Being overweight can have a significant impact on a person’s overall quality of life. A few pounds in the body makes certain activities harder to perform. People generally find that they lack self-confidence and there are several problems that can develop with the body’s wellbeing. Reports show that almost two billion adults around the world are currently overweight (1). More than 650 million of these individuals are obese, which means these people have an even higher risk of complications.
There are several exercises and techniques that can be used to lose weight. Bike riding has been suggested as a possible option, but understanding the limitations is important. We take a closer look at how bike riding can help people who need to lose weight. We also consider safety factors and the limitations that people need to know about.
Can Cycling Help You Lose Weight?
Bike riding is an activity that has many sides. A large number of individuals cycle in competitive events. Others use a bicycle as a way to commute from home to work, or to a local store. For some, it is a physical activity instead, allowing them to exercise, lose weight, and work on their muscles at the same time.
In terms of weight loss, it does seem like cycling can be an effective tool. The activity works on the core and legs mostly, but still creates an increase in heart rate and burn fat in the process.
There are several studies that have looked at the variety of benefits that cycling may offer a person. These studies generally focus on different types of cycling activities. It has been found, however, that both indoor and outdoor cycling may yield weight loss benefits.
A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness looked at how riding a bike would benefit overweight individuals (2). All participants in the study were female. At the time of the study, the participants primarily followed sedentary lifestyles. There were 14 individuals who participated in the study, with an average age of 22 years.
The study was conducted over a period of 12 weeks, with measurements performed in multiple phases. A total of 36 sessions were completed by each of the individuals. After the first 12, then 24, and finally following the entire study period, measurements were taken to determine the effects of riding a bike on body weight, fat mass, and lean mass. Indoor cycling was used as part of the study.
Following a total of 24 sessions, an average of 2.6% body weight was lost among the participants. At the 36-session mark, an average of 3.2% body weight was lost. Researchers found that the 12-week period provided a 5% average in fat mass reduction.
In addition to helping these individuals lose weight, the study also concluded that cycling may be an effective protocol for promoting lean mass growth. There was no loss in lean mass noted among the study participants. Instead, an average 2.6% growth in lean mass was seen in the women who participated in the study.
Researchers have found that even a steady pace of cycling can help a person burn more calories. How many calories can cycling burn? One publication reports that the calories burned after a one-hour session of steady cycling is approximately 300 (3). While this may not sound significant, it is important to note that cycling is often done in multiple sessions per week. Just five such sessions would mean a person burns around 1500 calories during a one-week period. This data also accounts for a steady pace, which means calories burned can further increase by pushing up the overall intensity of the exercise.
Additional Benefits of Riding a Bike
It has been established that cycling helps the body burn more calories. By adopting an appropriate diet, cycling can become an effective weight-loss tool. This, however, is not the only benefit a person may gain from cycling. The use of an indoor or outdoor bike can help yield additional benefits that ultimately contribute to the individual’s well-being.
One of the main benefits that individuals should consider when it comes to cycling is the fact that this is a low-impact activity. Cycling does not put an excessive amount of pressure on various parts of the body, such as the joints, tendons, and muscle tissue.
We take a closer look at a few studies that have been conducted on the topic of cycling. These studies focus on both outdoor and indoor cycling activities, providing more comprehensive data for people to utilize when they need a better understanding of what they should expect.
- A research paper that looked at two previous studies considered the effects of cycling on both leg strength and overall balance throughout the human body (4). The researchers explain that frequent cycling sessions may yield a significant improvement in overall leg strength. Additionally, a balance was also positively affected by the cycling activities.
- One study measured the effects of cycling on the core muscle groups (5). It was found that cycling does yield an effective activation of muscles in the abdomen. Researchers report that cycling leads to improved core stability among individuals who frequently perform the activity. Apart from core stability, researchers also found that cycling promoted improvements in knee and ankle motion.
- There are also studies that show cycling has multiple benefits for a person’s overall mental well-being. One study, in particular, considered how long-term cycling would affect the individual’s state of mind (6). Participants in the study were all previously diagnosed with depression. Researchers report that cycling does seem to reduce the symptoms associated with this mental disorder.
Limitations And Risks
While cycling has several scientifically proven benefits, the activity does come with certain risks, limitations, and even dangers. With this in mind, individuals interested in cycling to lose weight should familiarize themselves with these factors. This helps the person implement appropriate measures to avoid injury and benefit from cycling without facing risks.
The major factor we need to consider here is the risk of injury. Accidents do happen! Cyclists may hit a pothole and fall off the bike, for example. Collisions with other vehicles have also been reported among cyclists (7). Thus, safety precautions should ideally be taken when using an outdoor bike. With an indoor bicycle, the structure remains in one position while exercising; thus the same risks do not apply.
It is important for a person to understand the fact that cycling tends to work primarily on the legs and core. While fat mass may be reduced throughout the body, lean mass will not develop in the chest and arms. With this in mind, the individual should ensure they implement appropriate measures to work on these muscle groups too.
Getting Started With Cycling For Weight Loss
If a person moves from a sedentary lifestyle to becoming more physically active, it is crucial that they take things slowly during the early stages of the exercise routine. This applies to a training routine that uses cycling as well. When the individual pushes themselves too much during the first few weeks, there is a risk of sprains, painful muscles, and even more serious injuries.
Research suggests that pushing the body too far with cycling can result in fatigue, mood swings, a reduced appetite, and headaches (8). A weakening of the immune system can occur as well, along with a greater risk of injury to the body.
Thus, easing into cycling is highly recommended. It is a good idea for a person to take about six weeks to get used to the entire process before they start to increase the intensity or implement other methods. In addition to cycling itself, it is also advisable to implement other types of exercises. Cycling might be considered a low-impact activity, but still requires great balance and a strong core. Endurance is another critical part of success with cycling.
During the first few weeks, the person should focus on cycling for about three days. Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday are good starting points. They can take a lighter stroll with the bike on Sundays, but other days should be used to cross-train. This type of training is excellent for building endurance and stamina and creates better stability at the core.
During the earlier stages, the individual should also focus on going at a slower pace. Eight to 12 miles per hour should be a good starting point (9), followed by a gradual increase in pace up to 20 miles per hour. Over a period of time, the person can start to try for a faster speed - but should not remain at this pace for too long at a time.
It is important to consider more than just speed, however. A good distance for beginners is about two miles. Following the first week of training, the beginner should gradually increase their distance. Prior to a two-month mark, the person should be able to do a 10-mile track without feeling too tired or experiencing a significant level of fatigue.
Tips For Maximizing Results
As a person gets more used to cycling and their body builds up balance and stability, the person may want to try and get better results. Pushing up the intensity is generally one of the first strategies that come to mind, but could become strenuous on the body. There are a few ways that weight loss results can be maximized without putting the body at extra risks. Let’s take a look at a few of these techniques.
- A gradual increase in intensity is an effective way of getting more results without pushing the body too far. Instead of riding at a single pace during the entire session, a person can try to implement different zones into their cycling activity. Start warming up at a low speed, then gradually increase the speed. Maintain the higher speed for five to 10 minutes, then return to a slower speed.
- If a higher intensity feels like too much for the individual, they could try to go a bit further instead of increasing their cycling speed. This is a great way to increase endurance while cycling. The first few sessions might only last for about 15 minutes, but the person can gradually aim for longer sessions. Many people are able to achieve 150 minutes on a weekly basis relatively quickly once their bodies start to build up more endurance.
- A combination of stationary and outdoor bikes can also be useful. Outdoor biking has some limitations when it comes to achieving certain speeds or riding a specific distance. For example, some people may not want to go out at night. With a stationary bike in their home, the person can easily train for better endurance and get a good workout without going outside.
- Trying out a few endurance-building and core stabilizing exercises can be very helpful too. High-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, is a highly effective strategy. In one study (10), researchers explain that HIIT is a highly recommended option for people who want to work on their endurance. The exercise also builds stamina and provides an excellent tool for improving the stability and strength of the core.
- Another important exercise that can be used to improve the person’s performance on a stationary bike or outdoor bicycle is CrossFit. Also referred to as cross-training, this particular series of exercises is a multipurpose solution. People can expect to experience a significant improvement in their stamina and endurance when utilizing cross-training programs. Additionally, CrossFit is also known to build strength and increase the VO2max of the body (11).
Focusing On A Comprehensive Weight Loss Plan
Weight loss is not simple. In fact, for many people, it takes years to achieve their ideal body weight. At the time of reaching this goal, people generally find that maintaining the new bodyweight becomes just as challenging (12). Researchers have suggested that an obesogenic environment may be a leading cause behind problems related to weight loss maintenance (13). Considering these facts, individuals should understand that cycling alone may not be the ideal weight loss strategy. Instead, bike riding should become part of a greater weight loss plan.
Researchers have already found that a calorie deficit is an essential part of losing weight effectively (14). According to other studies, however, weight loss is much more complicated than just reducing the intake of calories (15). Dietary habits need to be adjusted to comply with the body’s need for nutrition, while exercises should focus on burning a high amount of calories without pushing the body beyond its current limitations and abilities. As stated previously, individuals should try to incorporate bike riding, along with cross-training and HIIT into their routine. The addition of HIIT and cross-training does not only help to improve endurance but also contributes to the number of calories a person is able to burn on a day-to-day basis. The combination of these strategies would yield the most effective results.
Cycling is not only a competitive activity, but also provides the body with a thorough aerobic workout. This means the heart starts to pump harder and the body starts to burn fat. Be impressed at how many calories can cycling burn for you. Both indoor and outdoor biking have benefits to offer the human body. It is, however, important to understand that there are certain risks involved. We looked at these risks, while also providing information that can help a person develop a safe, yet highly efficient cycling routine while keeping a healthy weight.