As a workout, cycling has a ton of advantages: It gets your heart pumping. It’s convenient to do on your schedule. And you can do it anywhere, from your favorite nature trail to a small corner of your bedroom. But how does cycling stack up for weight loss?
Very well, experts say. Cycling can be effective for weight loss, and it has some distinct benefits over other workouts like running — but there are some important things to know before you get started.
We talked to fitness pros about cycling for weight loss, what you can (and can’t) expect, and the best ways to fit cycling into your fitness routine.
How Does Cycling Help With Weight Loss and Overall Fitness?
There are two key reasons why cycling helps with weight loss.
1. It’s a solid cardio workout
“Cycling, or any form of cardio, is a tool that can be used to help create a caloric deficit — more calories out than taken in,” Smith adds.
“For a 165-pound individual, biking at a moderate effort will burn about 10 calories a minute,” says Todd Buckingham, PhD, an exercise physiologist and former world champion triathlete in Grand Rapids, MI.
However, Buckingham notes that this number is dependent on body size and effort. Someone who weighs more than 165 pounds will burn more calories per minute at the same effort level; someone who weighs less, or does a less intense workout, will burn fewer calories per minute.
2. It can build lean mass
This can help build lean mass, which means you’ll likely notice amazing results that go beyond the number on the scale.
You’ll also improve muscular endurance and power — especially if you do high-intensity work like intervals or hill training, or you bump up the resistance during an indoor cycling workout.
Can You Target Stomach Fat With Cycling?
“Where your body lets go of fat is largely due to genetics,” she adds. “However, with time and consistency, cycling can absolutely help you get to your goal of losing stomach fat simply by aiding in creating the calorie deficit needed to lose overall body fat.”
Remember, if you’re looking to lose weight, you can’t out-exercise a poor diet. The two work hand-in-hand. For optimal results, pair regular workouts you enjoy with a nutrition plan that’s right for you.
Is Indoor or Outdoor Cycling Better for Weight Loss?
Good news: You really can’t go wrong here, although experts say one setting has a slight edge.
“No one method of cycling is inherently better, as you’re generally performing the same movement both indoors and outdoors,” Smith says. “That said, I find that people who take classes or follow programming on an indoor bike tend to burn more calories and push themselves a little harder because of the encouragement of the instructor and the community.”
Buckingham concurs. “The best method will be whichever is more likely to get you on the bike,” he says. “If you can’t stand the thought of sitting on a spin bike for an hour, then the best way for you to lose weight is going to be riding your bike outside. However, for the same amount of time, cycling indoors is likely to burn more calories than cycling outdoors. When you ride your bike outside you have to stop at stoplights, stop signs, and for traffic. Cycling indoors eliminates those barriers and allows you to cycle continuously for the same amount of time.”
Can You Cycle Every Day for Weight Loss?
“Unlike running, cycling is non-weight bearing, which means it will cause less impact and force on the feet, ankles, knees, and hips,” Buckingham says. That can help minimize the risk of overuse injuries that are more common in weight-bearing exercises, like running.
However, if you’re just starting out with cycling, it’s a good idea to take it easy at first, Buckingham adds. Going full-out every day may increase your risk of overtraining, so it’s best to gradually increase the frequency and duration of your workouts.
Even if you’re an experienced cyclist, remember that the body likes variety and needs the opportunity to recover.
“Personally, I don’t believe in doing anything every single day, as our bodies need different stimuli to get a good, full-body workout experience,” Smith says. “Of course, you can cycle every day — but if you do, I recommend keeping your sessions on the shorter end so that you don’t burn out and/or put yourself at risk for injury.”
Want to add cycling to your workout routine? Smith offers these tips:
- Add in cycling two to four days per week, if you’re just starting out.
- Vary your workout sessions between HIIT training, endurance rides, and recovery rides.
- Time your workouts based on your other physical activity that day. “If cycling is their only workout for the day, I recommend a time frame of anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes per session,” Smith says. “If cycling is an add-on to a strength workout, for example, I advise keeping the sessions a little shorter, like 15 to 20 minutes.”