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Cycling for weight loss is a great activity. It gets you out in the fresh air, keeps you fit and you can do it almost whenever you want, without relying on a gym or training partner.
You can also get started at a relatively low cost – In fact, if you already own a bike you can start for free, straight away.
An hour of moderate cycling can help you burn over 700 calories!
In this article, we give you our top ten tips on how to get into cycling.
1. Set A Goal
As with any activity, you will need to set realistic, achievable goals to keep you motivated. The same is true of cycling – don’t make it a chore, plan it into your routine so you have the time allotted for it.
If it will be you main or only form of cardiovascular exercise, consider biking 3 to 5 times a week.
2. Aim To Lose Weight Each Week
If you are planning on cycling for weight loss as your main goal, you will want to plan when and how often you will go out for a ride. You will also want to have a target for how much weight you want to lose. Nobody can tell you how much weight you should plan to lose, however, there are some recommendations. Some people use Body Mass Index (BMI) as a guide for a healthy weight. BMI is based on a person’s height to weight ratio. According to the NHS (UK), “A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.”
Whatever your personal goal, do not try to lose too much weight too quickly. This is actually counter-productive, as most people who lose weight rapidly end up regaining that weight, plus more should they stop exercising or healthy eating. A good target would be to lose one kilo per week.
Take a look at the Cycling Calories Calculator below:
3. Prepare To Gain Muscle
So, we have discussed that cycling for weight loss is a great option – An hour of moderate cycling can help you burn over 700 calories. But also note that it is great for gaining and toning muscle too.
The main muscles cycling targets are; Calfs, Thighs (Hamstrings & Quads), Glutes (buttocks), Arms (Biceps & Triceps) and Shoulders (Deltoids).
Obviously the lower body achieves the most benefits, particularly the legs, but the upper body will also gain strength, in the arms and shoulders.
4. Put In Some Effort
It may be obvious, but you will need to work when you go out for a ride if you want to achieve your strength, fitness and weight-loss goals. The harder you train, the better the results.
In order to burn fat, you need to increase your heart rate while you cycle, to a rate of around 70 to 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate.
The easiest way to track this is by using a heart rate monitor, fitness smartwatch or bike computer. Otherwise, riding to a moderate level, where you are out of breath but still able to hold a conversation is a good indicator.
You should be looking to cycle for 30 minutes to an hour each day, however, you can ride at a more comfortable pace and just go for longer.
5. Train At High Intensity Regularly
If you manage to cycle 5 days a week, think about riding moderately 3 times, and then increase your intensity around twice a week. Those high-intensity rides will improve your cardiovascular fitness, improving your body’s efficiency in burning calories.
For this, you will be expecting to increase your heart rate to 70-90 percent of its max.
Alternatively, you could add a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session into your daily bike ride. One example of this is a 30-90 split: 30 seconds full effort then 90 seconds rest, repeat for a number of times. Just make sure you warm up and cool down properly. If you get stuck there are some great cycling training plans online.
If you need help getting motivated, why not ride with a friend, or join a local club?
6. Cycle To Work
Let’s face it – jumping in the car for your daily commute is an easy option, even getting the bus or train don’t require too much effort. Why not ride your bike to work? You have to go to work and you want to start or increase your exercise, so cycling to work would achieve both of those, and cost you less in fuel or public transport fees.
Before you think of excuses, there are always solutions: If it’s too far, get a bike rack for your car, drive part of the way and cycle the last 30 minutes. Find out if you can take your bike on the train and cycle to and from the station.
Many companies in the UK offer a Cycle-To-Work Scheme, a government initiative, where you effectively buy a bike and the money comes out of your wages monthly, before tax.
7. Eat Properly
To see the best results you will need to concentrate on what you consume, to best support your body in building muscle and maintain exercise.
Favour foods with lean protein, like chicken, fish, turkey, beans and pulses. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Sweet potatoes, rye bread and porridge oats.
You should also plan to reduce or completely avoid sugar, processed food and alcohol.
If possible, ride in the morning before breakfast. If you are going for a bike ride longer than 30-60 minutes you may need to take on some fuel beforehand.
8. Get Some Sleep
It’s easy to take sleep for granted, but it’s a vital part of your recovery and supports weight loss. Getting six to nine hours of sleep a night has been proven to assist with losing weight, keeping the weight off and reducing stress. Your body naturally repairs and builds muscle during sleep.
Combine healthy eating with a well-planned sleep pattern to boost your chances of reaching your regular targets. Avoid eating after your last meal of the day, or too close to bedtime.
9. Track Your Progress
Along with setting achievable goals and targets, you will need to track your progress. There are many ways to do this, and various details you may want to monitor;
- Cycle ride distance and speed – Cycle computer, GPS device, Smartphone/Smartwatch
- Heart Rate – Heart Rate Monitor, Smartwatch
- Calories Burned – Cycle computer, GPS device, Smartphone/Smartwatch
- Weight Loss – Scales, Smartphone/Smartwatch and/or Apps
Make sure you monitor your progress regularly; think about how many miles you rode this week in comparison to the previous; compare the effort, calories and average speed between two rides of the same distance. There are some great apps that can help with this, the most popular being Strava.
You can compete against friends or other app users, but remember the only person you really need to compete with is yourself.
10. Enjoy Riding
Hopefully, you have chosen bike riding because you enjoy it. You will obviously be putting in some effort to reach your goals, but also remember to enjoy it. Make sure you are using a bike you feel comfortable on, find some bike routes that you like and can manage.
If you have worked hard for a few days, treat yourself to a nice, gentle relaxing ride with no HIIT sessions, no hills, no sprints.
Cycling For Beginners
When you get started with cycling, use what you already have. If you have an old mountain bike, a bike you can borrow from a family member or even something cheap you can pick up second-hand. Whatever you use, make sure it is suitable for the use, clean and in good working order. Consider getting your bike serviced at your local bike shop or service centre, especially if you haven’t used the bike for a long time.
If you haven’t got a bike, or just want something new and reliable, think about what you will be using it for most as there are a few different types of bikes available – Mountain Bike, Road Bike and Hybrid are the main variations.
Buying a Bike
Consider your budget and decide how much you want to spend on a bike, making sure you only buy what you need. It’s always better to wait to see if you enjoy cycling before upgrading and spending out on something expensive.
Make sure you try before you buy. Most cycle stores will allow you to at least ride around in the shop to get a feel for the bike. Some might allow you to hire one for a day or two, to get a proper test. Keep an eye out for a cycling show or exhibition where you can get more advice, view and try bikes, and get some great discounts on new and used bikes. It can also be worth keeping an eye on cycling forums.
Ask your employer if they offer a Cycle To Work scheme. With it, you can buy a bike with monthly payments and tax-free. As with anything, there are terms and conditions.
Make sure your bike is correctly adjusted to fit you – The right size frame, saddle and handlebar height.
Practice in a safe area, away from traffic if you are new to cycling,
Always wear a helmet when cycling, whether on or off-road.
Wear bright clothing or fluorescent accessories to make sure you can be seen.
Use front and rear lights, during the day as well as in the evening and night time.
Keep your bike in good working order, and have it serviced regularly.
Carry a bike pump and a tyre puncture repair kit.
Stay hydrated – Always carry a bottle of water with you.
Plan your route before you ride – Take a map with you or a smartphone with GPS.
Follow the Highway Code when cycling.
It’s also a good idea to carry a phone with you, should you get into any trouble while you’re out. Let someone know when you go for a ride, where you’re going and how long you plan to be.
There are some essential items you should have, and then some nice-to-haves;
- Cycle Helmet – to protect your head should you fall off
- Cycling Gloves – for comfort
- Cycling Glasses or Sunglasses – great to deflect bugs!
- Padded Cycle Shorts – for better… comfort
- High Visibility accessories – to be seen by other road users
- Bike Lights – To see and be seen
- Bike Pump – have at least one that you can attach to your bike to keep the tyres pumped up
- Puncture Repair Kit – in case of a tyre puncture while you’re out riding
- Water Bottle and Cage/Bottle Holder – stay hydrated, somewhere to store your water bottle
- SmartWatch or GPS-Enabled Watch – to track your rides
- Smartphone and Cycling or Fitness Tracking Apps
- Waterproof Clothing – for cycling in the rain
You may be offered deals on various accessories if you buy a new bike – sometimes you will get a free helmet, water bottle and cage or bike pump. Even if you don’t it’s worth asking.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do I need to cycle to lose weight?
There are many factors involved in losing weight, and you will not lose weight quickly. Ideally, look to cycle for 30 minutes to an hour, at least three times a week. In order to see weight loss while riding your bike, you will need to concentrate on three main areas: Cycling regularly at moderate to high intensity, eating healthily and sleeping well.
Is cycling good for weight loss?
Cycling is good for weight loss – An hour of moderate cycling can help you burn over 700 calories! The key is to be consistent. Cycle regularly, increase your heart rate when you ride by maintaining a moderate to high level of intensity and eat well.
Consider cycling to work to help you reach your goals.
Can cycling help lose belly fat?
Performing aerobic exercises such as cycling can promote weight loss. Burning more calories than you consume helps you loss weight. Though you cannot target weight loss in specific areas, but consistency and effort will show overall weight loss in your body, with stubborn areas such as belly fat reducing over time. Providing you maintain your fitness, combined with a healthy lifestyle, you can get a flat stomach.
Cycling mainly targets the lower body – specifically the legs, but also arms and shoulders.
Is 30 minutes of cycling a day enough?
Depending on your goals, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, three times a week is adequate. If you are looking to significantly improve your aerobic fitness and/or lose weight, it is recommended that you increase your intensity and your duration over those three days – better still, add 1 or 2 more days in your weekly activity.
Is cycling better than running?
Generally speaking, running is better than cycling for fitness and weight loss, as it uses more muscles. However, cycling is easier on your body, plus you should be able to ride for considerably longer on a bike than you could run.
It is a personal preference, based on your ability and your goal. Whatever exercise you choose, think about doing whatever you enjoy and can sustain.
Conclusion - Cycling for Weight Loss
Cycling is definitely a great way to lose weight. It may not be the best of all the options available, but there are so many benefits. Did we mention you can burn over 700 calories in an hour of cycling?! If you’re able to commute to work by bike, you could be getting all your exercise
The recommended amount of exercise an adult should be getting is 2 hours and 30 minutes, or 150 minutes per week. It doesn’t all have to be cycling, but it should be of moderate intensity.
Definitely try before you buy – use what you have or borrow a bike to see if you enjoy it before splashing out on anything expensive.
If you prefer to be inside, you could always look at getting an indoor spin bike.
Whatever your plans or goals, remember to enjoy cycling and be safe!
- NHS – Cycling for beginners: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/cycling-for-beginners/
- NHS – BMI: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-is-the-body-mass-index-bmi/
- Cycling Weekly: https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/training/training-zones-what-are-they-and-why-do-they-matter-180110
- Cycle Scheme: https://www.cyclescheme.co.uk/
- Highway Code- Rules for Cyclists: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82