Cycling is a terrific way to kill calories. Here’s the math
Bicycling is a beautifully versatile form of exercise, and enables you to exert effort and burn calories at whatever rate you desire. You can reap the health benefits of biking indoors or out, and there are plenty of ways to change up your routine.
If you’re looking to lose weight, you may be thinking in terms of maximal calorie burn per minute — but let’s not sprint to conclusions. Your best strategy will be tailored to your goals, your exercise history, your present physical condition and your preferences.
If you’re a serious athlete considering where to fit biking into your regimen, you may be looking at sprints to build muscle and stamina. But if you haven’t been exercising regularly, you’d be foolish to start out any way but easy. A recovering couch potato needs to play it smart. So let your doctor know about your plans, and keep them sensible.
Remember that what impacts your weight is your total calorie burn, and that correlates more closely with distance traveled than with intensity (speed and resistance). If your intent is to ride half a mile ride (outdoors, or indoors as measured by your stationary bike), set a pace that assures you’ll be able to stay the course.
Too much unaccustomed exertion puts your health at risk. And let’s not overlook the psychological effects: Pushing too hard too early sets you up to fail — depressing your morale and making you more likely to quit. As with any new habit you try to build, the key is to set yourself up for repeated success.
So start easy. Then raise the bar incrementally. You can do this in any or all of three ways: 1) increasing the distance traveled; 2) increasing speed, which will shorten your time on the same course; 3) increasing resistance, either by manipulating the controls on a stationary bike or by altering your outdoor course to make it more challenging. The latter could involve more hills, wind, rougher terrain or any other counterforce to your pedaling.
Any of the above will increase your total calorie burn.
Putting a precise figure on that is difficult. That’s because there are so many variables and because, metabolically speaking, every body is different. But the Harvard Medical School has compiled some general estimates that enable you to compare the fuel burned during an easygoing ride vs. a more-intense one. Below are their stats for calories burned in half an hour on a stationary bike… vs. sleeping.
The choice is clear.
moderate vigorous sleeping
125-lb person 210 315 19
155-lb person 260 391 23
185-lb person 311 466 28
link for Harvard Medical School: