How to get fit by cycling – everything you need to know
When you understand the benefits that cycling can have on your health, it’s not hard to understand why cycling is one of the most popular sports in the world.
Most people know that cycling can help you lose weight and build muscles in your legs. But there are many other benefits most people are unaware of. These include lowering your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and improving your brain function.
The earliest form of the bicycle was developed in France in 1791. But they didn’t really take off until the start of the 19th century. Cycling races started in the early 20th century and have consistently been running since (only being stopped by WW1, WW2, and the Coronavirus Pandemic).
Now, cycling is popular with commuters, casual riders, and racers. There is a type of cycling that suits everyone and we can all benefit from taking up the sport.
Today, we are going to talk you through why you should start cycling right now.
- 1 Why Should You Bike?
- 2 How To Lose Weight Cycling:
- 3 Fitness Benefits of Cycling:
- 4 Summary
Why Should You Bike?
World Champion cyclist Graham Obree believes that people who cycle are happier, healthier, and can use the sport to fend off depressive episodes. These are just some of the reasons why we should all be taking up cycling.
It Lowers Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
If you are vulnerable to developing Diabetes or there is a history of the in your family, then you probably looking for ways to decrease your chances of developing it.
One of the best ways to do this is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
It also strengthens the heart, this can help to prevent strokes, heart attacks, and high blood pressure.
Increases Cardio Fitness
It is recommended that we all get at least 150 minutes of Cardio a week – that works out at half an hour a day, with 2 days off.
Cycling is so easy to fit into your day because it is practical. You could ride your bike to a friend’s house, or to work.
If you are looking to take leisurely rides then you should do 5 sessions a week, but if you want to race then you will only need to do 2-3 sessions a week.
Helps Increase Your Joint Mobility
Cycling has two benefits when it comes to the joints.
Firstly, compared to most other forms of cardiovascular exercise, it is very low impact. Most people with joint pain struggle to run, but they may find cycling much easier. You won’t develop shin splints when cycling and the suspension of your bike will absorb the majority of the impact on the road.
Secondly, cycling helps to build up the muscles around your joints. This makes moving them easier and less painful. The movement reduces inflammation in the body and can help to lubricate the joints. Both of which make moving easier.
Aids In Weight Loss
You can burn between 400-1000 calories per hour when cycling (depending on the intensity of the session and the weight of the rider). Running burns around 200 calories an hour.
Thanks to its low intensity, you can regularly cycle without feeling like your muscles have been put through a shredder. And you will still see benefits.
If you ride your bike to work, you can get there faster, not have to be crammed onto public transport, and burn calories at the same time.
We have already discussed that cycling can reduce joint pain which is one of the major symptoms of aging. It also improves brain function and mobility. It will make your lungs and heart stronger.
Anyone can benefit from starting a cycling habit no matter what age they are. You will see benefits from cycling on stationary bikes as well as road bikes.
You will notice benefits from cycling whether you are cycling intensely a few times a week or going on a leisurely ride every day.
Cycling also builds core strength which can prevent back pain. Core strength also helps to reduce shoulder and neck pain when we are sat at a desk all day.
How To Lose Weight Cycling:
Cycling does have many unexpected benefits but it also has an obvious one that could benefit all of us. Cycling is a great way to get fit and lose weight.
In this section, you will find a pragmatic guide to using cycling to lose weight. These tips will cover how to set and achieve your goals, how to eat to assist weight loss, and how much you should be working out each week.
Set A Realistic Goal
If you want to lose weight and keep it off then you need to make exercising a habit. While exercising feels like a chore at first, by the time you make it a habit you will be able to do it without thinking.
Making your cycling routine a habit can go hand in hand with a weight loss goal. The trick is to set yourself a realistic goal and not to overdo things at the beginning. It can be tempting to jump straight into things and give 100% – but you’ll soon burn out and give up.
It is best to start small and work your way up to where you want to be. If you don’t do any exercise at all right now then you don’t want to jump straight into 5 sessions a week. Set yourself the goal of cycling twice a week. Then once that seems natural, add another cycling session.
Starting slowly is the best way to make cycling a long term habit and to avoid injury. You want to make a lifestyle change, not start a diet.
Avoid Overtraining Or Under-eating
Speaking of making a lifestyle change, you don’t want to try and lose weight too quickly. It is not sustainable in the long term to overtrain and not eat enough. When you live like this, you are more likely to give up and binge than to lose weight.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off then you should be aiming to make a change to your lifestyle that causes you to lose no more than 1kg a week. This is the safest weight loss timeline according to the NHS.
Overtraining is very likely to lead to injury. If you get injured then you won’t be able to cycle or do any other form of exercise for at least 2 weeks while you recover. While it may feel like doing a lot of exercise will do you good in the short term, it is not sustainable and it is not good for your body.
There is a range of horrible side effects that come along with under-eating. Not eating enough can lead to fatigue, a compromised immune system, and aching joints. It can also slow your metabolism and you are less likely to lose weight when you stop eating enough.
Men should never eat less than 1900 calories a day and women should never eat less than 1400 calories a day. However, when you are eating well and exercising regularly you can eat more than this and still lose weight.
Keep Muscle Mass In Mind
Cycling is an interesting sport because having huge muscles doesn’t necessarily mean you will be better at it. In fact, lots of cyclists try to avoid building muscle mass because it makes them heavier and therefore they think it makes cycling more difficult.
The truth is that, if you want to lose weight, then building muscles is a good thing. Our muscles burn more calories than fat does. This means that when you have muscles, your body passively burns calories.
Therefore a combination of weight training and cycling will pair perfectly together if you are trying to lose weight.
Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so your numbers might start to go up on the scale, even though you are getting thinner. It is important to find more than one way of measuring your weight loss, to avoid confusion. Sometimes you will only see a change on the scale, while at other times you may only see a physical change. Sometimes you may see both.
You will also find that if you build your muscle mass you are less likely to get injured. A lot of beginners injure their knees, shoulders, and elbows while cycling. This is because they are putting pressure on these joints when their muscles should be handling that pressure.
If you increase your muscle mass there will be less pressure on your knees and elbows.
Balance The Macros
If you want to be able to keep a good amount of muscle mass then you will need to make sure that you are getting your macros right – most importantly, you need to get enough protein. Protein is essential for muscle building.
Macros (short for macronutrients) refer to the three main nutrients in our food:
To track your macros means to make sure you are eating the right amount of each of these food groups. You should never cut out one of these groups because your body needs them all to function.
However, there are good and bad fats, as well as good and bad carbohydrates.
If you are looking to lose weight through cycling then you are going to have to make sure that you are eating a lot of protein so you can build muscle mass and recover from your workouts. You will also want to eat a lot of good carbs so that you have the energy to cycle.
See If You Can Bike To Work
When we talked about the benefits of cycling earlier, we briefly talked about cycling being a really convenient way to exercise.
Why did we mention that?
Well, because if you are traveling to work today, you could replace your drive with a cycle ride and get more than the recommended minimum amount of exercise done.
Not only will you be able to get your daily amount of exercise in with ease, but you will also be able to get to work faster. Most cities now have a series of cycle lanes that make traveling on a bike much easier than in a car.
When you are on a bike, you do not have to spend any time on cramped public transport. You get to choose which route you take to work and you can avoid the traffic by briefly moving onto the pavement.
Another major benefit of cycling to work is that it costs nothing once you have brought the bike. You don’t have to pay for a daily train ticket or pay for gas.
When riding your bike you can save money, save time, and lose weight – win, win, win!
Ride Long & Easy
Some research has shown that for long term weight loss, we should be doing both LISS (low intensity steady state) and HIIT (high intensity interval training). Previous advice suggested that the best way to lose weight was to only participate in HIIT.
However, studies looking at long term lifestyle change have suggested that giving 100% in every session is not sustainable and doesn’t lead to long term change.
Instead, we should be looking for a blend of the two. We will talk about HIIT in a later section, so now, let’s go into more detail about LISS cycling.
LISS exercising encourages longer sessions at a lower intensity. Think of a hike compared to a session of sprinting.
A LISS session on a bike could be a slow cycle to work or a lazy Sunday morning ride around the park. Pick a form of bike riding that you find interesting. You could even do a LISS session on a stationary bike while watching Netflix.
The important thing about LISS exercising is that you are never giving 100% – instead, you are giving between 60-75% effort throughout the session.
Refuel Properly After A Ride
After your ride, you need to think carefully about refueling your body. When people first start exercising, they are tempted to skip the food after they exercise because they think it will help them lose weight.
However, new studies suggest that eating after a workout can actually help to promote weight loss and reduce the likelihood of binging on food later.
If we feel hungry after a workout then that is our body telling us that it needs more fuel. It will only burn so much of its fat reserves at a time, this is why we need to supplement it with complex carbohydrates after we have worked.
Experts say that the best time in the day to work out is in the morning before you have had breakfast. Your body will have burnt off all its excess energy overnight, and it will use the fats stores to power the workout.
After you have finished your morning workout, you should refuel with a meal with proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. If you are trying to lose weight there are plenty of healthy post workout meals that will leave you feeling full.
Here is a list of great post workout meals.
Whenever you workout, you should try to eat within 45 minutes of finishing your workout.
There are a few major benefits to drinking enough water.
Firstly, when you are trying to lose weight it is important to draw the distinction between being hungry and being thirsty. Most of us drink too much coffee and not enough water. So, we often mistake our thirst for hunger. If you are drinking +2L of water a day, you won’t be thirsty.
Secondly, we all sweat a lot when we exercise, so it is important to replenish the water levels of our bodies. If you have been for a long ride you may want to drink a mixture of salt, lime, water, and maple syrup to refresh all the electrolytes in your body.
Not drinking enough water can cause headaches and lethargy. It can also cause constipation which can be very painful and make cycling difficult. We also don’t sleep well when we are dehydrated.
Drinking the right amount of water (which varies depending on your sex, height, weight, and exercise levels) can improve the health of both your skin and your gums.
If you are looking to lose weight, improve your skin, sleep better, and prevent headaches then you should drink more water.
Be Mindful Of How Much You Eat
We have talked about making sure that you keep track of your macros and when you are eating. But you should be mindful about how much you are eating.
If you are trying to lose weight then you should try to avoid eating three large meals a day. Instead, you should eat little and often.
Swapping three large meals for 5-6 small meals a day will mean that you can keep your energy levels up all day and you will feel less hungry. When people switch to 5 small meals a day they tend to eat less and they are less likely to binge on unhealthy foods.
If you are restricting calories, then you can make some changes that will mean that you consume fewer calories but eat less food. For example, you can swap spaghetti out for spiralized Zucchini and eat three times the amount.
If you are exercising regularly you will want to fuel your body with the good stuff. That means picking healthy fats over the saturated ones. This will leave you feeling more full and give you more energy.
However, you shouldn’t restrict yourself too much. You can enjoy all foods in moderation.
Add 2-3 High-Intensity Sessions a Week
In an earlier section, we talked about the importance of combining LISS exercise with HIIT exercise. In this section, we are going to talk about how to incorporate HIIT cycling sessions into your week.
There are many different ways to do HIIT cycling sessions.
You could use a stationary bike and cycle using one of its pre-set HIIT programs.
Or create your own program by cycling slowly for 40 seconds then going all out for the following 20 seconds. Then repeat this 5 more times. Follow this with a 5 minute break. Repeat the whole process twice more.
If you want to cycle outside then you could go to a velodrome. Using a stopwatch, you could time yourself, following the program we have set out above.
If you don’t want a velodrome near you, you can find a hill. Cycle hard up the hill and then walk your bike slowly down the hill. As soon as you reach the bottom, cycle up again at maximum effort.
The most important thing with HIIT is that you make your rest times long enough so that you can recover and give 100% during the exercises.
Fitness Benefits of Cycling:
Before we go, let’s take a deeper look at some of the amazing benefits cycling has on our health.
It Strengthens Your Immune System
It has been proven that regular, moderate exercise can increase the number of antibodies that your immune system produces. Most notably, this study proved that 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week could improve immunoglobulin production.
Our body uses immunoglobulins to fight not only infections and viruses but more serious health problems like Cancer and Heart Disease.
Exercise also increases the amount of White Blood Cells that our body produces. These help us to fight disease and they are responsible for clotting our blood.
But exercise does more than increase the levels of White Blood Cells and immunoglobulin in our bodies. By increasing the strength of our hearts, exercise helps our body to pump these chemicals around our bodies more efficiently. This means that they detect illnesses faster and can start fighting them faster.
Cycling Builds Muscle
Earlier, we briefly touched on the importance of maintaining muscle mass while you are cycling. The good news is that you don’t have to go to the gym to do this, you can build all the muscles you need just by cycling.
Balancing on your bike activates your core. Your core is one of your most important muscle groups. They support your pelvis, spine, shoulders, and hips. If you do not have enough core strength you can develop back problems and lose mobility in your hips.
When you begin cycling. You will also notice the muscles in your legs becoming more toned and then bigger.
Our bodies use more calories to maintain our muscles than it does to maintain fat stores. Building leg and core muscles will make your day to day life easier, but they will also help you to lose weight.
Cycling Improves Your Lung Health
Unless you have previously been a smoker, you probably don’t think about your lung health very much. But it is something that is crucial to us all living a long and healthy life.
Exercising can benefit our lungs in many ways. Our lungs are just like every other muscle in our body, the more we use them the more efficient they get.
Cardiovascular exercise can actually improve your lung capacity, which in turn makes exercising easier.
When exercising we can strengthen our diaphragm, this will allow our body to breathe more deeply and effectively.
Some studies have even shown that cardio, like cycling, can help to reduce symptoms of Asthma.
Lung health charities do warn that if pollution levels are high then you should avoid exercising outside.
Cycling Is Low Impact
One of the major problems of doing cardiovascular exercise is that most forms of it are high impact. What we mean by that is the exercise involves our bodies slamming into the ground – when we run or skip for example.
High impact exercise can result in bone splints and swollen joints.
If you are looking to lose weight then you will have extra force behind these impacts, which can make the damage caused even worse. Many older people also struggle with joint pain, which is only aggravated by high-impact exercise.
Cycling is one of the very few forms of cardio that is low impact.
Your wheels are constantly on the road so there is very little impact. Bikes also come with suspension which helps to reduce the impact even further. Bikes use resistance to build muscles rather than explosive movements.
It Boosts Brain Power
There are a few ways in which cycling can help to improve brain performance.
Firstly, it improves lung function and capacity, which means there is more oxygen in your blood.
Secondly, it improves blood circulation, which means that your blood is getting that extra oxygen to your brain more often, more efficiently, and more quickly.
Another way that cycling boosts brain power is with the way it slows the loss of brain tissues that starts in our early 30s. MRI scans showed improvements in the frontal, parietal, and temporal areas of the brain for most of the participants.
Another study showed that cardiovascular exercise reduces symptoms of depression including low mood and brain fog. All participants in the study reported feeling happier and being able to think more clearly.
Helps You Sleep Better
We are in the middle of a sleep epidemic – most people are overtired and overworked than ever before and the blue light from our phones and computer screens are preventing us from sleeping. Most of us also spend way too much time sitting at our desks.
Lack of sleep has a long list of negative effects on our bodies.
The good news is that half an hour of cycling a day can help to reverse these problems.
According to the Sleep Foundation, while lack of exercise has been linked to insomnia, increasing the amount of exercise you do can drastically improve your sleeping habits in less than a month.
Exercise also improves the quality of your sleep and makes it easier for you to get into a state of REM sleep.
It Can Also Improve Your Sex Life
Exercise will make you look better and feel more confident in your own body. This will naturally increase your sex drive.
However, it has been shown that regular, moderate exercise can improve libido.
As we have mentioned, it fights depression which can be the cause of low libido for many people. It also raises testosterone levels which are responsible for your sex drive.
Be careful not to over-exercise, as this can actually reduce your libido as well as causing you a series of other health problems.
Cycling can improve our health, whether we are looking to lose weight, improve our muscle mass, or just get more cardio in our lives.
Cycling is a sport that comes with lots of unexpected benefits like improving libido, brain function, and joint mobility.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out your bike and take it for a life improving ride.
Last Updated on March 22, 2022 by Matthew Carpenter