Unicyclist fitness and strength vs cyclists and other athletes

A study indicate that ballet dancers are significantly more physically fit than swimmers.

I think that the average unicyclist must has a higher level of fitness than an average cyclist, but at higher performing levels this might not be as clear cut, and may depend on the type of unicycling and cycling being done.

Any studies or speculation how unicyclist fitness, strength, and athletic abilities stack up against other cycling and other disciplines such as skateboarding? I am interested to get both personal opinions as well as facts on this subject.

It is pretty tricky as cyclists have SUCH a big range of riders that it makes it hard to compare the “average” of a cyclist.

In cycling you got PLENTY of people who just ride a bike to commute and ride it really chilled. Commmuting on a unicycle is nowhere near as chilled as a bicycle so unicyclists dont often ride it as an “easy” commute and therefore those who ride tend to ride seriously enough that they ride very often and harder than bicycle commuters, or we ride it to compete in some other discipline.

Those commuters probably drag down the general level of bicycle riders, if I do the annual Sydney event ride and go in the fun division (16km) all the unicyclists who do it are pretty reasonable level and we overtake probably 80% of the riders in it as they are these chilled commuters. However if we went in one level up to the 50km the riders are infinitely fitter and much more serious.

I think we have a higher percentage of riders who are fit for their device but I think it is because you don’t really choose a unicycle for an “easy” ride.

Bike riders have a much greater number of freakish riding ability though. More higher end competitors to compete with at the top than we have.

I agree that the average unicyclist is fitter than the average bicyclist. We have to keep pedalling and can’t just coast, like bicyclists. Riding downhill I still find difficult to maintain speed and keep balance. all this fighting with balance adds to spending more energy on unicyclist. And of course riding on dirtroads requires a much better physical shape, than just riding on paved roads.
I think a serious municyclist needs to be a in a better shape than a serious mountainbiker, especially if they were to ride the same distance.
This just how it feels to me. I’ve never done any research into it.

Unicyclist also come in many varieties. There is big difference between riding on a level street and hill climbing and a whole world of difference to MUni.

I’m only a hill climber. My doctor freaked out at my resting heart rate and thought I needed a pace maker because a fifty-something year old office worker shouldn’t have “the heart rate of an elite athlete” from doing three to four hours of exercise a week.

The heart specialist did stress tests and told me to “keep doing whatever you are doing”.

The heart is a pump. Pumps work best when they don’t have to suck at their input. Unicyclists pedal all the time, much of it at phenomenal cadence, pumping blood back to the intake of the heart. I believe that is what makes our circulatory systems work so well.



Now I am so glad that I took up this difficult and overwhelming challenge to learn unicycling, instead of something easier. Those heart rate numbers are phenomenal! Add in the core strength, concentration and balance, and wow, not only a cardio supersport, but also a supersport in balance and concentration.

People that know me thought I was nuts to take up unicycling, and become so determined to not give up no matter what.

I remember going out and buying KH leg armour, elbow and wrist protection and putting it all on plus my trusty helmet of course. Then took out my crappy $20 craigslist unicycle and flattening the tire at maximum PSI. Oops. I guess those things aren’t strong enough for someone close to 400lbs.

A few upgrades and reinforcements later, threw on all the safety gear (yes, a unicycle was a very scary thing to me, which is a big part of the challenge) Iand went all out in a daily practice session. Then I was wiped out for a week, can could not do any of my usual exercise routine. Much to my chagrin, I was eating everything in sight. Then, I noticed that I was down 5lb in spite of all that.

A few pretzeled unicycles, and tacoed wheels later, along with diet changes, I dropped a huge amount of weight and made real gains in stamina when not unicycling. Still getting in a 15 minute session left my body shaking muscles giving out and drenched in sweat. Now I can get in 30 minute sessions more consistently, and am getting some distance without a wall.

Someone bought a unicycle from me, skilled in a variety of cycling disciplines, very fit and experienced. He reported back that his body completely gave out within 15 minutes of practicing leaving him sore as hell all over for days.

I am definitely enjoying the way my body is transforming from this. The mind as well, as I have also noticed an increased ability to concentrate since taking this up.


I don’t know about the averages (and I don’t care), but I can say that most unicyclists in competitions are not very professional and on a much worse level of training than in most (more common) sports.

I was watching the german unicycle Cross Country championship, and so many people had terrible form. (Knees outward, crooked position, not using their calves). Aside from technique, a lot of unicyclists stretch very rarely, don’t do much in terms of body conditioning. (No, if you really want to become very fit, just unicycling is not enough, standard strengthening exercises are much more efficient).

There just aren’t enough guides out there with unicycling I think. Facebook suggests me articles like: “strenght exercises for bicyclists” or “stretches for bicyclists” quite often, but no one does articles like that for unicyclists. No one can recommend you any routines to become a better unicyclist, and I think that shows when it comes to a more advanced level.

Mostly WIMPY!

After one actually learns to ride unicycles, if they continue to progress, they start learning how to be effective and efficient while riding. So after the initial learning phase, when your adrenaline rushes have faded, soon many/most of us unicyclist become WIMPS unless we do something out of the ordinary or do other things for fitness and/or strength.

Many of my fellow companions will only downhill in short little sprints, do one or two tricks, or ride “distance” for five or ten minutes. Then we need to stop for a break. Or “plan” the next move/attempt.

Heck, I can easily ride 50 miles nonstop and not even be winded except on steep inclines. If it was all that hard I wouldn’t be able to go out this Saturday and come in last in a 32 mile single track mountain biking race. Last Sunday I finished an 80 mile gravel grinder and hardly broke a sweat all day.

Do I need to train for these rides? Apparently not. I didn’t.

Does unicycling keep me from gaining weight? Trainers label me obese. I struggle to keep only “mildly” obese.

Yes, if I, and others, can ride over 200 miles in under 24 hours it can’t be all that physically demanding to ride like the average unicyclist.

I’d classify myself in the wimpy category! I don’t look like anything special physically. Does only unicycling make any of the rest of you look “Atlas” like?



No elite unicycling is nowhere near as professional or as serious as high participation sports. We don’t have enough competition to need to train that hard. Even those who train hard probably don’t train “well” in comparison to professional sports. They probably don’t periodize their training to peak for competitions, monitor their loads to a large degree, perform resistance work or anything that professional athletes tend to.

You can be an elite unicyclist much easier than an elite bicyclist.

Yeah, long rides aren’t that tiring, but your brain can get fatigued from processing how to adjust to every bump in the road for hours on end. Unicycling, once you’ve learned to do it efficiently, is only light to moderate exercise, unless you climb steep hills or do a lot of hopping, and even then, it will only build muscles in your legs and “core,” not in your upper body, unless you use your uni as a supplemental weight while doing pull-ups or dips, but that isn’t really unicycling.

Unicycling is really what you make of it. If you manage to keep the intensity of a beginner and force yourself to learn advanced skills, or if you push yourself in some other way, it can be as much of a challenge and/or workout as you want it to be. I often tell people, though, that once you learn to ride, a 20" unicycle is not that much different for cruising around the neighborhood than a little kid’s bike- except that it’s a lot slower and much more fun!

Hmm, I’m not sure where you’re getting “significantly” from that article, and as always it all depends exactly how you define “fitness”. Clearly the swimmers are much fitter for swimming than the dancers - and I suspect also fitter under the measure by which you’re trying to define fitness here.

As for unicyclists vs bike riders, the only data point I have to work with is me, and I’m way less fit now than when I was a bike rider, but then I do a lot less training now than I did. I tend to agree with others that “average” is a difficult measure to use - if you’re including everybody who rides a bike then are you including everybody who is able to ride a unicycle? If you look just at those competing, then the level of fitness required to compete even at the lowest level in bike racing is way above the level of speed/strength and endurance of typical uni riders, even those who do take part in competitions.

A while ago I was asking for what books and media on unicycling were good and not so good. Most of the answers and suggestions were very lame. I saw many titles I saw on Amazon and eBay etc. were never mentioned. Some day I might order a few more that look potentially interesting.

Many times when I have asked specific questions many people kept answering me with “go out and just ride more” which I found to be a non answer, often irrelevant to the question I was asking. This was frustrating when I was having trouble with unicycles failing under my bodyweight.

So I think for the most part unicyclists do not have a great grasp of techniques or optimal training compared to advanced cyclists. I think most unicyclists internalize their abilities from lots of continuous practice, and can’t really explain how or why they can or can’t do what they do.

I guess that most unicyclists just want to go out and have fun. If millions of dollars in prize money, publicity, and prestige was at stake with lots of people getting into it for competitions then things would change. It would be nice to see some better training methods get researched and published so all enthusiasts, beginner to advanced could benefit, learn faster, and ride better.

So far all I know of is this contraption for beginners: http://justonewheel.com/uni-trainer/
If I had one, I would be much further along in my riding ability.

My journey just to learn to do unicycling at a basic level is an unnecessarily long one. I am only sticking with it as I see huge benefits from eventually being able to do it.

Fit compared to a competing athlete? Or fit compared to someone whose body is breaking down for lack of movement?

There are people whose body maintains a healthy bp, whose internal organs are not malfunctioning due to lack of exercise and poor diet who simply walk and rarely stay sedentary for more than 30 minutes at a time. They don’t strive for infinite fitness, but are fit.

Competition fitness and constant physically challenging oneself to do better than the practice before may truly be a good thing, but it isn’t remotely necessary to be at optimum health. Reaching the minimum of activity - of being active to raise one’s heart rate for 30 -40 minutes more than 3 days a week and less than 6 days in varied activities combined with a high fruit, vegetable intake, complex only carbohydrate diet with minimal red meat consumption and moderate to no animal product consumption with a total of moderate total intake seems to correlate world wide with longevity, stronger immune response and slowing down of physical deterioration, in short, moderating the aging process. See: National Geographic, “The Blue Zones.”

The Blue Zones in Loma Linda California are Seventh day Adventists. Last year I made my dietary changes to lose weight and improve health. It was pointed out to me that what I came up with was very similar to the Adventist diet. Good that they encourage each other to live a healthy lifestyle with activity and rest, diet etc. I agree with their philosophy of having specific schedules for work and rest. I would go further and put in a rotating schedules for all important activities: exercise, play, study, socializing etc. to get the most out of the chosen activity.

With aging people tend to lose balance, but that can be directly counteracted through unicycling, as well as other balance related neuroplasticity activities. I would also add in stretching, agility, and movement to the mix. Much of with is covered here: www.neverleavetheplaygound.com

Maybe. But what’s wrong with just having fun? I don’t know about you, but I do enough work at work. If I really wanted a structured, regimented training course then I could join the army :p.

Looks is only part of the equation. Many muscleheads out there look like Tarzan, and play like Jane. Going by your post, I think that you have a lot of stamina, just that you are humble about it.

If you just take it easy, of course not. Obviously working hard at cycling and spending a lot of time with it would yield better fitness results than taking it easy unicycling. A direct comparison of a daily ride of 10 miles per day, or the same amount of time spent riding, the unicyclist would be much more fit in their whole body. It is much easier to take it easy on a bicycle.

I think you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a normal person. You are fit like a marathoner. Some marathon experts could play starving refugees in movies or plays, but can outrun everybody else all day. :slight_smile:

Not only Road unicycling, or only most types of unicycling. But Trials, Street and similar disciplines use much more of the body’s muscles and structures, and get you looking good pretty much all over. If you want to really look fit, get good at Trials and Street riding, and mix in plenty of all the other disciplines to round things out (unicycle-wise).

This is true. I think level of training corresponds with “how hard” it is to win. Unicycling is still a microscopically tiny sport in comparison to (bi-)cycling (we need a better word for that), or nearly any sport you would see in the Olympics or on TV.

But I’ve been around this sport for a long time now, and watched the required level of fitness increase by leaps and bounds. Today’s top riders in disciplines like Cross Country Muni (and most everything else) are so much more fit than they were a few years ago–the level continues to increase as competitions get more intense.

Absolutely. We’re still inventing as we go along, and still pretty small. Nobody can make a living training unicyclists (some few exceptions in exceptional situations). There is no market for specialized books on elite unicycle training. Most top riders aren’t good at explaining how they do what they do. Great coaches are usually average to very good at their sport, but less often top top competitors. They are people that really had to work at learning the activity, and are better at explaining what it takes to increase ones’ skills.

One of our local riders, John Hooten was the consummate coach. He was a rowing coach for many years, and in the 70s worked his way up to coaching the Women’s Olympic Rowing team in the first year women rowed (1976 Olympics). Later he did loads of swim coaching, and his swimmers won lots of competition. He was a Boy Scout leader for at least 20 years, and his troop (Troop 121; known at Troopizi at some unicycle conventions) averaged more Eagle scouts than most troops anywhere. Sadly, John passed away last monday, while rowing on our local Lake Natoma, at age 66. His memorial service will be held tomorrow, and will be attended by many unicyclists (and rowers, scouts, community members), including myself, Nathan Hoover, Grace Fleming, Jim Sowers, Scott Bond and (I think) Jess Riegel. :frowning:

They certainly would! And unicycling would be a lot more mainstream, which many would consider a negative. But if this happens, it probably won’t be in the next few years. :slight_smile:

That was an amazingly long sentence, and amazingly readable! Can I get fries with that? :sunglasses:

Unfortunately research is time consuming and often requires expensive equipment. I have a number of research studies I would like to do on a number of areas of unicycling. One barrier is being allowed to use the equipment to do it, most places that own the equipment don’t see unicycling as a real sport so are hesitant to let you use their stuff.

The other barrier is what is the point if everyone ends up shitting all over it because they are stuck in the 1970’s golden era of unicycling and believe only raw talent decides who wins an event.

If you rode incremental amounts per day from 15 min to 45 across a month you would be able to ride for about a km unassisted at the end of that. The tiredness you say that holds you back is from not putting enough weight on your seat, you fix that by practicing.

Regular sessions is the main thing holding you back I believe, not your lack of a uni-trainer.

I’ve looked down in the shower and wondered how my legs got substituted by someone else’s.

Much stronger abs.

The other part that surprises me is my lower back. All my life until unicycling I had a weak lower back swayed forwards and prone to causing problems. Riding made it straighten out and become indestructible.

However I have had several months without much riding due to a range of reasons and for the first time in years I had some lower back troubles. Although minor they were definitely reminiscent of past problems.

Not necessarily. Sure, the cyclist can take it easier, but they can also work a lot harder than the unicyclist. Working hard at biking (why are people writing “cycling” when that applies to both?) yields better fitness results than working hard at unicycling. So for the same time spent doing either there’s a good chance the bike rider would get a better aerobic workout (certainly for road riding) - if I want to get a good workout I’ll take my bike out. Of course it comes back to the question of fitness - you also work your core muscles on a unicycle, but if you’re just riding around you’ll end up with wimpy arm muscles. Personally I do a combination of rock climbing, roller skating and unicycling at the moment for all round fitness you don’t get from just riding a uni - though if the aim was to be as fit as possible I’d sub some of the uni riding for bike riding or maybe a bit of running and kayaking as well, which is the combo I used to do.

True enough arms are not needed for unicycling. If you want to look like Atlas, you should go to the gym, but if you want to be just a better unicyclist, it is not important how wimpy your arms look. Flailing looks better with wimpy arms than muscled arms. I think for the survival of my uni’s it might be better that I weigh less and not more, whether on fat or muscles. I don’t care to look like a Stallone, but for me endurance on unicycle is most important. So aside from uni-ing I give my legs some extra training at the fitness centre to give it some more muscle when riding off-road or do climbs or catching myself in a UPD.
As for the wimpy arms, bicyclists would have the same problem. Cycling is a leg-sport. Bicyclists just need to make more kilometres to get the same intense workout as a municyclist.