What’s not to love about cycling? The colour pop jerseys. The sense of freedom. The butt and thigh burn. But while cycling is undeniably a great way to have a good time – not to mention the fastest way to travel under your own steam – it’s also a fantastic activity that blasts belly fat.
“Cycling works some of the body’s biggest muscle groups – the quads, hamstrings and glutes – so it’s a really efficient calorie-burning activity,” says Hilary Gilbert, founder of Boom Cycle. “Not only does it tone and strengthen your muscles, but it also works your cardiovascular system – boosting aerobic fitness.”
And if you’re new to exercise, cycling is a great place to start. Biking is a low-impact activity that puts less stress on your joints than high-impact sports, like running and jumping exercises. “Cycling is a really good activity for beginners because it supports weight, plus it’s very easy to build up the duration and intensity of activity on the bike,” adds Eddie Fletcher, lead sports scientist at Wattbike.
“Highimpact sports like running can always be introduced into your plan later, or you could just continue with the lowimpact activity.” Let’s face it, chances are you’ll be hooked on cycling by then! Whether you prefer to pedal outdoors or ride indoors, cycling provides a fat-frying workout if – and here’s the catch – you do it correctly. Here five expert ways to whittle your waistline on the bike…
Don’t get into the habit of riding your bike like a pedalo – sometimes, you have to hit it hard. Hordes of bike-based research shows that sprint cycling burns oodles of calories. Pedalling at pace revs up the heart rate, which in turn uses a lot of energy and stimulates the production of the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – a hormone that helps burn fat. And this fat-burning buzz can last for up to 24 hours after you’ve got off the bike.
In fact, research in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that two weeks of alternate-day interval training can increase a rider’s fatburning ability by an impressive 36 percent. The catch? You’ve got to be bike-fit before you can embark on highintensity training. “It’s probably best to do a mix of long, slow rides and interval training,” explains Fletcher, “but it’s far more important to master the low-to-medium intensity rides first, as these will create the fitness platform you need for more intense work.” You’ve been warned.
Hate cycling around cars? Good news – fat-loss riding doesn’t have to take place on the roads. In fact, mountain biking is a really good calorie-burner that blasts around 600 calories per hour. Not only is riding off-road a great way to boost your all-round fitness, but it also works your body from head to toe. Tackling obstacles – tree roots, thick mud and single tracks – is an essential part of mountain biking, and this type of riding really works the muscles in your arms, back, chest and core. As an added bonus, off-road cycling often involves hill climbing – uphill riding that will raise your heart rate and fire up your fat burners. Winner.
“If possible, exercise before breakfast,” recommends Hilary. Research backs this up – one study in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that exercisers burn more fat riding in a fasted state than when full of fodder. Our thoughts? Don’t do your longest ride on zero food, and eat something small like a banana before hitting the bike. “Indoor cycling is a great morning activity because it involves really great music and motivating coaching,” adds Hilary. “Plus, the immersive atmosphere never gets boring and will keep you coming back.” See our panel of spin workouts to find a class that suits your goals.
Here’s our top tip – be the turtle, not the hare. “If you’re following a cycling plan, start off slowly by keeping your heart rate low or pedalling at a level that enables you to have a conversation (aka you should feel a bit sweaty and warm),” says Fletcher. “Duration is important – work upwards from a 20-minute ride to a 30-minute ride at a moderate intensity.” Here’s how to do it – try doing three 20- minute rides per week and gradually build up to five 30-minute rides each week. When you’ve conquered that, it’s time to start swapping easy rides for interval sessions. Hurrah!
Like packing your pockets full of sweets and snacks before every ride? Be careful. Fat loss is the result of a simple formula – consuming fewer calories than you burn. “When it comes to weight loss, so much of it is down to diet control,” explains Fletcher, “Get control of your diet by cutting out the things that you know you shouldn’t eat like processed products and refined carbs (like sugarfilled cereals), and reduce portion sizes.”
Fuel your cycling with unrefined carbohydrate foods that provide sustained energy, such as porridge, vegetables and wholegrain breads. And find a balance between gobbling too much and eating too little on the bike. To safely lose weight and fuel your workouts, avoid cutting your daily calorie intake by more than 30 percent. As Fletcher explains: “Start slowly and maintain a steady weight-loss of around 1-2Ibs per week. Slowly and surely is always the healthiest way to slim down.”