An exercise bike is a great tool for weight loss: It's low-impact, can be adjusted to suit a variety of body types and offers difference resistance levels to match your fitness level. But even the best weight-loss tools can't spot-reduce fat only from your belly. If you want to slim that belly down, you must lose fat from all over your body — and you'll get the best results if you combine time on the exercise bike with strength training and a healthy diet.
Although an exercise bike won't spot-reduce fat from your belly (because nothing can), it can be an effective component in a weight-loss program that will help you lose fat from all over — including your belly.
About Your Belly Fat
Did you know there are two types of belly fat? One is called subcutaneous fat. It's the just-below-the-skin fat that can show up anywhere on your body, including your belly; you can pinch a "roll" of it with your hand.
Visceral fat is a little sneakier because it hides inside your abdominal cavity, padding the space between your organs. While you need some of each type of belly fat to be healthy, having too much of either type poses a health risk.
Of the two types of fat, visceral fat is considered to be a more serious danger. It has been linked to increased risk for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and, for women, breast cancer and gallbladder surgery.
Luckily, both types of belly fat — along with the other subcutaneous fat on your body — will respond to the combination of physical activity and healthy diet that establishes a calorie deficit. In other words, if you burn more calories than you consume, the excess fat will melt away from everywhere, including your belly.
Burning Fat on a Bike
Just looking at your exercise bike and thinking about it won't help make your belly fat go away. You're going to have to hop on it and pedal a lot.
Exactly how much you'll need to bike to start losing weight is a little different for everybody, but a good place to start is by meeting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services physical activity guidelines for Americans, which recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
Those guidelines are for maintaining overall health, but if you're already eating an appropriate number of calories to maintain your weight, adding in that much physical activity can be enough for gradual, sustainable weight loss. You'll also enjoy all the other benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise, including a stronger immune system, more stamina, improved mood and reduced risk of many chronic conditions.
If you double that amount of exercise — aiming for 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week — you'll get even more health benefits and slim down faster too.
Balancing a Healthy Diet
It may be tempting to starve yourself to lose weight quickly, but it's impossible to keep that up for long. When you go back to eating the weight will just come back — often with a vengeance.
Instead, pair your new biking habit with a healthy diet that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high-quality lean meats and unsaturated fats. Cut out processed foods, which often contain lots of calories but few nutrients, and minimize your intake of added sugar, sodium and saturated fats.
If you emphasize nutrient-rich foods in your diet, you might not have to count calories at all. But if you want the assurance of a ballpark figure of how much you should be consuming so that you can fine-tune your eating-and-biking balance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, offers an excellent chart estimating daily caloric needs by age, gender and level of physical activity.
Choosing Your Bike
Whether you're working out in a gym or considering an exercise bike for home use, there are three general types of bike you'll encounter. The first is a so-called "spin bike" that's used almost exclusively for group cycling classes. Of the three types, these high-end bikes are the most adjustable and most closely resemble a real bike. They also lack the entertainment bells and whistles you'll find on other exercise bikes.
The second type of stationary exercise bike may simply be called an "upright bike." It looks much like a spin bike or regular bike, but has a wider, padded seat that adjusts up and down, along with a console that displays your workout stats, allows you to control resistance and sometimes offers entertainment options.
The final type of exercise bike you'll often encounter is a recumbent bike. Just like a recumbent street bike, it positions you closer to the ground with the pedals out in front of you instead of under the seat. The seat on a recumbent bike adjusts forward and back, and is often the widest and the most comfortable of all the exercise bike seats.
Recumbent bikes usually have a fairly solid backrest on the seat too. So if you struggle to sit on a smaller bike seat or to sit without back support, this model may be the best option for you.
Your Exercise Bike Workout Basics
Every time you pedal your exercise bike, there are a few things you should do to avoid injury and ensure that you perform as well as possible. First, adjust the bike.
With one of the pedals positioned at its furthest point from you, the leg that matches that pedal should be slightly bent at the knee. Fitness equipment manufacturer Precor recommends pedaling the bike as a test: If your hips rock side to side, adjust your seat a little closer to the pedals.
Always warm up with five to 10 minutes of easy pedaling before you get serious. This period allows your body to literally warm up, increasing your body temperature, blood flow and heart rate for the more strenuous workout that's on the way. Finally, once you're done with your workout, plan to spend another five to 10 minutes cooling down, pedaling slowly so that your body has a chance to return to its pre-workout condition.
Finally, if you want the fastest fat loss you can get on a bike, consider adding some high-intensity intervals to your workout, alternating sprints where you pedal as fast as you can with slower periods of active recovery. A February 2018 meta-analysis published in the New Zealand journal Sports Medicine found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is effective for reducing both types of fat.
Read more: 5 Workouts for Strength Training at Home
A Strength-Training Boost
You'll pedal off that belly fat even faster if you add some strength training to your routine. Lean muscle mass is four times more metabolically active than fat, so it burns more calories even at rest. Aim for two full-body weight-training workouts each week, using compound exercises such as squats, lunges, bench presses or push-ups, and lat pulldowns or pull-ups.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- ExRx.net: "Spot Reduction Myth"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Mayo Clinic: "Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical"
- Health.gov: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, Appendix 2"
- Precor: "Bikes Seat Adjustment"
- Sports Medicine: "Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis"