Cycling is a low impact aerobic exercise that offers a wealth of benefits. It is a highly effective form of exercise. It requires a lot of energy, builds lean muscle mass, and improves your strength, cardio capacity, and endurance. It also varies in intensity, making it suitable for all levels. You can cycle as a mode of transport, for casual activity, or as an intense, competitive endeavor.
While cycling is generally a great option for losing weight because it’s low-impact and burns a ton of calories, you’ll need to do more than just get on your bike and ride.
Here are some ways cycling can help you burn and shed pounds from your waistline, along with its several other health benefits.
1. Go Hard
A key to losing weight is being consistent with your daily workouts. When you don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to your workout, upping the tempo has been proven to burn belly fat more efficiently on the bike and give your metabolism a boost in the 12 hours following your workout (1).
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one way to make it happen, and the good news is these workouts can usually be completed in only 30–45 minutes. The indoor trainer, stationary bike or a local spin class are good options for HIIT workouts because of their convenience and safety when cycling at high speeds.
2. Go Slow, If Necessary
Even though going hard has its advantages, the reality is interval or HIIT training should only make up about 20% of your weekly workouts to avoid injury. The other 80% of your workouts should be of the long, slow variety that are easier to recover from and burn a ton of calories.
Aim to ride the majority of your workouts at about 70% of your maximum heart rate for about two hours. If you don’t have or use a heart rate monitor, this is close to a 6 out of 10 on the perceived level of exertion scale. As your fitness improves, up your workout time for one or two rides to more than 3 hours for maximum fat burn.
3. Ride Fasted in the Morning
Whether it’s your morning commute or an easy ride before work, riding fasted can bump up your fat burn. This is because when you’ve not fasted, your body burns carbohydrate and glycogen stores before you begin using fat for fuel.
On the other hand, when you’ve fasted, your glycogen levels are low and your body uses fat to power your workout instead. The optimum range for intermittent fasting is 12–16 hours, so if you plan to work out at 8 AM, you’ll need to avoid all food and beverages other than water from at least 8 PM the night before. Keep in mind fasted riding is best for shorter workouts lasting less than 2 hours to avoid bonking.
4. Off The Bike Exercise
Your instinct may be to concentrate on stomach crunches and sit-ups to remove belly fat. In reality, although these will help to build muscle and improve core strength, they won’t remove fat – aerobic exercise is still the most efficient way to do that.
However, there are many benefits to cross-training, whatever type you choose to do. It can improve your on-bike performance meaning you’re more likely to be able to ride further and for longer. And this, in turn, will mean you’ll be able to burn more calories.
Try aerobic muscle workouts such as the ‘lying down bicycle’ exercise. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head and raise yourself up so that your shoulders and legs are off the ground at a 90-degree angle with your knees bent.
Touch your right knee to your left elbow while extending your left leg, followed by the left knee to right elbow extending your right leg. Repeat this, at a controlled speed, in sets of 20 with 30 seconds rest.
Planks are also excellent for toning the core muscles and increasing strength.
Circuits and classes such as Zumba and Body Combat are aerobic, so they can give you a high-intensity session where you’ll burn some serious calories, and can be fun too, as well as give you a full-body workout.
Yoga and Pilates may not be high intensity, but they are highly recommended for cyclists because they help stretch out muscles that can become tight after the repetitive motion of pedaling and being positioned on a bike for hours at a time. This helps avoid injury, which again means fewer impediments to stay on your bike.
Weight and strength training can also help. Bodyweight exercises such as squats and planks can help improve your core strength, your shoulder strength, and your leg strength.
There’s also evidence to suggest that weight training helps improve muscle efficiency on long rides. One study showed that female duathletes who added weight training to their regime saw an increase in muscle efficiency over those who did not do weight training after two hours of cycling (2).
5. Eat Right
In theory, losing fat is simple: you need to burn more calories than you consume. The bigger the calorie deficit, the greater the fat loss.
Be careful to fuel your exercise with slow-burning carbohydrates like wholegrain pasta and bread, as well as lean proteins such as turkey. Avoid eating much of anything high in saturated fat, such as cheese, butter, and sugary sweets.
You should also be wary of food labeled ‘low fat’. Some so-called low-fat foods have very high levels of sugar, which contains a lot of calories that the body converts into fat during digestion, so check the labels carefully. You may be better off going for a moderate, occasional portion of the real deal rather than the ‘low-fat’ option.
Don’t be tempted to drastically reduce your calorie intake: you still need to make sure you’re getting enough food to function healthily.
If you’re not fueling yourself adequately in your training you won’t be able to get the most from your key sessions, which lowers your performance. Your body could start dropping muscle mass rather than fat. Your body may also go into starvation mode, slowing the metabolism to conserve calories, which is exactly what you don’t want.
The general advice is to aim for a weight loss of between 0.5lb to 2lb or 0.2kg to 1kg a week. There are plenty of online tools to help you work out the calorie deficit you need to aim for to achieve this. The best way is to make healthy food choices and up your levels of physical activity.
It’s also worth avoiding food and drink that can cause bloating. While this isn’t actually belly fat, it’s caused by water retention in the tissues, also known as edema, around your stomach and elsewhere on your body. It can cause that tum to look a little on the large side.
You might already be aware of certain foods that have this effect on you, but salty foods and alcohol certainly have this effect so are best avoided or limited, not to mention the hidden calories in alcoholic drinks!
6. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is one of the main factors that can contribute to unnecessary weight gain. It is usually a three-pronged attack, with highly calorific alcoholic drinks piling on empty calories.
The alcohol content can also alter your senses on the situation and how much you have actually drunk, which can lead to greater consumption of alcohol itself. It can also lead to binge eating which piles on additional calories as well.
All three scenarios are a recipe for easy weight gain.
7. Sleep More
In addition to being beneficial for post-workout recovery and injury prevention, getting the recommended amount of sleep each night can actually reduce stress and promote weight loss (3). Getting less than the recommended amount makes you retain weight despite your workout efforts.
Instead of staying up and snacking while you watch late-night TV, ride hard during the day so you’re tired and head to bed early and get eight hours of sleep per night to reach your weight-loss goals. Being well-rested also makes it easier to get up in the morning and get your workout in before you head to work, making the option of skipping your workout less likely.
8. Stress Less
Stress and its associated low mood can affect weight; some people stop eating properly and lose weight, others turn to comfort eating and gain weight. Neither is ideal or healthy. Stress can also affect sleep levels. So controlling or managing your stress levels can have a beneficial effect on weight control.
Happily, regular aerobic exercise such as cycling is a great way of combating stress, decreasing anxiety, helping to reduce tension and boost your mood.
What’s more, getting outside into nature has also been shown to decrease stress levels and handily cycling is a predominantly outdoor form of exercise (4).
9. Find Friends to Get Fit With
Research shows that social support—especially having a workout buddy or two—dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll stick with your routine, and consistency is key to improving your fitness and shedding unwanted weight (5). Cycling is such a social sport that, like herds of buffalo and flocks of geese, there’s even a special name for a group of us: a peloton. It doesn’t take more than a quick search to find local cycling clubs where you can meet riders of the same fitness and ability levels to pedal with.
What Are The Other Health Benefits of Cycling?
Aside from weight loss, cycling can enhance your fitness level and well-being in other ways.
1. It Strengthens Your Legs
Cycling improves overall function in your lower body and strengthens your leg muscles without overstressing them. It targets your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
To make your legs even stronger, try weightlifting exercises, such as squats, leg presses, and lunges, a few times per week to further enhance your cycling performance.
2. It Is A Core Workout
Cycling also works your core muscles, including your back and abdominals. Maintaining your body upright and keeping the bike in position requires a certain amount of core strength.
Strong abdominals and back muscles support your spine, increase stability, and improve comfort while cycling.
3. It Improves Balance, Posture, and Coordination
As you stabilize your body and keep your bike upright, you’ll improve your overall balance, coordination, and posture. Balance tends to decline with age and inactivity, so it’s vital to keep on top of it.
Improved balance is beneficial in the prevention of falls and fractures, which can leave you on the sidelines while you take time off from exercise to recover.
4. Its A Positive Start to Your Morning
Start your day with a healthy activity like cycling, which wakes you up by boosting your circulation and allows you to start your day with a sense of accomplishment. You may feel more inclined to make healthy, positive choices as the day progresses.
Fasted morning rides at a low intensity may burn fat, enhance endurance performance, and boost your energy and metabolism levels all day.
Evidence found that people who exercised before breakfast for 6 weeks improved their response to insulin, which helped them burn twice as much fat as those who exercised after breakfast (6).
5. It Promotes Mental Health
Cycling can ease feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety. Focusing on the road while you’re cycling helps develop concentration and awareness of the present moment. This may help take your focus away from the mental chatter of your day.
If you find yourself feeling lethargic or listless, get yourself on your bike for at least 10 minutes. Exercise releases endorphins, which in turn help you feel better while lowering stress levels.
You may feel more confident and content once you make cycling a regular part of your life.
6. It Manages Several Health Conditions
Whether you want to prevent health concerns from arising or manage existing conditions, regular exercise is key. Cycling regularly is one way to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and its accompanying health concerns.
It can help prevent cardiac issues such as stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure. Cycling may also help prevent and manage type 2 DM (7).
7. It Is Beneficial For Cancer Patients
Cycling is a fantastic addition to your care plan if you have or are recovering from cancer. Cycling can also keep you lean and fit, which may reduce your risk for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Evidence shows that staying active if you have breast cancer may help reduce the side effects of cancer treatment, including fatigue, and improve your overall quality of life (8).
8. It Is Environmentally Friendly
Reduce your carbon footprint by riding your bike whenever possible. Cycling is a great replacement for transport options that involve sitting in traffic for extended periods. It’s especially useful when you’re going places that are a bit too far to walk, but you still don’t want to take a car. A bonus is not having to fight for a parking space in crowded areas!
9. It Is Suitable for Newbies
It’s simple to ride a bike. If you have difficulty with a standard bicycle, stationary bikes are a great alternative.
If you’re new to fitness or are bouncing back from an injury or illness, you can cycle at a low intensity. As you get more fit, you can increase the intensity or continue to cycle at a chill pace.
Are There Any Disadvantages?
There are a few drawbacks to cycling to consider.
1. Risk of Accident
A serious disadvantage is the risk of an accident, whether in an urban or rural area. When possible, ride on lanes reserved for cyclists as well as neighboring streets. Cycle tracks and streets within 550 meters of the tracks, had fewer collisions between cyclists and vehicles.
2. The Need to Follow Traffic Rules and Proper Attire and Equipment
Always follow traffic laws. Use caution while going through intersections and busy areas, even if you have the right of way. Invest in a quality helmet and any other protective gear you may require.
Avoid any loose clothing that could get caught in your bike chains. Have bike lights as well as reflective gear for nighttime cycling.
If bike-commuting a long way to work, consider bringing a change of clothes to freshen up.
3. Inclement Weather
Inclement weather can also be a hindrance. On days when it’s not possible to cycle outside, you can ride a stationary bike or choose another activity. If cycling is your mode of transportation, invest in rain and cold weather gear.
For extended daytime rides, use sunscreen on all exposed skin. Reapply every 2 hours, especially if you’re sweating. Wear UV-protective sunglasses and a hat. Consider investing in UV-protective clothing.
4. Air Pollution
Air pollution is another concern if you’re cycling in a city. You may choose to cycle on days when the air is cleaner or ride on less congested roads.
It’s possible to cycle every day, especially if you use your bicycle for transportation or ride at a low intensity. Take a break if you experience pain, fatigue, or muscle soreness. If you’re cycling for fitness and to lose weight, you may want to give yourself at least 1 full day of rest each week. This is especially important if you ride at a high intensity, or find your body getting sore in specific ways.