You have probably landed on this page because you are researching the benefits of working out on an exercise bike. Many people use an exercise bike to burn calories as a way of losing weight. There are many other benefits of working out on an exercise bike, in fact I have a written another article on the benefits of an exercise bike, including heart health and building endurance.
This article concentrates on explaining how an exercise bike can help you meet your calorie burning goals. Thereby creating a calorie deficit, by burning more calories than you consume. This leads to long term fat burning and weight loss.
The first section will explain what a calorie actually is. Then we will move on to talk about what calories do within your body’s systems, and how many you need. After this we will cover measuring the calories you burn with exercise. Finally we will cover how to use an exercise bike to burn calories, including workouts and training strategies.
What is a calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. Calories are best known for and associated with the food you consume. However a calorie applies to anything containing energy. For instance a gallon of petrol, used as fuel for your car, contains roughly 30,000 calories.
It’s important to understand that the term calorie as used on food labels, is actually a kilocalorie. A kilocalorie contains 1,000 calories, but in everyday language we use the term calorie to represent a kilocalorie. During this article, when we say calorie we actually mean 1 kilocalorie, as it’s easier to talk in terms that people are familiar with.
One calorie is the energy required to raise 1 kg of water (1 litre) by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). When a bar of chocolate is labelled as containing 250 calories, it means it contains enough energy to raise the temperature of 250 kgs (litres) of water by 1 degree Celsius.
If you filled 1 litre kettles with 0 degree Celsius water, you can boil 20 of them with the energy contained in the 2,000 calories the average person burns daily.
What do calories do?
Your body needs energy to survive, breathing, moving, pumping blood around our bodies all require energy. Energy comes from the food we consume, the amount of potential energy in food, equals the amount of calories in food.
One gram of protein contains 4 calories, one gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories, and one gram of fat contains 9 calories. Adding up the grams of each of these macro nutrients in a piece of food gives its calorific content.
A human body “burns” these calories through metabolic processes. Enzymes break down carbohydrates into glucose and other forms of sugar. They break down fats into glycerol and other fatty acids. They also breakdown protein into amino acids. Your blood transports these molecules through the body, to your cells. Cells then either absorb them for immediate use, metabolise them with oxygen to release stored energy, or store them as fat.
How many calories do we need daily?
The number of daily calories required is different for every individual. A generally accepted average number of daily calories is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. The nutritional labels on food stating its % of your recommended daily intake are based on a 2,000 daily calorific intake.
Many factors influence your individual calorific requirement, including age, weight, height, gender, and physical activity. Calculating your calorific needs requires these three major factors:
- BMR, Base Metabolic Rate – energy body requires at rest. Includes breathing, pumping the heart, and keeping warm
- Level of physical activity – ranging from a sedentary lifestyle to regular, high level, daily exercise
- Thermic effect of food – energy required to digest and store food
For a guide on your individual estimated daily calorie requirements you can take a look at this calculator on the freedieting.com website.
A well known list of the calories burned by a range of activities can also be found on the Harvard Health Site.
Calories burned on an exercise bike
The amount of calories burned per hour, at varying intensities, for people of a range of weights:
Calories burned cycling for 30 minutes
|130 lbs||155 lbs||180 lbs||205 lbs|
|Cycling, <10mph, leisure bicycling||118||141||164||186|
|Cycling, >20mph, racing||472||563||654||745
|Cycling, 10-11.9mph, light||177||211||245||279|
|Cycling, 12-13.9mph, moderate||236||282||327||373|
|Cycling, 14-15.9mph, vigorous||295||352||409||466|
|Cycling, 16-19mph, very fast, racing||354||422||491||559|
Note, the information in this table is based on data from NutriStrategy.
Remember this is a guide, other factors we mentioned above such as weight and age will have an impact. The fitness level of the person training will also have an impact, the fitter the person, the more efficient their body is when exercising, therefore it becomes less challenging. However this is more than adequate if you are looking for a rough guide.
Measuring calories burned on an exercise bike
Most exercise bikes will have a monitor that displays the number of calories burned during your workout. In some cases you need to enter your personal details (age, weight etc) to get more accurate measurements. In other cases the reading is just based on an “average” person. Therefore, sometimes the display is not an accurate measurement of calories you have really burned during your workout.
However there are more accurate ways to measure of the calories you burn. The following formulas for each gender come from the Journal of Sports Sciences and are accepted as being as being good approximations:
Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.2017) — (Weight (lbs) x 0.09036) + (Heart Rate x 0.6309) — 55.0969] x Time / 4.184.
For example, a man of 50 weighing 200 lbs, where average heart rate is 140 beats per minute over a 60 minute workout:
Age 50 x 0.2017 = 10.09
Weight 200 x 0.09036 = 18.07
Heart rate (140 x 0.6309) = 88.33
Time 60 / 4.184 = 14.34
(10.09 – 18.07 + 88.33 – 55.0969) x 14.34 = 362 calories at 6.03 calories per minute.
Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.074) — (Weight x 0.05741) + (Heart Rate x 0.4472) — 20.4022] x Time / 4.184.
For example, a woman of 30 weighing 110 lbs, where average heart rate is 120 beats per minute over a 60 minute workout:
Age 30 x 0.074 = 2.22
Weight 110 x 0.05741 = 6.32
Heart rate 120 x 0.4472 = 53.66
Time 60 / 4.184 = 14.34
(2.22 – 6.32 + 53.66 -20.4022) x 14.34 = 418 calories at 6.97 calories per minute
Again, it’s important to note that this is not a 100% accurate weight to measure calories burned. Every one is unique. But it should give a better indication as to the calories you burn than an exercise bike that uses an “average” person as a guide.
Using an exercise bike to burn calories
There are numerous different workout styles that enable you to use an exercise bike to burn calories. Our guide to exercise bike workouts covers a number of them in detail. However for this article we focus on the two most popular, and different, ways of training. Low Intensity Steady State exercise (LISS) and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts.
High intensity interval training and calorie burning
High intensity interval training is alternating between periods of high, intense activity, and periods of rest, many times, throughout an exercise session. Heart rate and breathing both rise significantly, and muscles start to fatigue quickly. The table below is a great example of an exercise bike high intensity interval training session.
Remember you must start all exercise with a warm up, in this case on the exercise bike for 5 minutes at a slower pace, raising heart rate and warming muscles.
The work out stage takes just 8 minutes, these will be a really intense 8 minutes though! Push yourself as fast as possible for 30 seconds, you will reach close to you maximum heart rate. This places great strain on your muscles and your cardiovascular system, with heart rate racing and breathing becoming laboured.
After that first 30 seconds, you have 30 seconds to recover. Don’t stop moving, decrease to a much slower pace, breathing will become easier, although heart rate will still be racing. After 30 seconds of rest, push as fast as you can again for a further 30 seconds. This work out cycles through intervals of sprint and rest 8 times in total.
If after 8 intervals your muscles are not burning, your heart isn’t racing, and your breathing is not laboured you have not been pushing the sprints hard enough!
Spend 5 minutes at slow pace cooling down, allow your heart rate to drop before you climb off of the exercise bike.
The results of this calorie burning workout
This workout burns a huge amount of calories considering the short time period. In fact for the average 155 lb person, these 18 minutes will burn roughly 250 calories. However a great thing about HIIT workouts is they continue to burn calories for a long period after training has finished.
This workout will create an oxygen debt within you body. You will have burned your existing oxygen stores, and these stores need to be replaced. It takes time (up to 24 hours) and further calories to replace your oxygen stores to the original level. Therefore calorie consumption rises beyond normal levels for up to 24 hours afterwards.
HIIT also places a high level of stress on your muscles. Over time they adapt and grow, increasing your lean muscle mass. As muscle burns more calories than fat, in time the number of calories you burn at rest will rise.
Because this type of workout is challenging, putting high levels of strain on your bodies systems, it should not be carried out every day. Keep HIIT workouts to just 3 days a week at most, with at least a days rest between HIIT work outs. A rest day is not no exercise at all, you can work out at a lower intensity. Leading nicely to our next form of exercise for calorie burning… low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio.
Low intensity steady state exercise and calorie burning
As demonstrated by the table above on calories burned on an exercise bike , exercising at a slow pace does not burn as many calories as a faster pace. However the benefit of a slower pace is a lower amount of stress to the body. With lower levels of strain on the muscles and the cardiovascular system. This means it is possible to maintain a slower pace for a far greater length of time. Training at slow pace on an exercise bike for double the length of time burns the same level of calories as training at fast pace. It takes the same person around 30 minutes at moderate pace to burn the same 250 calories as the HIIT workout above.
Because you can carry out LISS workouts with shorter recovery time in between, you burn more calories in the long run training this way. A 155 lb person using an exercise bike for an hour a day can burn about 3,500 calories in a week. The same person would burn 750 calories with 3 HIIT sessions. The major difference though is the time spent at the gym or on an exercise bike at home. LISS takes a far larger time commitment.
For a steady state routine, set the exercise bike to a low or medium resistance level. Push with a steady rhythm, your heart rate needs to rise, but if you are feeling your muscles burning and your breathing rate increases significantly, you are pushing too fast. Stay at this pace for an extended length of time. Start off setting yourself realistic goals, 30 minutes is plenty. However start increasing the time/distance steadily over time. Aim to get to a stage where you can train for 45 to 60 minutes, several times per week. By this stage you will be burning thousands of calories.
Strategies for calorie burning
So now we have covered two of the most popular ways of calorie burning on an exercise bike, interval training and steady state cardio, how should we use this knowledge to develop a long term strategy for calorie burning?
The optimum way is to combine the two. Combining the two you takes advantage of the best elements of both. They compliment each other in fact, each one will actually make performing the other easier.
Interval training will strengthen your muscles making it easier to train for the extended periods of steady state workouts. Steady state workouts will help you recover from interval training, and build endurance that will translate back to interval training.
Plan your exercise schedule in advance, this is important to keep you motivated and on track. It also helps make your workout schedule as efficient as possible. It makes sure you get the most from each training session, by understanding which sort of training should follow on from another. For example it is not a great idea to have two really intense training sessions on consecutive days, it will take longer to recover and for you to feel ready to train again.
When planning to use an exercise bike to burn calories, to ultimately burn fat and therefore lose weight, you aim to burn the maximum calories as possible, in the time available. This means making the most efficient use of your time. Planning in advance increases your efficiency.
A typical week, should include 2 or 3 interval training sessions and 2 or 3 steady state training sessions. But spaced out so you are not doing the same type of workout on consecutive days. It is also important to have at least one days rest each week, giving your body time to recover from exercise fully. Therefore keeping you fresh and paying off with better performance in the long run.
Take away from this article on exercise bikes and calorie burning
Before going any further it is important to say that without a healthy diet, any hard work on the exercise bike will have little impact on your overall body composition.
To summarise what we have covered above in order to wrap things up, take away these points:
- A calorie is a unit of measurement relating to energy stored and burned
- The body burns calories simply performing basic functions, exercise burns additional calories on top of these essential survival functions
- Burn more calories than you consume and you will burn fat and change your body composition
- Working out on an exercise bike is a great way to burn these extra calories, and there are two major alternative styles of exercise, interval training and steady state training.
- The best strategy is to combine the two types of exercise into a planned program of regular exercise
- Calories burned can be measured by a computer in the exercise bike console, however more accurate ways exist that take into account your personal factors (age, weight etc)
I hope you found this useful and interesting. If you are thinking about buying an exercise bike for use at home then please check out our guide to purchasing an exercise bike. If you are interested in understanding further benefits of training on an exercise bike then our article on exercise bike benefits should help. For more details on training on an exercise bike check out our guide to exercise bike workouts.
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