This post describes 7 steps to lose weight by cycling and also explains why cycling is an ideal exercise for weight loss. Cycling burns a lot of calories, and can be sustained for long periods of time because it is so much fun. And because cycling is a low-impact exercise, you can start cycling even if you are very overweight. Many people have lost impressive amounts of weight with the help of cycling, and you could become one of them!
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Lose Weight Cycling – How it Works
Riding a bike uses all of the largest muscles in your body: your quads, your hamstrings, your hip muscles, and your glutes. Using large muscles burns a lot of calories. An average calorie burn per hour on a bike ride is around 400 to 600 calories, depending on your weight and how hard you pedal. So if you can ride a bike for an hour a day, you can burn up around 4,000 calories per week. This could be enough to burn off a pound of fat. And because cycling is fun, you can keep doing it for long periods of time. In good weather we often enjoy bike rides that last all day (with a break for lunch, of course!)
How Cycling Burns Calories
Cycling dramatically increases the number of calories you burn, and also burns fat. It does this in several ways:
- While you are cycling, you burn hundreds of calories.
- Even once you stop cycling, you continue to burn more calories throughout the day, because your body uses calories to repair your muscles. And the exercise will push up your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories you burn while you’re just sitting on the couch, or even sleeping! After cycling, your BMR will stay up for hours. If you do 45 minutes or more of cycling, you are likely to keep your BMR raised all day long.
- You can burn fat by cycling for long distances at moderate to slow speeds, providing you don’t consume more than 200 calories per hour while you are cycling.
- You can burn up a lot of calories and rev up your metabolism in a short period of time by doing high intensity interval training on your bike. This has the added advantage that it effectively combats aging, as explained in this post about why interval training on a bike is an excellent way to fight aging.
- Over time, cycling will turn your body into a fat-burning machine. This is because it will build lean muscle tissue, which in turn raises your BMR permanently!
Related Post: How Many Calories Can You Burn Cycling?
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You can even burn a lot of calories on an electric bike! See our post: How Many Calories Can You Burn Riding an E-Bike?
Related Post: A Guide for Fat Cyclists
Which Training Zone is Best for You to Lose Weight Cycling?
There are three basic ways to exercise on a bike:
- You can do long, steady rides at moderate intensity in the fat-burning zone; or
- You can do very fast bike rides in the high-intensity zone; or
- You can do high intensity interval training (HIIT) which mixes it up, with bursts of very high intensity for short periods alternating with recovery cycling for longer periods. For example, you might ride at a moderate intensity for 5 minutes, then ride as fast as you possibly can for 2 minutes – and then repeat this cycle several times.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Could be Your Best Choice to Lose Weight Cycling
There is much debate about which of these ways of exercising is better for fat-burning. The consensus seems to be that interval training is more effective for fat burning, gets you fit faster, and is the most effective for fighting aging. The Journal of Applied Physiology reported that two weeks of alternate-day interval training boosted cyclists’ fat-burning ability by a whopping 36%. And the Journal of Cell Metabolism reported that high-intensity interval training on bikes was the most effective way for people to fight aging – with the positive results being most pronounced in older people.
Also, if you really want to boost your fat burning, you might want to combine your exercising with a fat burning supplement based on natural products, such as Phen375. There are a whole range of products out there – we suggest you do your research to find the right one for you. Or, just ride your bike more!
Incorporate a Variety of Training Options to Optimize Your Quest to Lose Weight Cycling
If you read my Complete Bike Training Plan, you will see that I have figured out a way to incorporate all three kinds of bike training, so you get the best of all worlds, and burn fat in as many ways as possible – while also fighting aging.
Related Post: Our Complete (and Simple) Bike Training Plan
Step-by-Step Guide to How to Lose Weight with Cycling
Step 1: Consider How Much Time You Have for Cycling
Think seriously about how much time you can realistically devote to cycling. Make a commitment that you will devote that time to cycling, no matter what.
Also, think about whether commuting by bike at least some of the time is feasible for you. It’s a great strategy because you have to spend time commuting anyway. If you can commute by bike even a couple of times a week, you will burn extra calories twice a day (because once you get to work on a bike, you often have no choice but to use the bike to get back home again!)
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Step 2: Set Goals and Make a Plan to Achieve Them
Most motivational experts agree that setting SMART goals is crucial. In the context of cycling, SMART goals would be
- Realistic and
- Time bound
For example, you could plan to lose 26 pounds of fat in one year. That meets all of the SMART criteria above. You could then break that down into even more specific goals that you can measure. For example, you could plan to lose 4 pounds in month 1 (because most people do lose more weight the first month), and then plan to lose 2 pounds per month for the next 11 months. This plan is a whole lot more realistic and achievable than planning to lose 26 pounds in a month!
Once you make that plan, you should write it down somewhere where you can look at it often. This reinforces the plan and your motivation.
Make a Plan to Achieve Your Specific Goals
With your goals written down in black and white, the next thing you need is a plan to achieve your goals. For example, assuming that you burn at least 400 calories per hour of cycling, this would be the math:
- To burn off a pound of fat, you need to use 3,000 calories
- At 400 calories per hour, you need to cycle for 7.5 hours to burn 3,000 calories
- To lose 2 pounds per month, aim to cycle 15 hours per month, or 3.75 hours per week.
Next, refer to one of our cycling training programs and plan how you will put in those hours. Hint: our cycling training plans are very simple. In a nutshell, you will start off with moderate paced rides, and then later add in some interval training as well. I highly recommend our Complete Bike Training Plan, which has all the information you need in one place. WE include a recommendation to also do some strength training – for balance, and also to ensure that you lose fat, not muscle.
Losing Weight is Hard
Of course, human bodies are very complex, as everyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows only too well. Sometimes the math just does not work out that tidily. Every human being is different: our hormones are different, our digestive biomes are different, and our metabolisms are different. Therefore, we cannot predict exactly how our bodies will react. We are not motor cars made on a production line!
However, rest assured that if you add several hours of cycling to your month, and also make a few sensible adjustments to your diet, you are certain to experience positive changes to your health, which will most likely include achieving the weight loss goals we mentioned.
Intermittent Fasting and Low Carbs
Always remember that losing even 5% of your body weight has significant positive impacts on your health, including improvements in blood pressure. And a combination of regular exercise, plus eating less sugar, is certain to make you healthier. Right now we are having great success with intermittent fasting and low carbs. I will write more about this soon. In the meantime, check out the transformation our friend Melinda made by simply adopting intermittent fasting.
Step 3: Get the Right Bike
If you are starting out as a very heavy person, make sure you get a bike that is robust enough for you. A light-weight racer would not be the best bike to start out on. A mountain bike or a hybrid would be a better choice. Here’s a guide to choosing the right bike.
Also, make sure you get the right size bike, so it is comfortable and safe for you. Here’s our guide to getting the bike frame size right, which includes an explanation of how your ape index affects your bike size.
Consider Working Out Indoors – Indoor Cycling Can Be Fun!
If you live in a challenging climate, remember that you do not have to cycle outdoors to lose weight. In the winter, spin classes could work really well for you, especially if you value having someone else to encourage and guide you. Although bear in mind that these can be quite fast-paced, so they will be a bit much for a beginner. I actually tried one many years ago, and had to leave the class, red-faced and exhausted, half-way through. I was too embarrassed to ever go back. In retrospect, that was stupid of me. Everyone has to start somewhere!
If you prefer the privacy of your own home, you can adapt your regular bike into an indoor trainer with a simple but effective machine, such as the Kinetic by Kurt Indoor Bicycle Trainer. It’s quiet, safe, solid, and comes with a lifetime guaranty.
If you spend more money and get a smart trainer, your indoor cycling can be a lot of fun. You can even compete with real live people, virtually.
Related Post: 5 of the Best Smart Indoor Bike Trainers
Step 4: Start Small and Work Your Way Up to Ensure Success as You Lose Weight Cycling
Don’t go out and cycle two hours the first day, then find that you are too tired (and too sore!) to cycle again for a week. Build up slowly and minimize the pain. No-pain-no-gain is just not true! See my Complete Bike Training post which shows you how to start slowly and build up to great things.
Step 5: Monitor Your Progress as You Lose Weight Cycling
Monitoring your progress will motivate you to ride more. It’s a way of challenging yourself by competing with yourself. You can use Garmin Connect, if you have a Garmin bike computer. Or, get any decent bike computer to record your achievements – here’s a post comparing 7 of the best bike computers.
Use an App
Also, there are also a whole host of apps you can download to your smart phone to track your rides and your progress for FREE. Good ones include Strava, Map my Ride, Google Maps, Cyclemeter, and Wahoo Fitness. Strava is my favorite, and it’s good for the global cycling community as well! You could also buy the excellent and simple-to-use Garmin 25 (reviewed here), the smallest GPS bike computer in the world.
Apart from tracking your rides, of course you will also want to track your weight loss progress. You can do that with a regular scale, but bear in mind that it is vital to ensure your food and exercise mix is causing you to lose only fat, not muscle. For that reason, a really good body composition scale is a great idea.
Monitor Your Body Composition
Consider getting a scale that measures your body composition. This scale attempts to tell you what percentage of your body is fat and what percentage is muscle.
Record Your Weight Loss Progress with an App
It is also useful to record your weight loss progress with a good fitness app. Personally I find the free version of My Fitness Pal works really well. It has a great food tracker, and keeps records of your weight over the years. It also generates very pleasing graphs that show you how your weight loss has been going. Here is mine over the last couple of months – I have been doing a program of Intermittent Fasting and Low Carbs.
I have my My Fitness Pal app synched with my Garmin Vivoactive 4 smart watch, so it automatically records my hikes, bike rides, and swims. Then, it automatically allocates me more calories for the extra exercise I have done each day.
Step 6: Mix it Up so that You Get to Enjoy Your Quest to Lose Weight Cycling!
Ride different routes to keep it interesting. If you can, ride different bikes too. For example, a racer will give you a good commute and a nice speed high, but mountain biking will give you more of a full body workout. If biking to work starts to bore you, consider doing long weekend rides in the country side instead.
Also, start to think about whether you are ready to join a local cycling group, which will motivate you to keep going, and make it more fun. This will only work if you are extroverted. The nice thing about cycling is that you can do it alone, if you are an introvert.
Related Post: The 10 Best Reasons to Commute by Bike
Step 7: Reward Yourself after You Lose Weight Cycling
Plan some rewards for your hard work. For example, give yourself a reward when you have ridden your first 100 miles. And the first 200 … and so on. Pick a reward you like that will not actively sabotage your goals! For example, reward yourself with a puppy when you hit 1,000 miles. That way, you will have to start doing some walking as well! My dogs cause me to go for a walk every single morning, which is a very good thing.
Once you have a dog, you can have even more fun on your bike rides by taking your dog with you!
Related Post: How To Train Your Dog to Go for Bike Rides with You
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If you need any more motivation to start losing weight by cycling, watch this heart-warming video about how Phil Jones, once morbidly obese, saved his own life by cycling.
I hope this post helps you on your way to achieving your personal weight loss goals with cycling. No matter what happens, cycling will make you healthier, stronger, and fitter. Good luck!
Related Post: 4 Reasons to Cycle More
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