You've probably seen them -- you know, those people dripping sweat as they pedal their indoor bikes at the gym? And while intensity definitely matters -- there's a huge difference between the hardcore cyclists and the ones reading magazines on the recumbent bikes -- indoor cycling can actually help you lose weight. Of course, you need the right combination of intensity, nutrition and caloric burn before you see results on the scale.
The bikes most often associated with weight loss are the types used in stationary bike classes, often known as spin classes. Not only are the bikes made for adjustable resistance and Tour de France speeds, but the classes are led by instructors who push you to burn max calories. Classes often employ interval training, which can burn more cals than steady pedaling. You can also try biking on your own, keeping up the intensity and resistance to get your caloric burn. And then there's kicking back and pedaling slow. You'll still burn some calories, but don't expect to see huge weight loss results if you're more interested in catching up on "The Bachelor" than you are on working out.
If you're wondering how much you'll burn during a cycling session, remember that it's all about intensity. A 150-pound woman will say "Sayonara!" to about 260 calories during a half-hour of moderate cycling. Bump that up to intense cycling and she'll burn 390, so it might be worth it to grab a sweat towel and really commit to the indoor cycle -- as long as you've checked that it's OK with your doctor, of course.
As with any workout program, there are many variables in play that decide whether you see a difference on the scale. To lose 1 pound you must burn 3,500 calories more than you consume. Obviously, this doesn't happen in a day, but it does prove that you'll need more than just one intense session on the bike. By eating foods that are nutritionally dense and low in calories, and teaming your hardcore cardio with strength training two to three times per week, you're more likely to see results from your sweat sessions on the bike.
One of the most effective ways to burn calories on an indoor cycle is to use interval training. You can do this via a class or when you're riding solo. Start with moderate pedaling to warm up your muscles. For your first high-intensity interval, use a resistance and speed that increases your heart rate to 75 to 80 percent of your max heart rate (calculate your max rate by subtracting your age from 220). Ride at a high intensity for one to two minutes, then drop back down to a speed and resistance that brings your heart rate to 60 to 65 percent of your max for a longer period of time -- around three to five minutes. Continue this pattern throughout your workout, then cool down with comfortable pedaling for another five minutes.
- MayoClinic.com: Rev Up Your Workout with Interval Training
- IDEA Fit: Indoor Cycling Sample Class: Explore Your Zones
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Different Weights
- 101 Cycling Workouts: Improve Your Cycling Ability While Adding Variety to Your Training Program; David Ertl
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.