Here's How to Use Cycling for Weight Loss: 6 Expert Tips to Get it Right

Morgan Fargo
·5-min read

From Women's Health

What with the country in various stages of lockdown, it makes sense that using cycling for weight loss would start to seem more appealing. Because, whilst you've probably got your strength training on lock – virtual strength classes, squat variations, kettlebell exercises (need we go on) – we can't have you skimping on your cardio, either. Especially not if you've got some body composition goals in mind.

What are the benefits of cycling?

  • Lowers blood pressure

  • Strengthens your immune system

  • Low impact which means less chance of strain/injury

  • Builds lower body strength (glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings)

  • Improves cardiovascular fitness

6 tips to use cycling for weight loss

According to Pete Kennaugh (MBE), cycling trainer and Olympic gold medalist, cycling for weight loss is a great way to increase your energy expenditure (how much energy you're exerting each day) because it's low impact and has a much lower risk of injury than other, more intense forms of cardio – say, running for weight loss, for example.

He shared his top tips to help you work towards a healthy weight. Lucky us!

1. Start with low intensity

We get it, you're geared up, pumped up and ready to hit the roads. However, without a solid fitness foundation, you might find yourself up hill creek without a single shred of stamina to get you home. So, instead of shooting off all wheels blazing, start with easy, flat rides for a couple of weeks at least.

'Aim to complete two weeks of low intensity, followed by two weeks of low to medium intensity, before introducing higher intensity sessions,' says Kennaugh. 'This will give you some base fitness and protect you from over reaching.'

2. Prioritise consistency

It's an easy thing to do but beasting your body with sporadic, hellish workouts isn't the way to build strength, stamina or improve your fitness. In fact, Kennaugh suggests that regular cycling should be your goal, not challenging workouts that wreck you from the inside out.

'As a beginner, I would focus on the frequency of sessions over the length of sessions,' he says. 'For example, riding for 30 minutes, four times a week consistently is more beneficial than infrequent, long, two hour rides that take days to recover from.'

Got that? Consistency = steady progress.

3. Mix up your sessions

'Beginners will see improvements from doing the same route to begin with but, because your body is great at adapting, very soon you'll start to get diminishing returns on the training you're doing,' says Kennaugh.

'The more you keep your body guessing with different, challenging sessions, the bigger your improvements will be. Interval sessions are great for this as you can increase the intensity and duration of the intervals and reduce the rest periods meaning you can monitor you improvements and make sure you are progressing your sessions in a controlled way.'

Not sure what an interval session is? Let us explain. Interval sessions are workouts that combine challenging periods of hard effort with rest or active recovery. Beginners should aim for 1:1 work and recovery – e.g. if you're cycling hard for five minutes, take five minutes to easy cycle after. As your fitness and stamina improves you can bring the amount of rest you need down slightly until you're working at a 2:1 ratio of work to rest.

4. Fuel your goals

Now, cycling for weight loss is all well and good but how you're nourishing yourself is arguably more important. You've probably heard the old adage: 'You can't out exercise a bad diet.' Well, it's true. If weight loss is your goal, knowing how best to hit your goals comes to eating smartly.

Counting your macros (macronutrients are the three main food groups, protein, fats and carbohydrates) can help you design a healthy eating routine you love without drastic measures and overly restrictive diets.

Not sure how to count your macros? Get around our easy explainer below.

5. Don't forget about mobility

No matter your exercise of choice, mobility will help keep you and your body moving smoothly. Not only does it help prevent weaknesses and imbalance (that could lead to injury), it stops you being out of the game with an avoidable injury. So, do it. Ok?

6. Get the fit right

A large part of cycling is the bike, right? Right. And, getting one that fits you well will not only reduce discomfort but also your chance of injury. If you're not sure what works for you, head into your nearest bike specialist shop and ask them to help you find the set up and size that works for you.

Kennaugh suggest investing in cycling shorts made specifically for women but to skip wearing underoos if your cycling shorts contain padding – the purpose-build cushioning will work much better without. Winning.

Need some new cycling shorts? Shop this edit of our 18 top picks.

And what about spinning?

So you're less of an intrepid cyclist and more of a spin fanatic. Fair enough. But are the same benefits of cycling for weight loss applicable when you're on a stationary exercise bike and/or in a studio?

According to Dan Little, digital fitness director at Digme Fitness, if you pace yourself, it can be just as beneficial. 'Indoor cycling is great because 'it offers a terrific non-weight bearing workout which elevates the heart rate to a sustained level, creating a positive change in your metabolism.'

However and this is important to bear in mind, too much high intensity exercise can take a toll on your central nervous system, making it hard for your body to repair adequately between sessions. Aim for three spin sessions a week with a recovery day in between: 'This will allow the body to recover and recharge the nervous system ready for your next high intensity session,' says Little.

On your off days work at upskilling other parts of your fitness. Strength training, mobility and recovery (stretching and Yoga) are just as important as your workout.

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