Losing weight is likely to be the top ranked new year's resolution for 2016. Only 8% of people achieve their New Year's resolution, and because you want to be one of those few people who succeed, here is some advice.
The best way to lose weight is by cycling!
That's right, the best way to lose weight is by cycling! (Disclaimer: being cyclists we are biased in our love of bikes and this statement may not be clinically correct). The great thing about cycling to lose weight is that it doesn’t always feel like exercise. It can be fun and social. It’s also an exercise most people can do (it’s low impact and easy on knees and ankles), and most importantly, you don’t always need to wear Lycra!
image: Jayne Rutter
The basics of weight loss
To succeed in your weight loss journey, your energy in (calorie consumption) must be smaller than your energy out (calories burned, including exercise). Obviously it is a bit more technical than that, but basically your diet and level of exercise are key components. There’s no point doing a big ride and then overindulging on pizza and beer. This won’t do you any favors. There’s a lot of information out there about diet, so we won’t reinvent the wheel. In a nutshell, eat good food and don’t eat too much.
How to burn calories on the bike
There are many myths about burning calories and everyone seems to have the magic answer for the ‘best’ way to do it.
The internet is full of websites, graphs, and charts devoted to heart rate zones and training. It seems that with so much technology squeezing our ribs and pinching our wrists that sometimes the main goal of calories in vs. calories burned is lost. Are we over thinking the whole thing? Should us mere mortals just jump on the bike and ride more and leave the complex algorithms to the professionals? Is there even such a thing as a perfect riding formula for weight loss?
The ‘formula’ for weight loss by bicycling includes each of these (but the exact measurements of each vary depending upon your circumstances):
The formula for weight loss
The fat burning zone is frequently discussed when talking about losing weight. It is a zone where your heart rate is 55-65% of your maximum (so you are not exercising flat out). It’s meant to be a sweet spot where you burn the most fat, but watch out, it’s apparently a myth. Easy riding is a good place for beginners to start. Go for a good, long ride 2-4 hours at an easy, casual pace.
You actually have to work up a sweat. There’s no point in cruising along without any effort. Remember, you need to expend energy to get results. Cycle at a pace where you can still freely talk, but fast enough that you're working up a good sweat. High cadence (fast pedaling) aerobic workouts are great for burning calories.
If you only have a limited amount of time for riding, you may as well make it count. Intervals are periods of high intensity work with short recovery times in between. They are a great way to lose fat. Find some hills and grind up them with low cadence (slow, powerful pedaling) or do sprint intervals on the flats. Strava is a great tool here for challenging yourself against erfforts of others and tracking your own.
Increase distance or ride time
Aim to increase your ride distance or ride time in the long term, but know your limits. Going for a 4-6 hour ride is great, but monitor your pace; if you overexert yourself you may have to prolong your recovery time, thus throwing your routine out of whack.
Mix it up. Change your cycling route regularly to include hill climbs some days and flat rides on others. Change bikes if you can and ride different bikes to keep things interesting (e.g. a road bike one day and a mountain bike the other). Vary your chosen cadence and intensity for route segments.
Making goals work
You need to have achievable goals. There’s no point in aiming to do a 2 hour ride every day when you are a beginner. Have a realistic target, but don’t make it too easy.
Have a routine and stick to it! Keep a ride diary where you document your ride dates, length, and intensity. The more consistent you are the quicker you will see results.
Share your weight loss journey with other people. You will get support and encouragement, which will help you with motivation.
Don’t forget to reward yourself when you reach your goal. Buy a new pair of gloves or even a new bike!
If you keep doing the same thing you will see the same results. Aim to increase the distance, duration, and intensity of your rides, but ensure that you still have variety so you don’t get bored or feel like it’s a chore.