Sports Medicine

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 187–204 | Cite as

Applied Physiology of Cycling

  • Irvin E. Faria
Review Article


Historically, the bicycle has evolved through the stages of a machine for efficient human transportation, a toy for children, a finely-tuned racing machine, and a tool for physical fitness development, maintenance and testing. Recently, major strides have been made in the aerodynamic design of the bicycle. These innovations have resulted in new land speed records for human powered machines.

Performance in cycling is affected by a variety of factors, including aerobic and anaerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance, and body composition. Bicycle races range from a 200m sprint to approximately 5000km. This vast range of competitive racing requires special attention to the principle of specificity of training.

The physiological demands of cycling have been examined through the use of bicycle ergometers, rollers, cycling trainers, treadmill cycling, high speed photography, computer graphics, strain gauges, electromyography, wind tunnels, muscle biopsy, and body composition analysis. These techniques have been useful in providing definitive data for the development of a work/performance profile of the cyclist.

Research evidence strongly suggests that when measuring the cyclist’s aerobic or anaerobic capacity, a cycling protocol employing a high pedalling rpm should be used. The research bicycle should be modified to resemble a racing bicycle and the cyclist should wear cycling shoes. Prolonged cycling requires special nutritional considerations. Ingestion of carbohydrates, in solid form and carefully timed, influences performance. Caffeine appears to enhance lipid metabolism.

Injuries, particularly knee problems which are prevalent among cyclists, may be avoided through the use of proper gearing and orthotics. Air pollution has been shown to impair physical performance. When pollution levels are high, training should be altered or curtailed.

Effective training programmes simulate competitive conditions. Short and long interval training, blended with long distance tempo cycling, will exploit both the anaerobic and aerobic systems. Strength training, to be effective, must be performed with the specific muscle groups used in cycling, and at specific angles of involvement.


Muscle Glycogen Anaerobic Threshold Apply Physiology Pedalling Rate Maximum Voluntary Ventilation 
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Copyright information

© ADIS Press Limited 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irvin E. Faria
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Health and Physical EducationCalifornia State University, SacramentoSacramentoUSA

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