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Is Indoor Cycling An Effective Way To Lose Weight And Avoid The Gym?

As you are going about your workout program to lose weight, you may find yourself often questioning what the best type of exercise to do is. You only have so much time to spend in the gym each week, so you want to make sure that whatever you are doing, it is giving you the best payoff.

With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to know how to divide your time. If cycling is on your list of options, it’s important that you know the facts. Cycling can be an effective way to lose weight and avoid the gym as long as you keep a few points in mind.

Let’s go over what you need to know.

Preface – Before You Get Started

The very first thing you need to go before addressing this question is that weight loss is a combined effort between nutrition and exercise. While we are going to explain how cycling can help you lose weight, know that cycling alone will not do the job.

If you go for an hour long bike ride every day but proceed to finish that bike ride with a visit to your favorite burger house for a burger, fries and drink, you are not going to be seeing the weight loss you were hoping for.

Too many people put all the emphasis on exercise and forget that nutrition plays a key role in dictating the results they see. In fact, some have claimed nutrition is up to 80% of the process, so it’s not something to overlook.

This said, once you do have your nutrition in line, exercise then becomes a very powerful way to ensure that you really seeing optimal results and losing fat mass, not lean muscle.

So now that you are prepared with that, let’s move forward and look at how cycling can help you lose weight and avoid the gym.

Cardio Fitness Progression

The first component of losing body fat and avoiding the gym is making sure that you are getting a good cardiovascular training element to your workout routine. Any good workout routine should include both cardio and strength training elements, so if you want to successfully avoid the gym, both of these need to be looked at.

As far as cardiovascular fitness benefits, the good news is that cycling earns top marks here. As long as you are peddling hard, you will get your heart rate up and reap great cardiovascular rewards.

The only thing to keep in mind with this is the fact that for some people who are lacking muscular strength, their muscles will fatigue out before their cardio system is really ever worked that hard.

This will likely be the case in runners who are transitioning to cycling instead. They have a large level of cardiovascular fitness built up from their running, but don’t have too much muscle strength as running doesn’t foster this (assuming they weren’t doing other types of activities), so now they tire out quickly when they are hitting the bike.

If this is the case with you, the simple work around this problem is to focus on using as low of a resistance level as possible on the bike and then peddling faster.

The faster peddling is what will help get your heart rate up higher and the lower resistance means your muscles won’t burnout as quickly.

The end result is cardio progress that you can easily intensify as you get stronger so that you are using both fast peddling and more resistance.

Strength Training Progression

Speaking of resistance, that brings us to our next point, how does cycling factor into the strength training area of things?

Any good workout program should include some type of strength training benefits. This is important as it will increase functional strength while also helping to promote the building of lean muscle mass tissue. That is critically important as far as weight loss is concerned because the more lean muscle mass you have, the faster your resting metabolic rate will be, and the easier it will be to reach your goal body weight.

As far as strength training goes when thinking about cycling, there are benefits, but not as many as optimal. Your legs, provided you are setting the resistance level high on the bike, will have to work against resistance. You’ll be primarily targeting the quads while you bike, however the hamstrings will also get involved.

Unfortunately, your glutes and your calves will largely still be asleep, so these two lower body muscles will not be utilized. And, because your upper body is just resting there on the handle bars, it won’t be benefiting much from strength training either.

This said, if you choose to use hand held weights to work your upper body, as they often do in spinning classes, and also do some cycling standing up, this will help to eliminate these deficiencies and can help you better gain strength throughout the entire body.

You probably won’t get as great of strength training benefits as you would from hitting the gym for a free weight session, but you can still get enough that you could feasibly ‘skip the gym’ if that is your goal.

Metabolic Effects

Next you need to consider the metabolic effects of using an exercise bike and how those relate to losing one. One common criticism of steady state cardio versus resistance training is that the calorie burning benefits essentially stop when you do.

And, this is very much true. While cycling, your resting metabolic rate will be higher, but upon getting off the bike, your metabolism will return closer to normal and you’ll be backing burning calories at baseline.

The good news is there is a definite way around this: high intensity interval training.

As long as you incorporate some HIIT into your workout routine with your biking, you can certainly give your metabolism a boost. To do this, you’ll simply want to alternate periods of very intense cycling with periods of active rest where you aren’t going so hard. Repeat this, doing 30-60 seconds on and 60-120 seconds off 5-10 times and you’ll keep your metabolic rate elevated for hours to come.

The biggest thing is that you have to push yourself past your comfort zone in order to spike your metabolism and create that afterburn effect you are looking for.

Factors To Be Careful Of

Finally, there are a few factors that you will want to be careful of if you are choosing to ditch the gym and just bike instead.


First, doing one type of exercise over and over again repeatedly for months on end is going to put you at a high risk of overtraining. You will always be working the muscles in the same manner, never really giving the gym the break they desire.

For this reason, you need to play your rest days carefully. Make sure that you have two days off from cycling at least to recovery don’t push yourself to the limit each and every day. This can be hard because once you go at a certain intensity level, you may want to keep going at that level each and every workout, but you can’t. You do need those lighter days in there.


Second, because you are doing the same thing every workout, you are more likely to suffer from burnout and boredom. By taking days off, you can minimize this to a degree, but it still may be helpful to take the odd day and head out for a walk instead.

Just do something to break up the monotony.

Injury Risk

Finally, due to the same factors noted above for overtraining, you are also quite likely to suffer from an injury as well. You need to pay close attention to how your joints are feeling, especially your knees and stop if you are feeling pain at all.

Overuse injuries are very common when people do the same mode of cardio training so frequently, so be constantly aware of this.

Stop early when pain sets in and let your body recover. You’ll be out far less time if you catch it early. At that point, you will have to decide whether you want to take part in some other exercise for the time being, or just rest entirely and not exercise at all. Doing some exercise is almost always favorable, however this will depend a lot on the extent of the injury and what execise options you have available.

So keep these points in mind. Cycling can certainly be a great option for helping you burn calories, lose weight, and help you reach your fitness goals. Is it as good as combining cycling with other gym activities to produce a well rounded program for improved fitness? Probably not. But if all you can do is cycling and you just can’t hit the gym for the time being, cycling can be a good choice to help get you to where you want to go.

Photo credit: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock; javi_indy/Shutterstock; Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

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