Most people can lose weight cycling. Bicycling is a low-impact exercise, so there is minimal jarring on your joints, meaning that you can start cycling even if you are very heavy. I am always surprised that the Biggest Loser does not promote cycling – it would be ideal for most of the contestants.
Our Experience of Losing Weight with Cycling
My wife Maggie (Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist) and I have both managed to lose weight cycling (and get off our blood pressure medications). We have lost a combined total of almost 80 pounds. And we have also got much fitter and healthier in the process. A combination of lots of cycling and a healthy eating plan (based on the great recipes Maggie and I have developed – get a free one here!) has finally done the trick for us.
Cycling is an ideal way to lose weight because it is fun, so you keep doing it – after all, it’s easier to do something fun than to show up at a boring gym day after day. Also, if you can manage to commute by bike, you’ll be burning up extra calories every single day, TWICE a day (once you get to work on a bike, you often have no choice but to use the bike to get home again!)
How Cycling Helps You Lose Weight
The key reason why you can lose weight cycling is that cycling can dramatically increase the number of calories you burn every day. It does this in two ways:
- While you are cycling, you burn hundreds of calories
- Even once you stop cycling, you continue to burn more calories throughout the day.
Burning Calories While Cycling
Riding a bike requires you to use all of the biggest muscles in your body: your quads, your hamstrings, your hip muscles, and your glutes. Using big muscles requires a lot of calories. And because cycling is fun, it can be sustained for long periods of time to burn as many calories as possible. Most people, even if unfit, can manage to bike for 20 minutes. However, most unfit people cannot jog for 20 minutes.
Also, an average calorie burn per hour on a bike is around 500 to 600 calories. So if you can ride for an hour a day, you can burn up around 4,000 calories. This is enough to burn off a pound of fat, even without changing your diet (although it’s a good idea to adopt a healthier eating plan too).
- Compare that to walking for an hour: this would burn off only around 200 calories.
- Jogging for an hour would only burn around 400 calories.
So cycling is the clear winner for burning a lot of calories without hurting your joints.
Burning Calories After Cycling
After you get off the bike, the calorie burn continues! Your body uses calories to repair and replenish your muscles after cycling. Also, the exercise pushes up your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories you burn while you’re just sitting on the couch, or sleeping! After exercising, your BMR will stay up for hours. If you do 45 minutes or more of exercise most days, you are likely to keep your BMR raised all day long!
Long-term Fat Burning
Over time, cycling will turn your body into a lean fat-burning machine. This is because it will build lean muscle tissue, which in turn raises your BMR permanently!
Which Training Zone is Best for You?
There are two 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 high intensity interval training in the high intensity zone. Interval training 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 1 minute – and then repeat this cycle several times.
There is a lot of debate about which of these ways is better for fat-burning. The consensus seems to be that interval training is more effective for fat burning, and gets you fit faster.
The Journal of Applied Physiology reported that two weeks of alternate-day interval training boosted cyclists’ fat-burning ability by a whopping 36%.
However, you need to consider your own needs and abilities. If you are starting from very unfit, interval training could be dangerous for you, by putting a sudden and intense strain on your joints, muscles, and heart. It could also be too taxing and unpleasant, and cause you to quit before you see any progress.
To succeed with cycling to lose weight, there HAS to some fun and enjoyment.
How Much Time do You Have for Cycling?
Consider how much time you have for cycling. If you can manage 30 minutes to an hour every day, and you are new to cycling, or not very fit, then almost certainly your best choice would be long, steady rides at moderate intensity in the fat-burning zone. You could start to add in interval training once you start getting fitter. On the other hand, if you are already quite fit and you can only bike for 30 minutes a couple of times a week, you could achieve more in that 30 minutes with high intensity interval training.
Really, the ideal is to mix it up, if you are physically able to do that.
That way you get the benefits of both approaches. Plus, crucially, you will be much less likely to get bored and quit. If you are going to achieve your fitness and weight loss goals in 2015, you need to stick with cycling all year – not just during January! And 30 minutes a week won’t actually do it – you should be aiming for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.
Make sure your cycling program is FUN for you, so you don’t become one of the many people who make an annual habit of only exercising during January!
What is the Fat-Burning Zone?
The fat-burning zone is the level of intensity where you are actually burning fat. This is when you are exercising at between 60 and 70 percent of your own personal maximum heart rate. Of course, many people don’t own a heart rate monitor. Fortunately, it can be greatly simplified: when exercising in this zone you should be comfortable, but you should not be dawdling. You should be exerting yourself, but still be able to talk. This table shows the various zones for exercise intensity:
|1 (Recovery)||1 to 2||Very light||I'm so comfortable I could do this all day!||40% to 45%|
|2 (Endurance)||3 to 4||Light||I'm a bit sweaty, but I feel good and can easily carry on a conversation||46% to 50%|
|3 (Tempo)||5 to 6||Moderate||I am a bit breathless now, but I can still talk||56% to 60%|
|4 (Lactate Threshold)||7||Somewhat heavy||I guess I could talk if I had to, but I really don't want to, plus I'm sweating like a race horse||61% to 67%|
|5 (Above Threshold)||8||Heavy||If you must ask me a question, don't expect me to do more than grunt. I need to stop soon.||68% to 75%|
|6 (Aerobic Capacity)||9||Very heavy||I am probably going to die||76% to 80%|
|7 (Anaerobic Capacity)||10||Very, very heavy||I think I just died||81% to 85%|
If you want to be more precise, you could buy this inexpensive Polar heart rate monitor, which calculates your zone and tells you when you are in it. I reviewed this heart rate monitor here. The BIG PLUS with this watch is that it tells you how many calories you burn on each ride. I find this very motivating.
Of course, you are also burning calories when you are exercising at higher intensities. In fact, you are burning more calories then. But the catch is that most people cannot sustain high-intensity exercise for very long. And it’s usually not fun, either.
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