Working out on an exercise bike is a great way to burn calories. Substantial research on the calorie burn of cycling has been conducted in labs because work and power output can be easily calculated on a bike. Of course, without a lab, we have to be a little more rudimentary with our estimates, but there are a couple of ways to get a pretty good idea of how much your stationary bike workouts are burning.
How Caloric Expenditure is Calculated
Calories are a measure of energy. One calorie is equal to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. To get the most accurate estimation of calorie burn, you would have to know your oxygen consumption rate or the amount of heat released by your body for a given exercise. As you begin to work harder, your rate of breathing increases and your body puts off more heat. In turn, your calorie burn increases.
Using a Heart Rate Monitor
A heart rate monitor is the most practical way for regular folks to estimate calorie burn. It's impractical to measure oxygen consumption because most of us don't have access to a lab. However, there is a direct correlation between oxygen consumption and heart rate, so if the heart rate is known, oxygen consumption can be estimated. A heart rate monitor will take into account variables including sex, weight, age, duration of exercise and heart rate to calculate calorie expenditure.
Caloric Burn of Cycling
If you don't have a heart rate monitor, you can estimate the calorie burn of cycling at different intensities through a simple calculation. Multiply the value of the activity (calories burned per minute) by your body weight in kilograms, then multiply that figure by the total number of minutes spent cycling. The estimated value of indoor cycling at an easy pace is .05; at a moderate pace it is .12; and at a very hard pace, it is .22.
How to Maxmize Your Burn
The simplest way to maximize your calorie burn on an exercise bike is to keep the resistance at a moderate to hard level while maintaining a cadence of 80 to 110 rpm. High-intensity intervals will burn slightly more calories than a steady state ride, and your body will maintain an elevated metabolism for 24 hours following an interval workout, so opt for intense intervals to incinerate the most calories during your workout.
- AceFitness.org: Caloric Cost of Physical Activity and Exercise
- University of New Mexico: Making Sense of Calorie-burning Claims; Robert A. Robergs, Ph.D. & Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
- Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance; William D. McArdle, Frank I. Katch & Victor L. Katch
- Heart Rate Training; Roy Benson, Jr. & Declan Connolly
- Cardio Sucks!; Michael Matthews
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.