You Probably Won't Lose Weight If You *Only* Do Cycling Classes
Cycling classes feel pretty dang intense most of the time. They’re typically fast-paced and interval-based. You come out *dripping* in sweat and riding an endorphin high from the heart-pumping beats and ball-of-energy instructor on the mic. So you’d think that cycling is a perfect workout for weight loss, right?
The answer is both yes and no. Indoor biking classes (or cycling outdoors or on your own in the gym) can certainly be a part of your overall weight-loss plan, but they shouldn’t be the only thing you care about if you’re looking to get stronger and shift the scale number. There are a ton of factors that play a role in successful weight loss, and we’ll get into those.
But there are some major pros when it comes to choosing cycling as your cardio method of choice for weight loss—if you peddle wisely. And alllll of the answers you’ve been dying to know about how to cycle for total weight-loss success are ahead.
Just tell me straight up: Can you lose weight by cycling?
Great news, Soul Cycle and Peloton lovers. Cycling is basically just as effective as running when it comes to its cardio benefits, says Charlie Seltzer, MD, an obesity medicine physician and ACSM-certified exercise specialist. Regular cycling may help lower your blood pressure, insulin levels, and your resting heart rate if you do it frequently enough (as can running), Dr. Seltzer explains.
Where cycling gives you a leg up on other forms of cardio? It’s an *awesome* lower-body workout. Your hamstrings, calves, and glutes will all feel the burn during a cycling class, especially during portions where you have the resistance turned up. Your leg muscles are some of the biggest in your body; so the more lower-body muscle mass (and muscle in general) you have means the more calories you’ll burn during your workouts and at rest, Dr. Seltzer says.
So if you push yourself during those sprints and hill climbs and turn that knob to the right, you may develop stronger legs by cycling than by running, Dr. Seltzer notes. Let’s be honest, though, it can be easy to coast through cycling classes when you’re just not in the mood to crank up the resistance. But if you don’t touch the resistance knob and push yourself, you probably won’t achieve the lower-body strength benefits.
Bonus alert: Cycling is much easier on your joints than running. “Cycling is a great way to get your cardio if you’re looking for a low-impact workout,” says Tatiana Lampa, an ACSM-certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. “If you have low back pain but are still looking to lose weight, cycling will be your best bet…and in comparison to other forms of cardio, it has a low risk of injury.”
Okay, I have to ask…is cycling worthwhile if I want to lose belly fat?
If you’re hoping to lose belly fat specifically, don’t get your hopes up. You can’t spot reduce fat, the American Council on Exercise confirms—no matter what kind of physical activity you’re doing, cycling included.
It’s not all bad news, though. Cycling burns calories, and that calorie deficit can help lead to weight loss if you are supplementing your physical activity with a nutritious diet. With consistency, you’ll lose weight gradually all over, just not in one specific body part at a time (but you know this).
Cycling also kicks your metabolism into high gear, which is helpful for weight loss. “Some people will adapt to cycling in a way that makes them continue burning calories throughout the day,” says Dr. Seltzer, “but you have to make sure you don’t use your morning cycling class as an excuse to do less during the rest of your day instead of staying active.”
The takeaway: Don’t take cycling classes with the expectation of shrinking your waistline. Use them as one component in your healthy lifestyle to help create a calorie deficit, boost your cardiovascular ability, and motivate you to practice other healthy habits outside of class, too.
How many calories are we talking here, realistically?
The number of calories you’ll burn is pretty individualized to you, the class you take, and the effort you put in. “Cycling burns between 400 and 1,000 calories an hour, depending on the intensity of the ride and how much the rider weighs,” says Lampa.
Both Lampa and Dr. Seltzer agree that an ideal workout routine for indoor cycling class aficionados would include three or four classes per week. So, in theory, you could burn anywhere from 1,200 to 4,000 calories per week by taking cycling classes. That means you *could* burn anywhere from half a pound to a pound per week if you maintain the calorie deficit you create through Spin classes by eating healthy on top of ’em. This won’t work if you *only* do cycling classes but don’t think about any other weight-loss factors (i.e. nutrition).
But it’s better to focus on doing what you reasonably can during the week as opposed to requiring yourself to take that many classes if it’s not realistic, Dr. Seltzer says. Because, hey, Spinning once a week is better than not Spinning at all.
“You have to consider your own recovery capacity, because ideally you’d be doing six days of moderate, vigorous exercise a week,” he explains. “If you can do three or four days of spinning as part of that, that’s a good start—but you need to be able to do other kinds of activity, too.”
So, cycling should just be one part of my exercise routine, huh?
Yup. As mentioned, it’s a great form of cardio, but it doesn’t strengthen all your muscles in equal ways necessarily. Incorporating other kinds of physical activity can really crank up your weight-loss efforts, help protect your bones and joints, and even maximize the benefits of cycling.
Dr. Seltzer likes the combination of resistance training and cycling, adding that if you enjoy both of those activities, you could aim for doing each one twice per week. Lampa, too, encourages supplementing your cycling with strength training. Why? Strength training will also help you build muscle, and, as you learned, the greater amount of muscle you have can increase the number of calories you burn during strength training *and* while you cycle, Lampa explains.
Cycling is on par with other cardio forms for losing weight.
Yoga can be a valuable compliment to cycling as well, she adds. “After cycling three or four times a week, the body gets stuck in that seated position while hunched over,” she points out. “It’s really important to stretch out the muscles to decrease possible injuries.”
So if strength training isn’t your thing, consider taking a couple of yoga classes per week to offset the strain that may be associated with frequent cycling. Yoga is no slouch when it comes to burning calories, either: A 155-pound person can burn about 150 calories for every 30 minutes of yoga, according to Harvard Health.
Should anyone avoid take cycling classes?
Dr. Seltzer recommends you get evaluated by your doc before taking a cycling class if you’re at all worried about your health, an injury, or how it might affect a specific condition you have. But if you’re generally healthy you should get a green light no problem. He does add that some people simply find it uncomfortable to sit on a bike seat for an hour, and if it’s really painful you can totally find another activity to do instead.
“If you’re Spinning because you think it’s going to help you burn body fat but you actually hate it, then Spinning is not going to work for you in the long run,” he says. “It’s not like it’s way more effective than other kinds of cardio or your only option for losing weight.”
But if you adore indoor cycling? The low-impact benefits of cycling do make it an attractive option for cardio lovers who struggle with running or jogging.
“Eighty percent of Americans suffer from low back pain sometime in their life, so cycling may become more of an outlet for those who suffer from low back pain,” says Lampa.
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