Best Cycling Workout For Weight Loss

Cycling is one of the most effective workouts for weight loss. It works by burning fat and building muscle, which helps you burn even more calories at rest. Cycling also builds endurance and improves cardiovascular health, thus helping you to lose weight while keeping your body healthy.

Before starting a cycling workout routine, it’s important to build up your fitness level gradually over time. If you’ve never exercised before, start off with walking or light jogging. Then gradually increase the intensity of your workouts until you’re ready for more strenuous exercise like cycling.

When doing any type of exercise for weight loss, it’s important to start out slowly and gradually increase your intensity over time. This will prevent injury and allow you to progress safely toward your goal. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day along with a healthy diet if you want to see results from exercising regularly.

Right here on Buy and Slay, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on cycling tips for weight loss, cycling fat burning zone, spin bike workout for weight loss, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.

Best Cycling Workout For Weight Loss

There’s a misconception among cyclists that anything less than two hours on the bike isn’t a good workout. But that’s simply not true. Chad Timmerman, the head coach for cycling training app TrainerRoad, says that his ideal workouts are “high density,” meaning they pack a ton of hurt into a short window of time. To do this, Timmerman relies on hard efforts with short rest intervals for carefully targeted workouts where everything has a purpose and no time is wasted.

We talked to Timmerman and four more professional cycling coaches who work extensively with amateur athletes on how to improve the most in the least amount of time. They handed over their favorite workouts so you don’t have to think up a program, all you have to do is get on and suffer. Whether you want to build top end speed, a strong diesel engine, or climbing power, these workouts will help you do it.

Power Pyramids

Male triathlete cyclist cycling on sunny rural road at sunrise
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Timmerman says that this workout pushes your functional threshold power—the effort that you could sustain for one hour. “They’re short, fast efforts, but they get progressively less friendly with the rest,” he says. Essentially, the intervals will get longer but the rest periods won’t. “So you’re really stressing your system to get your heart rate back down.” And, once you master this workout as written, he suggests cutting the rest time even further. “The point is to condition your body to the abuse of the final miles of a race, when you’re either drilling it or trying to recover,” says Timmerman.

This is a fairly difficult workout; if you’re not in great shape, expect it to hurt, a lot. In fact, the workout suggests three 14-minute sets, but you may need to start with two. As you progress, add in the third set and then begin trimming your rest from 30 seconds down to 25, 20 or even 15 seconds. 

  • Warm up with 10 minutes of easy spinning, followed by three 1-minute-long efforts with 30 seconds in between. These efforts will bring your heart rate up and get you ready for the hard work ahead.
  • Ride for two minutes at a near all-out effort. Timmerman says it’s about a 9 on a scale from 1–10.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Ride for two and a half minutes at slightly easier effort, an 8 on a scale of 1–10.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Ride for three minutes at 7 on a scale from 1–10.
  • Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat the intervals but reversing the order to start with the three-minute effort. Again, only allow yourself 30 seconds rest between each interval.
  • Rest for five full minutes between sets, then repeat the entire pyramid two full times.

Finish with at least 10 minutes of easy spinning in a light gear. You should be absolutely worked by the end. “Because it starts and finishes high, it should be a real struggle,” says Timmerman. 

Maximum Aerobic Intervals

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This workout is a favorite of Monterey, CA-based coach Chris Burnham. He says this workout builds a strong aerobic base without making you ride for hours and hours on end. “The 30 second efforts at the end are to completely exhaust maximal aerobic ability and drive a bigger aerobic adaptation,” says Burnham. He adds that only the first two will be anaerobic, “after that the athlete has to create power through high aerobic pathways resulting in a big training load.”

  • Warm-up well with 10–15 minutes of riding at a conversational pace.
  • Next, do four intervals of 12 minutes just below your threshold power. Aim for about an 8 on a 1–10 scale. 
  • Recover for six minutes between efforts with an easy spin, making sure to take in fluids.  
  • After your last rep, ride for 30 minutes at an endurance pace. This should be a pace you could talk at, but you shouldn’t be dawdling. Somewhere around a 6 on a 1–10 scale. Maintaining a high cadence, 95 RPM-plus during this part of the ride. 
  • Finally, do eight maximal intervals (as hard as you can go) of 30 seconds each with 30 seconds recovery. “Your power will drop off during this set but maintain a 100 percent effort on your work intervals,” says Burnham.
  • After the last interval, cool down for at least 10 minutes.

Burnham says you can add or subtract another 12-minute set to the beginning of the workout depending on your fitness, or you can lengthen the endurance portion for a longer ride.

Strength Builder

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Most cyclists need to work on strength, but lifting weights isn’t enough. To really create force, you need to build power on the bike. Connecticut-based coach Aidan Charles says this workout does exactly that. For maximum effect, find a slight grade lasting at least four minutes. Otherwise, use your trainer set to a heavy resistance.  

  • To begin, warm up with at least 10 minutes of riding at endurance intensity (a 6 out of 10), then 10 minutes at low-tempo pace (7 out of 10).
  • Bring your heart rate back down, and then begin the hard part of the workout by completing three eight-minute-long tempo intervals (about an 8 out of 10). Take two minutes of rest between each.
  • Next, on a slight uphill, do four minutes of riding in a gear big enough to force you to pedal at just 50–55 RMP. The effort level should be in your high-tempo zone—an 8 out of 10.
  • Take three minutes of rest, repeating for three more intervals. The key to doing this workout right is to keep your upper body relaxed. The power should be coming from your legs, not the rocking of your torso.
  • Finally, complete four 20-second uphill sprints. Start in a huge gear, going 5 miles per hour or slower. Get out of the saddle and accelerate as hard as you can while maintaining good form. Take at least 5 minutes of rest between each sprint so your muscles fully recover.
  • Cool down and spin out your legs for at least 10 minutes. 

Diesel Engine

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Pennsylvania-based coach Bill Elliston uses these intervals to “build a diesel engine,” the kind that can go all day long. “These, along with the short, high-intensity intervals, can provide the best bang for the buck and are great for general conditioning.”

  • Start with at 20–30 minute warm-up, followed by three minutes of light-tempo riding to bring your heart rate up—about a 7 on a scale from 1–10. 
  • Do two 15-minute or three 10-minute (you chose your own hell) blocks at just below your lactate threshold power—between 8 and 8.5 on a 1–10 scale.
  • Take 10 minutes to spin easily between sets, making sure you keep the legs moving and rehydrate.
  • Finish with a 10-minute cool down. 

Full Body Strength

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Jennifer Rulon is both a triathlon coach and a certified CrossFit coach, so she likes to find workouts that do double duty. This workout can be done inside or out, but Rulon prefers it on a trainer where you can really focus on the form drills.

Sometimes drills don’t feel like enough of a workout on their own, so this throws HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and weighted moves into the mix. Rulon says that you can load up on the weights if you’re a meathead, or do them with just your bodyweight if you’re new to strength training.

Rulon also likes this workout because some of the HIIT sections push the body into the phosphagen energy system. This is your top-level fitness zone—the one you can only work in for a minute or two before tasting vomit. “It’s great for that extra last kick in a cycling race,” though, she says.

Warm up by spinning at a high, 90-plus RPM cadence for 15 minutes.

Cycling: You’re going to do a series of one-legged peddling drills. For each one, unclip one foot and focus on your pedal stroke for the other. Try to notice any “dead spots” or areas where your stroke falters.

Do 30 seconds with your right leg, then 30 seconds with both legs, then 30 seconds with your left leg, and, finally, 30 seconds with both legs. Repeat this progression four more times. 

HIIT: Hop off your bike and do three rounds as quickly as possible.

  • 5 push-ups
  • 10 sit-ups
  • 15 air squats

Cycling: Spin for five minutes at 90 RPM, then return to the one-legged drills, this time doing another five sets of the 30-second right leg, both legs, left leg, both legs combo.

HIIT: This will be a 10-minute effort that repeats every minute on the minute — you have a total of 100 lunges and 50 burpees at the end. So if you get the series done in less than a minute, you get a bit of rest. If not, just keep plowing through.

  • 10 walking lunges (five on each leg)
  • 5 burpees

Finally, finish with a cool down of 10 minutes of easy cycling at 90 RPMs.  

Hit the Next Level

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Coach Elliston says that short, 100-percent efforts are one of the best ways to push your fitness to the next level. “These are great for being able to execute repeated efforts over and over and over.” He prescribes just a few at a time before taking significant rest so that the quality stays high.

This workout is great for anyone who plans to race, says Elliston, but it’s also ideal for recreational riders on group rides—especially if you want to move up to a slightly faster group. Do this workout a few times and you’ll stay attached to the pack when the pace picks up.

  • Start with a 20-minute warm-up of easy spinning, then shift into five minutes of light tempo. You should be at 85 percent of your threshold, or a 7 on a scale from 1–10.
  • Take three easy minutes to recover before you begin your main set.
  • Begin a 12-minute block of one minute above threshold (10 out of 10.) Then, do one minute easy. Each block has six minutes above threshold and six minutes easy.
  • Rest for five minutes between blocks.
  • Aim to do three 12-minute sets, start with two if you’re still getting into shape.
  • Cool down with at least 10 minutes of easy spinning. 

Cycling Tips for Weight Loss

Biking is often touted as a good low-impact option for aerobic exercise. It allows you to get your heart rate up with less wear and tear on your knees, ankles, and other joints, compared with running or jogging.

It’s also a good way to help you shed extra pounds. That’s because you can burn an impressive number of calories while you’re pedaling, especially if you cycle beyond a leisurely pace.

If you’re looking to lose a few pounds with your biking workout, here are four key strategies for weight loss.

1. Increase the intensity

Pedaling along at a leisurely pace probably won’t do much to help you lose weight. However, if you push yourself to work harder and up the intensity of your ride, you’ll make more progress toward your weight loss goal.

As a general rule, the faster you cycle, the more calories you’ll burn. That’s because your body uses more energy to cycle faster. And the more calories you burn, the more weight you’ll likely shed.

Steady, moderate cycling burns about 300 calories in 60 minutes, but you can burn more than that if you increase the intensity.

In fact, according to the Harvard Health Letter, a 155-pound person can burn as many as 298 calories in a 30-minute bike ride, if they pedal at a 12-to-13.9 mile-per-hour pace. A person who weighs 185 pounds can burn 355 calories by cycling at this pace.

And, at a faster pace of around 14 to 15.9 miles per hour, a 155-pound can burn up to 372 calories in just 30 minutes, while someone who weighs 185 pounds can burn 444 calories in that time frame.

2. Opt for high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT can be a great way to challenge your body and, yes, even reduce fat and lose weight, if that’s your goal.

HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise alternated with intervals of low-intensity exercise. With biking, a HIIT workout may look something like this:

  1. Cycle as fast as you possibly can against high resistance for 30 to 60 seconds.
  2. Then, do 2 to 3 minutes of easy cycling with low resistance.
  3. Repeat this pattern for the next 20 to 30 minutes.

This type of exercise can help you burn more calories in less time, as well as improve your cardio fitness and help you lose fat too.

According to a study published in 2017, both HIIT and moderate intensity continuous training both reduced fat mass by 10% after a 12 week program. However, HIIT programs take much less time and are therefore a more practical option for fat reduction.

The benefits don’t stop there. When you stop pedaling and your workout is over, your metabolism remains engaged. This means your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate, even after your workout is done and your body has returned to its normal, resting state.

3. Go further

Just when you think you’ve had enough, try to go a little further. That’s the idea behind endurance training.

Research suggests that endurance training might help burn fat, which may help with weight loss.

Ideally, you want to start slowly when you’re trying to build endurance. So, if you start with 10 to 15 minutes of cycling in one session, you could then slowly add on a few minutes to each session until you’ve reached at least 150 minutes of cycling in a week.

4. Try cross-training

If you don’t like getting locked into one activity, cross-training may be for you. It’s a great way to add variety to your workouts by alternating activities.

For instance, you might hop on your bike for a long outdoor ride one day, then head over to the gym to lift weights the following day.

In order to lose weight, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says you’ll need to cycle at a moderately intense level for at least 30 minutes at a time. To burn even more calories, you’ll want to cycle for longer.

ACE also suggests incorporating two activities into one cross-training session to boost weight loss. For example, you could ride a bike for 20 to 30 minutes, then try another activity for an additional 20 minutes.

Biking options

There are plenty of choices when it comes to biking, which makes it easy to choose the option that bests suits your needs and preferences. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular indoor and outdoor biking options.

Indoors

Do you prefer to exercise indoors? Here are a couple of ways to bike inside:

  • Ride a stationary bike on your own. Whether you own a stationary bike or you use one at a gym, you can get a great workout that’s tailored specifically to your needs. Lots of programmable options let you customize your workout to the speed, intensity, and duration you want.
  • Spin classes. If you need someone to encourage you to keep on riding through your workout, this might be a good choice. Research also suggests that spinning is just as effective for improving your physical fitness and changing your body, compared with regular bicycle riding.
  • Handcycle. If you’re not able to use a regular stationary bike, a handcycle might be just the ticket for some calorie-burning aerobic exercise. This machine is powered by your arms instead of your legs.

You’ll have to make sure you have access to a stationary bike or handcycle if you go this route. If you don’t own your own equipment, you may want to look into joining a gym or community center.

Outdoors

If you prefer to take your bike out into the great outdoors, you have several options, such as road biking, trail biking, or mountain biking. You could even ditch your car and try biking to work or using your bike to run errands.

But it can’t be a one-time thing. You need to make biking a regular part of your exercise routine if you want to use this type of exercise to lose weight.

You can track your mileage or intensity with various apps too. Using a fitness tracking app may also help you stay motivated to reach specific goals.

The one downside to outdoor biking is that you need to follow more safety precautions in order to stay safe. Wet, icy, or uneven road conditions, hot or humid weather, and unpredictable traffic conditions can make outdoor biking less safe than cycling indoors.

How to bike safely

Biking, especially in the great outdoors, can come with certain risks. To stay safe while you’re biking, be sure to follow these safety tips:

  • Wear a helmet. This might go without saying, but a helmet protects your head (and your brain) in the event of a collision or a fall. Make sure it fits your head snugly. Ideally, go for a brightly colored helmet that’s easy for others to see.
  • Ride single file. If you enjoy biking with a friend, let one person lead. The follower should leave some space in between.
  • Ride on the right side of the road. You want to pedal in the same direction that car traffic is flowing. In the United States, Canada, and other countries where cars drive on the right, be sure to cycle on the right-hand side of the road.
  • Use hand signals. Let drivers and other riders on the road know that you’re planning to turn or take other actions.
  • Forego the electronics. Don’t wear headphones or anything that might impair your ability to hear other vehicles around you.
  • Keep an eye out for road hazards. Uneven terrain, potholes, standing water, and other potential hazards could be dangerous, so be on the lookout for them.
  • Take care of your bike. Make sure to keep your bike in tip-top condition by performing regular maintenance and spot checks to make sure the chains, wheels, brakes, and other parts are in good working order.

The bottom line

If you’re trying to lose weight, or want to maintain weight loss that you’ve worked hard to achieve, biking can be a great way to achieve this goal.

To maximize your weight loss and fat burn, try to increase the intensity or duration of your biking workout. Doing interval training and cross-training can also help with weight loss and fat-burning efforts.

If you have a health condition or haven’t exercised in a while, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure a biking workout is safe for you.

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