How To Use An Exercise Bike To Target Weight Loss

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The exercise bike is a brilliant piece of exercise equipment because it allows you to train for a number of different goals. These include building and toning muscles in the lower body, as well as improving cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Another great benefit of regular exercise bike workouts is weight loss. An exercise bike will not only help you burn calories through exercise. It will also enable you to improve your metabolic rate and body composition, so you continue to burn more calories and fat at rest. For more on the other benefits of cycling check out this article on exercise bike benefits.

How does an exercise bike help you lose weight?

To simplify weight loss to its most basic principle, burn more calories than you consume. This will mean your body has to fuel energy expenditure from energy stored in the body, in the form of fat. Burning this fat reduces fat stores, making you look slimmer and weigh less. Simple!

The table below shows how many calories are burned per hour by cycling at different intensities. Your size/weight is a factor, so the table provides examples for four weight categories.

Calories burned cycling for 30 minutes

 130 lbs155 lbs180 lbs205 lbs
Cycling, <10mph, leisure bicycling118141164186
Cycling, >20mph, racing472563654745
Cycling, 10-11.9mph, light177211245279
Cycling, 12-13.9mph, moderate236282327373
Cycling, 14-15.9mph, vigorous295352409466
Cycling, 16-19mph, very fast, racing354422491559

It is clear to see that the more vigorous the workout, the more calories are burned. However it’s important to consider how long you can work out at the various intensities for. Also how long it takes to recover from the exertion of each workout. While very vigorous cycling burns calories at a much higher rate than moderate cycling, the pace cannot be kept going for as long, and you may need a days rest in between work outs. Whereas cycling at a slower pace for longer will overtake the calories burned by more vigorous exercise, and you can train this way without days off.

This leads us to two broad categories of working out on an exercise bike when targeting weight loss. High intensity interval training (HIIT) and low intensity steady state (LISS) exercise. Think of interval training as vigorous cycling and steady state exercise as moderate cycling. We will go over details of both next.

Interval training (HIIT)

The workout below is a classic example of a high intensity interval training session on an exercise bike.

Always start any exercise with a warm up, in this case cycling for 5 minutes at a moderate pace, this will warm your muscles and raise you heart rate.

The next stage only takes 8 minutes but they will be an incredibly intense 8 minutes! Cycle as fast as you can for 30 seconds, your heart rate will race up and get close to you max heart rate. This is placing a high level of strain on both your muscles and your cardiovascular system. Breathing will quickly become laboured.

After the first 30 seconds, give yourself 30 seconds to recover. Do not stop pedalling, just drop to a slow pace, your breathing will recover, although heart rate will still be racing. Once these 30 seconds are up cycle as fast as you can for another 30 seconds. Rotate through these intervals of sprinting and resting for a total of 8 times.

If after the cycle of 8 intervals your heart isn’t racing, you muscles are not burning and your breathing is not laboured you have not been pushing the sprints hard enough! Take 5 minutes to cycle at a slow pace as a cool down, allowing your heart rate to drop before climbing off of the exercise bike.

So what is the outcome?

This workout will have burned a high number of calories, for an average sized person, this 18 minutes will have consumed between 220 – 250 calories. But the great thing about HIIT workouts is that they continue to burn calories long after you have finished.

During this training session your body will have created an oxygen debt, where it will have burned its oxygen stores. These stores need to be replenished and this takes both time (up to 24 hours) and calories. This means the bodies calorie consumption will be raised above normal levels for up to a day afterwards.

This type of exercise also places stress on your muscles. Over time they will grow and adapt, with increases in your lean muscle mass. As muscle burns more calories than fat, in time you will increase the amount of calories you consume at rest.

Remember this type of work out is challenging, putting strain on your body, so should not be carried out every day. It is best to limit HIIT workouts to 3 days a week, with at least a days rest between sessions. The day of rest does not mean you nothing however, you can work out at a lower intensity. Which leads nicely to the next form of exercise, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio.

Steady state cardio

As the table above demonstrates, cycling at a moderate pace does not burn as many calories as at a vigorous pace. But the benefit of a slower pace is less strain on the body. Less strain on the muscles and the cardiovascular system. This means you can continue at this pace for far longer. Training at moderate pace for twice the length of time will burn more calories. It would take the same person around 25 minutes at moderate pace to burn the 250 calories from the HIIT workout above.

As you can carry out steady state workouts with less recovery time in between you can actually burn more calories over time training this way.

To carry out a steady state routine, set the exercise bike at a light to medium resistance level. Settle into a steady rhythm, your heart rate should increase but if you are feeling a burning in your muscles and it’s tough to breath you are going too fast. Keep going at this pace for an extended period of time. Set yourself a realistic goal to start with. 30 minutes is ample, but look to increase the time/distance gradually over time. Aim to get to a stage where you are able to cycle for 45 to 60 minutes, a number of times per week. At this stage you will be burning calories in their thousands.

Which is better interval cycling or steady cycling?

The best way to train on an exercise bike to lose weight is to combine interval training and steady state training. Each has it’s pluses, but when you combine the two you gain the best bits from each. Managing to complete 2 interval training sessions and 3 slower cycles of 60 minutes into one week will burn over 2,000 calories (for a 155 lb person). That’s a whole days recommended calorie intake. Doing this, managing calorie intake, and increasing everyday activity will see you start to shed the pounds quickly.

Exercise bikes vs other exercise machines for weight loss

How do exercise bikes compare to other exercise machines for weight loss?

By other exercise machines, we are referring to other common gym equipment. This includes machines such as treadmills, rowing machines and cross training machines.

The amount of calories burned relate more to the intensity of a work out than the machine that you work out on. Cycling at moderate pace will not burn more calories than running or rowing at a fast pace, if workout time is equivalent.

Cycling works out the lower body to great effect, but it does not exercise the upper body. If specifically looking for a machine to give a full body workout then a rowing machine would be a better option. However when it comes to just a lower body workout then the exercise bike is arguably your best option. The number one advantage it has over a treadmill is that it is zero impact. Treadmill exercise involves repetitive impacts each time your feet land in the belt. This can lead to joint issues in some people. It is much more common in people that already have joint issues/injuries.

Cycling has advantages over rowing by being a constant motion. You are able to get your legs moving at a far faster rate. This has advantages for calorie burning and training for speed and power. I believe cycling is also superior to using a cross trainer for similar reasons.

Our largest muscles are in the lower body, the quads and glutes (thighs and buttocks) are the largest and also do most of the work when we cycle. In fact they are engaged to a greater extend on a bike compared to other exercise machines. As they are the largest muscles, they burn the most calories. This makes calorie burning for weight loss even more effective on an exercise bike.

Becoming fit on an exercise bike builds fitness and confidence to go out and train on road bike. This can provide even more motivation as cycling outdoors can be very entertaining. The changes in scenery and potential to join cycling clubs/groups can drive you on to train more. Cycling is far easier to pick up out of the gym than rowing or cross country skiing! Making training on an exercise bike a great option to build to other activities.

Diet is key

A balanced diet is important for weight lossIt is important to remember that when you are trying to lose weight, your diet is vitally important. All that hard work exercising will be undone by unhealthy eating. You can burn hundreds of calories each day on an exercise bike. But that can be equivalent to the calories consumed in a chocolate bar and can of sugary soft drink.

Research the calories you should consume for your size and age. Stick to this calorie level and eat a range of whole foods across the range of macro-nutrients. Cut out junk food, it contains a lot of empty calories. It is far better to consume 1,000 calories of lean meat and vegetables than a 1,000 calories of sugar and trans fats.

Useful hints and tips for cycling and weight loss

A few hints and tips when you plan to lose weight on an exercise bike:

  • Make an exercise plan and stick to it (as well as possible)
  • Do not under-estimate the role of diet in weight loss, it’s more important than exercise
  • Always warm up and cool down when you exercise
  • Stray hydrated throughout you workout routine
  • Wear suitable clothes, lose fitting and sweat absorbent
  • Do not over-train, it leads to soreness, injury and drops in motivation
  • Listen to music, a podcast or and audio-book, anything to keep your mind occupied

Final thoughts on cycling for weight loss

I hope we’ve managed to demonstrate the advantages of training on an exercise bike to lose weight. A mixture of interval training and longer steady state workouts will burn calories and reduce your body’s fat stores. Plus you’ll get the additional benefits of greater lean muscle mass, a change in body shape and a healthy heart.

So don’t delay, get cycling and reap the benefits!

If you are thinking of buying an exercise bike to use at home, take a look at our exercise bike buying guide.

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