Whether you ride on the road, hit the trails or prefer to use a stationary bike indoors, cycling is a good calorie-burning workout that can help you meet your fitness and weight loss goals. Increase the number of calories burned when biking by increasing your speed or riding up hills.
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You can burn between 210 and 733 calories cycling for 30 minutes. The exact number of calories burned varies based on a number of factors, including your body weight, how fast you pedal and the intensity of your workout.
Calories Burned Biking
The number of calories you will burn while biking depends on your body weight and the speed and intensity of your cycling. Harvard Health Publishing estimates that in 30 minutes, a 125-pound person will burn:
240 calories cycling at a speed between 12 and 13.9 miles per hour
300 calories cycling at a speed between 14 and 15.9 miles per hour
calories cycling at a speed between 16 and 19 miles per hour
calories cycling at a speed of 20 miles per hour or more
Heavier individuals will burn more calories during the same 30-minute session. For example, the estimated calorie burn for a 185-pound person is:
- 355 calories cycling at a speed between 12 and 13.9 miles per hour
- 444 calories cycling at a speed between 14 and 15.9 miles per hour
- 533 calories cycling at a speed between 16 and 19 miles per hour
- 733 calories cycling at a speed of 20 miles per hour or more
If you prefer BMX or mountain biking, you will burn around 255 to 377 calories in a 30-minute ride, depending on your weight.
Calorie Burn From Stationary Bikes
If you prefer to cycle indoors, you can still get in a good workout on a stationary bike. Many gyms even offer spinning or cycling classes that guide you through the workout. During a 30-minute session, the estimated number of calories burned in a cycling class or riding a stationary bike at a moderate intensity is:
- 210 calories for a 125-pound individual
- 260 calories for a 155-pound individual
- 311 calories for a 185-pound individual
You can burn even more calories by increasing your effort and cycling at a vigorous intensity. The estimated calorie burn during a 30-minute vigorous session is:
- 315 calories for a 125-pound individual
- 391 calories for a 155-pound individual
- 466 calories for a 185-pound individual
When you bike outdoors, the intensity of your workout depends on your speed and the terrain of the road or trail. Indoors, you can control the intensity by making adjustments to the settings of the stationary bike, states the American Council on Exercise. You can adjust the speed of pedaling and change the resistance of the pedals. You can even mimic riding a hill by increasing the intensity and rising up out of the saddle.
Health Benefits of Exercise
Biking is a good choice to help you maintain your weight and hit your weight loss and fitness goals. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise.
You can estimate your intensity level by rating your effort on a scale of zero to 10, where zero is when you are sitting and at rest and 10 is the highest possible effort. You are at moderate-intensity when you are at five or six on the scale. When you reach seven or eight on the scale, you are working at a vigorous intensity.
You can meet this goal by biking for 30 to 60 minutes per day at a moderate intensity for five days each week. Round out your fitness routine by doing strength training exercises targeting each of the major muscle groups in your body for at least two days per week.
Read more: 11 Amazing Benefits of Biking
In addition to burning calories, meeting these guidelines has additional health benefits, including better sleep and improved cognition. It may also lower your risk of certain diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's disease and some types of cancer. Exceeding the physical activity recommendations has been shown to have additional health benefits and further decrease the risk of cancer.
Hit Your Weight Loss Goals
While physical activity alone can help you maintain your weight and prevent weight gain, if you are trying to lose weight, you will want to adjust your diet and cut calories in addition to exercise. To lose one pound, you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This equates to 500 calories per day if you want to lose one pound per week, which is a healthy and sustainable rate of weight loss.
Unless you are cycling at a very vigorous intensity, biking for 30 minutes each day won't get you to your weight loss goal on its own. Adjust your diet to focus on eating healthy foods, including lean meats, complex carbs and lots of fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Avoid fried foods, added sugars and high-calorie drinks and alcohol.
Even small changes to your eating habits can help you cut calories. The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends small changes, such as skipping a second serving and taking home a portion of your meal when eating out to have at another time. You can also substitute low-calorie options in your diet. For example, drink skim milk instead of whole milk and substitute low-fat plain yogurt for sour cream in recipes.
Stay Safe While Biking
To reduce the risk of injury, be sure to warm up before exercise and cool down after your session by biking at a slower, easier pace. If you're new to biking or any exercise program, be sure to start slow and increase the intensity and length of your workouts gradually over time. Drink plenty of water before your ride and take a bottle with you to stay hydrated.
If you are biking outdoors, whether on the road or the trail, make sure your bike is in an acceptable state for riding. Check that your tires are properly inflated, your chain and gears are in good repair and your brakes are working properly.
Always wear a helmet to protect yourself in case of a fall. Make sure it fits properly and the chin strap is secured to keep it on your head. While it's best to avoid riding at night or when you have poor visibility, sometimes it is unavoidable. If you find yourself out during these times, have a front lamp on your bike and a reflector on the back so that you are visible to cars and other cyclists.
Wear appropriate clothing for bicycling, including reflective clothing, especially if you are on the road. Avoid wearing headphones that may prevent you from hearing oncoming cars, other cyclists or pedestrians.
Be aware of your surroundings and the terrain as you ride. While traffic and pedestrians are obvious dangers, be sure to keep an eye out for potholes, drains and train tracks that may catch your tires and cause a fall. Obey the rules of the road and use hand signals to let other vehicles know your intentions. If you are on a trail or bike path, communicate with pedestrians and cyclists to pass safely.
Proper Cycling Position
While bicycling is a fairly low-impact activity, you still risk injury if you ride a bike that is not properly adjusted. Following these guidelines from Michigan State University will help you to maintain good posture and position while cycling.
First, make sure the bike is the right size for you. When you are standing on the ground with your bike between your legs, there should be approximately one inch between your body and the top tube of the bike. You'll need two to three inches of clearance if you are riding a mountain bike.
Next, make sure the seat is adjusted to the correct height. When you are seated, your leg should have a slight bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If you have to reach for the pedal or move in your seat to complete the rotation of the pedal, then your seat is too high. An improperly adjusted seat can cause joint pain and decrease your pedaling efficiency.
The seat should be level with the ground. You can move the seat forward or backward so that it is a comfortable distance from the handlebars.
Next, adjust the height of the handlebars so that you're in a comfortable position when riding. If they're too low, you may experience back pain and strain on your neck and arms. If they're too high, you may have too much pressure on your seat.
If you're riding indoors on a stationary bike, be sure to make the same adjustments to the seat. Some models may also allow you to adjust the handlebars. Avoid riding a bike that is not properly fitted, as this may cause strain on your muscles and joints.
Choosing a Bike
If you are new to biking or returning after a break, there are several things to consider when selecting a bicycle. First, what type of bike do you want? This will greatly depend on your goals and the terrain where you plan to ride.
If you plan to ride on trails, you will want a mountain bike, which has bigger tires and better traction. You can still ride these on the road, but they will be louder and less efficient than a road bike.
Road bikes are designed for speed on a smooth road. They have narrower tires and generally have a lighter frame.
If you plan to do tricks or jumps, you will want a BMX bike with a stronger frame. Comfort bikes allow you to ride in a more upright position. If you select a recumbent bike, you will be in a reclined position with your feet in front of you.
Once you know what type of bike you want, make sure the frame is the correct size. Try out the bike to ensure it is comfortable for you to ride. Finally, shift the gears and test the brakes to make sure they are working properly. With a bike you are comfortable on, you'll be ready to get cycling and burn some calories.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- American Council on Exercise: "Terms to Know to Tackle Your First Indoor Cycling Class"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Participant Guide – Burn More Calories Than You Take In"
- Medline Plus: "10 Ways to Cut 500 Calories a Day"
- Medline Plus: "Bicycle Safety"
- Michigan State University: "Bicycle Fitting"
- North Dakota State University Extension Service: "Bicycles"