you’re unsure about any exercise, please consult a certified professional for guidance on proper technique. Incorrect form, especially with weights, can cause serious injury.

Interval training

Interval training involves using alternate periods of high-intensity anaerobic efforts and lower-intensity aerobic recovery periods. For example, you can push through hill climbs or sprints for a set duration or distance before slowing your pedaling and allowing your body to recover its energy.

You can also use this technique during long-distance endurance rides. To do this, you’ll want to incorporate a handful of high-intensity bursts into your long-distance ride, being careful not to overdo it.

You’ll want to do these intervals at set periods along the middle of your ride rather than at the beginning or very end of your workout. Otherwise, you may overexert yourself.

Fartlek training

Fartlek, a Swedish term meaning ‘speed play’, uses periods of varied intensity and speed to force your body to use both energy systems. During your ride, you can spontaneously increase your pace or include short bursts of high-intensity interval training.

When you do this, you’ll activate your anaerobic energy system.

The idea of Fartlek training works similarly to interval training, where you use your aerobic system cool down after these bursts of energy. However, the difference between the two lies in the spontaneity of your use of your anaerobic energy system.

This can help to add some fun and unpredictability to your rides.

Circuit training

Circuit training primarily makes use of a stationary bike or indoor bike trainer. When you use circuit training, you’ll be combining strength or resistance training alongside biking intervals.

For example, you can do some lightweight exercises immediately after a high-intensity bike interval to make the most of your aerobic and anaerobic energy system.

Not only is this a great way to combine these energy systems, but it also provides you with a comprehensive workout!

Factors Affecting Whether Biking is Aerobic or Anaerobic

There are several factors that influence whether biking leans more towards being aerobic or anaerobic. Still, it’s important to note that cycling isn’t exclusively aerobic or anaerobic. Instead, you can think of biking as a spectrum that can move between the two. You can also manipulate your training program to purposefully include both energy systems.

Some of the key factors that can affect the nature of your rides include:


Intensity plays a significant role in whether your cycling training session is aerobic or anaerobic. Low to moderate intensities are more likely to engage your aerobic system. During this, your body supplies the oxygen you need to meet energy demands. On the other hand, higher intensities will shift the exercise to use your anaerobic system.

A group of cyclists are riding on a grassy field, participating in what appears to be a cycling event. The sky is clear, and the field is bordered by red and white tape. Trees are visible in the background.


Aerobic activity usually involves sustained effort over extended periods like those on long-distance rides. Meanwhile, anaerobic exercise tends to be shorter in duration because of the limited amount of energy stored in your muscles.


The resistance level or incline during your bike ride can impact both the intensity and the energy system involved. When you ride on flat terrain, you’re likely using your aerobic system. But when you increase the resistance or ride uphill, you may be pushing the exercise toward using your anaerobic energy system.

Interval training

Interval training deliberately engages both the aerobic and anaerobic systems. The high-intensity intervals tax your anaerobic system, while each recovery period allows for aerobic replenishment.

Muscle fiber type

Your muscle fiber composition can also play a role in determining the reliance on the different systems. Fast-twitch muscle fibers have a bigger anaerobic capacity, while slow-twitch fibers are more reliant on your aerobic metabolism. The proportion of these fibers in your muscles can influence the dominant system you use.

cyclist looking tired after indoor cycling workout

Safety Considerations for Biking Workouts

When it comes to biking, safety should always be your top priority. Whether you’re biking for aerobic or anaerobic fitness, you’ll want to take certain precautions for a safer experience.

Firstly, your nutrition and hydration are essential. No matter which exercises you choose, you’ll want to fuel up and have enough energy to draw from.

This starts with eating a good meal or snack before your ride and getting enough water to avoid dehydration. You should also be sure to eat a carb and protein-heavy snack around 30 minutes after your workout to help your body recover.

Ideally, you’ll also want to ensure that your bike is properly maintained to withstand high-intensity rides or long distances without a problem. Before you start your training session, you should be sure to check your tires, brakes, and gears.

cyclist drinking water during morning ride


How often should I incorporate anaerobic exercise into my biking routine?

The amount of anaerobic cycling exercise you do will depend on your fitness level and long-term goals. It’s always best to start slowly (2-3 times per week) and gradually increase the frequency as you build strength and endurance.

What type of bike is best for anaerobic and aerobic biking?

For both aerobic and anaerobic biking, a road bike or hybrid bike with a lightweight frame and efficient gearing may be best. These bikes are designed for speed, efficiency, and versatility. This makes it easier to tackle various training intensities and terrains.

Photo of author


Kier focuses on improving all things bike, and is always looking to take his ability to a new average (hopefully a higher one!). When not on the bike Kier is normally downing coffee and cake.
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