Exercise bikes are some of the smallest and cheapest cardio machines so they’re quite popular for home gyms. But how long do you have to use one to start seeing results? Is 20 minutes a day enough to see weight loss and/or health improvements? Here’s what you want to know.
Using an exercise bike at moderate intensity for 20 minutes can burn an average of 168 calories (weight and speed dependent). This isn’t quite enough for significant weight loss and health improvements but a good start. HIIT workouts can help get more benefits in 20 minutes.
What can you expect from 20 minutes on an exercise bike? And what can you do to make the most of your cycling workouts? Find out below.
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- 1 What Does 20 Minutes On a Stationary Exercise Bike Do?
- 2 How Do Exercise Bikes Burn Calories?
- 3 How Often Should You Use A Stationary Bike?
- 4 What Areas of The Body Do Exercise Bikes Target?
- 5 What Can You Do To Make Your Exercise Bike Time More Effective?
What Does 20 Minutes On a Stationary Exercise Bike Do?
20 minutes on an exercise bike or any other machine is not a lot. Your body will barely be warmed up at that point. If we assume 20 minutes of work at moderate intensity, you’ll burn about 84 calories.
This is not enough to notice any weight loss unless you’re also in a calorie deficit through your diet. A pound of fat contains about 3500 calories worth of energy so 168 calories a day isn’t going to make you lose weight very fast but it can be a nice boost if your diet is in order. Weight loss isn’t the only benefit of cycling though.
For health and performance, 20 minutes is a good start but it’s not quite enough for most people, especially if you’ve got a sedentary job. 30 minutes a day/5 days a week of moderate exercise is the minimum recommended amount of exercise for heart health. And that’s on top of your normal movements during the day. Those 30 minutes already assume you take at least a couple thousand steps a day.
That said, if you don’t do any exercise now, 20 minutes is much better than doing nothing. There will be positive effects on your health, endurance, weight, etc. It’s just that it’s not quite enough for the average person to be healthy, especially if you’ve got an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
If 20 minutes is all you can do now, see if you can decrease the speed and/or resistance on the bike. It’s better to do more minutes at a lighter resistance level than the max resistance you can handle for 20 minutes. Wear a heart rate monitor to make sure you pace yourself. Staying within the right heart rate range will help you optimize the duration and calorie burning.
If 20 minutes is really all you can do at the moment, that’s where you have to start off. In that case, don’t expect too much weight loss at first. You have to build up your health and fitness to a point where you can do at least 30 minutes in one workout. This can take a while. Give yourself some time, just be consistent and add a few minutes every workout. You’ll have to push yourself a little further every time but don’t go too crazy all at once. Adding 5 minutes every workout is a good target. After you hit 30 minutes, then increasing resistance is a good idea.
20 minute workouts on an exercise bike are a place to start but it should be starting point on the way to better health, endurance and performance.
If you only have 20 minutes of time and absolutely can’t free up any more time, look into High Intensity Interval Training. This is not a beginner workout and can be tough. It’s much tougher to do this than steady state cardio (constant heart rate) and burns more calories in 20 minutes. It also has a bigger impact on conditioning. For weight loss, longer but lower intensity workouts are better but if you’re limited by time, it’s the best option.
How Do Exercise Bikes Burn Calories?
The more you weigh the more calories you will burn during an exercise. There are two important factors in weight: Muscle mass and body fat. The greater your muscle mass, the quicker you will burn calories. This is because more muscle can burn more calories just like a bigger engine burns more fuel in a car. However, if you are heavier because of higher body fat, you’ll also burn more calories because you’re moving more weight around. The latter factor isn’t as big on an exercise bike as it is on a treadmill or elliptical but it still plays a role.
One thing that doesn’t depend on your weight is the length and intensity of your workout. The longer your workout and the higher intensity, the more calories you will burn. You can increase the intensity of your cycling workout by pedaling at a higher speed, increasing the resistance, and using High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Is a great way to burn more calories in a short period of time. A good interval timer is going to make HIIT workouts much more enjoyable.Check out the GymNext Flex timer. It’s super easy to set up and control contrary to most other interval timers making the set up for any workout a breeze.
However, not everyone is in a position to do very high intensity workout and use HIIT. In that case you can get the same weight loss results as a high-intensity workout by doing a low-intensity workout for a longer amount of time. As long as you are continuously moving, you will burn calories. In that way, you can keep going at any speed with any resistance level that you want until you have burned the number of calories you desire. However, to burn a meaningful amount of calories will take more than 30 minutes.
In the end, your muscles moving the pedals and your heart pumping all the blood and nutrients around is what burns calories. The harder it is for your muscles and heart, the more calories you burn. But that intensity can be replaced by a lower intensity for a longer duration.
If you have a built in calorie counter on your exercise bike depends on the type and how fancy it is. Most simple spin bikes don’t have one while most upright and recumbent bikes do have a built in counter. Don’t forget to set your weight if possible: That makes the counter a lot more accurate.
The question is if you can see results by using an exercise bike for 20 minutes a day. You burn more calories in a certain amount of time if the average intensity in that time is higher. So if you run as fast as you can for 20 minutes on the bike, you’ll see more results than if you walk at a leisurely pace for the same 20 minutes. However, it also depends on your diet but more on that later.
According to Harvard Health, a 155 lbs. person riding a stationary bike at moderate intensity for 30 minutes will burn 252 calories. That means about 168 calories per 20 minutes.
How Often Should You Use A Stationary Bike?
You can cycle on a stationary bike every day if you want and you recover quick enough. Adults are recommended to get at least 150 minutes of medium intensity to vigorous exercise a week. Typically, people reach this by working out for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This way you allow the body time to rest and recharge.
Exercising at least 150 minutes a week is recommended for preventing weight gain and general health. If you are looking to increase weight loss, however, you should be striving for around 250 minutes of exercising a week (while maintaining a healthy diet, of course). In that case, it is recommended to work out 45 minutes to an hour for five days a week.
Keep in mind, those 30 minutes recommendations assume that you have a moderately active lifestyle outside of exercise. That means at least a few thousand steps a day. If you don’t get to a few thousand steps a day outside of exercise, getting up to 45 minutes a day is better.
There is nothing wrong with using a stationary bike more than five days a week, as long as you are not doing long high-intensity sessions each day. If you want to cycle every day without breaks, it’s better to do longer but low intensity workouts. However, rest days are always a good idea. Your body might not start complaining the first few weeks but if you keep up the schedule for a long period of time, you probably get some weird aches and pains that could have been prevented by taking time off.
Combining cardio exercise with resistance training will make your workouts even more effective. Varying your workouts makes them less repetitive and building some muscle raises your resting calorie expenditure which means you burn more calories while sleeping! Stronger and bigger muscles also make you look better and compound the physique improvements you get from fat loss.
What Areas of The Body Do Exercise Bikes Target?
Exercise bikes mainly use the lower body. On some types there is a bit of upper body involvement as well. Also the different types of exercise bike use the lower body in a slightly different way.
However, that doesn’t your body will burn fat in the used areas. An exercise bike mainly uses your quadriceps, calves and glutes but that doesn’t mean your body will strip the fat of those body parts, fat loss doesn’t work that way. Burning calories will lower your overall body fat percentage but where that fat is removed depends on factors like: Genetics, age, gender, and hormone balance.
It’s better to think of cycling on a stationary bike as a way to burn calories and therefore lose overall body fat while improving cardiovascular health and strengthening your lower body muscles. Consistently cycling will start removing fat from every part of your body.
Besides burning calories, exercise bikes are great at improving cardiovascular health. Cycling on a stationary bike is very similar to running outside but there are some differences. However, from a cardiovascular perspective, they are very similar.
Aerobic exercise makes your heart and lungs work harder to get blood and oxygen to your muscles. This is the process that is strengthening your cardiovascular endurance while using an exercise bike or other cardio machine.
Regular cardiovascular exercise also has benefits for mental health, digestion, calorie partitioning and many more processes in your body.
The quadriceps are the most used on any exercise bike. The calves are also getting a good workout on all types of bike especially if you push the pedals with your toes.
To get good hamstring involvement, you need pedals with foot straps so you can pull the pedal towards you. Without foot straps, the hamstring involvement isn’t too much. The hamstrings are responsible for bending the knee. Without straps you can bend your knee but there’s no resistance because your foot will just lift off the pedal.
The glutes are used on all types of bikes but the level of involvement depends on how far you’re bent over. The further you have to lean forward, the more you’ll use the glutes. Spin bikes have the most glute activation since you’re bent over quite far. On a recumbent or upright bike, the bend at the hips is much less so there is less glute activation. The further you’re bent over, the more back muscle is used as well. The back muscles are used to keep your posture straight.
The good thing compared to a treadmill is that exercise bikes are low impact. Sure, you can completely fry your muscles but there are no impacts on the joints and spine like you get with every step on a treadmill. This means you can recover much easier from a cycling workout than from running on a treadmill.
The core isn’t activated too much while cycling. There is some ab activation to keep your posture correct during cycling but unless you’re completely untrained and have a very weak core, you won’t gain much core strength from cycling.
Are you looking for visible abs? Cycling on a stationary bike still plays a big role. That’s because having visible abs requires the right combination of the ab muscles being big enough and having a low enough body fat percentage. An exercise bike is a very useful tool to reduce body fat percentage. To really make your abs pop, it’s a good idea to do more ab exercises apart from running.
What Can You Do To Make Your Exercise Bike Time More Effective?
The key to optimizing the results of your workouts, whether it’s cycling, weightlifting or any other activity, is to eat balanced and nutritious meals. To get the most out of your physical activity, you have to be giving your body sufficient energy to perform. Some forms of energy are better than others. Paying attention to total calories, macronutrients and micronutrients are all important to giving your body the best fuel.
Now, what is considered to be a balanced diet depends on what you are trying to accomplish. There will be a different amount of calories you should be consuming a day and a slightly different ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and protein (macronutrients).
Cook your own meals and try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. A good target to shoot for is to get 80% of your calories from whole foods. It’s very tough to eat 100% whole foods and shooting for 80% is more likely to give you enough leeway to be able to stick to it.
Typically, your ratio of macronutrients should be:
- 30–35% of your calories from protein
- 40–50% of your calories from carbs
- 10–30% of your calories from fat
There are a lot of different ideas about what the optimal ratios of macronutrients are but basically, you want to get enough protein (0.6-0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight) and enough healthy fats (up to 30% of total calories) and fill the rest of your calorie needs with carbs.
To lose weight, you need to be taking in fewer calories than you are going to burn from exercising. Using a calorie tracker and calculating your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) are useful tools do discover how many calories you take in and use during a day.
A kilo of fat has 7700 calories. So by consuming 550 calories fewer per day than you use, you’ll burn through a kilo of fat every two weeks. Cycling helps increase the amount of calories you burn on a day (about 300 per 30 minutes). That means if you eat 250 calories less than you need and burn 300 more calories through working out you have a deficit of 500 calories.
So after eating right and cycling for 30 minutes 5-6 days a week, you’ll lose about 2-3 kilos (4.4 – 6.6 lbs.) after 4-6 weeks. For most people this won’t be enough to reach their goal but it will be visible. After 8-10 weeks your weight loss would be about 4-5 kilo (8.8-11 lbs.)
It’s not a good idea to create a bigger calorie deficit than about 500 calories per day unless advised by a healthcare professional. Larger calorie deficits are more difficult to sustain for long periods of time and make it more likely you won’t have the willpower to keep going.
A note about protein: It is a myth that you need to consume significant amounts of protein to gain muscle. Strength training is how you will build muscle! Yes, your body needs protein to repair and grow the muscles but, if you consume more protein than your body needs in a day, it will be converted and stored if it exceeds your daily calorie needs. Thus, eating so much extra protein you go over your daily calorie goal, will actually go against your goal and reduce the efficiency of your workout. About 0.6 – 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good goal.
Strength Training Exercises
As you can read above, cycling mainly strengthens the muscles in the lower body. To strengthen other muscle groups or focus on some specific ones, you use strength training. Combining the calorie burning and cardiovascular benefits of cycling on a stationary bike with strength training is very effective and will multiply the effect you would get if you’re only doing one of the two. Lowering body fat and increasing muscle mass is a winning combination to improve your physique.
The best way to include strength training exercises in your cycling workouts is to do them after. That’s if you want to focus on weight loss. If you want to focus on muscle building, it’s better to do the strength exercises first. It’s also possible to do some dumbbell exercises while cycling for a more interesting workout.
It’s best to do a full body strength workout that targets all body parts. If you don’t want to do all the body parts on one day, you can split them up as well. It’s best to hit all the body parts twice a week. Training your whole body creates a better overall physique and prevents major muscle imbalances. It also means you create more real world strength that’s useful in daily life.
Stretching Before And After
Before and after any workout it is a good idea to stretch. If you begin working out without warming your muscles, you are more likely to injure yourself during your exercise. Stretching is a light way to warm up your muscles and prepare them to be used.
Good pre-workout stretches include:
- The Pike Stretch– Start by standing with your legs shoulder-width apart and reach down to put your hands in front of your toes. You’ll then slowly walk your hands forward while keeping them shoulder-width apart and keeping your legs straight. Essentially, you are walking yourself into the yoga stretch “downward dog.” Stay in that position for 30 seconds. This will stretch your hamstrings and calves.
- Trunk Rotations– Start lying on your back with your hips and knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your arms should lay straight at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades and flatten your neck to the floor while rotating your legs to the left. As you twist, your right shoulder blade and arm should remain flat on the floor. Hold that position for a few minutes and then slowly return to the starting position and rotate your legs to the right side. This will stretch your shoulders, legs, and core.
- Lunges– Lunges are an example of dynamic stretching, a way to stretch by constantly moving as opposed to holding a pose for a long amount of time. Since lunges target the leg muscles and back, doing a set or two of them before getting on the treadmill can help get the blood flowing through your legs and prepare them for endurance.
Good post-workout stretches include:
- Chest Stretch– Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Place your hands on the back of your head with your arms raised and elbows pointed to the sides. Bring your shoulder blades together as you press your elbows backward.
- Seated Glute Stretch– Start by sitting in a chair with one foot flat on the floor. Place your other leg so that its ankle is over the knee of the foot flat on the floor. Slowly bend forward while keeping your back straight until you feel a slight pull in your hips and glute muscles. Hold that position for 30-60 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
- Cat-Cow Stretch- Start with your hands and knees on the floor, with your spine straight and relaxed. As you inhale, press your chest forward as if making your back into a bowl. As you exhale, relax your shoulders and round your spine upward, and press your hips forward as if making your back into a hill. Relax your shoulders and continue to go between these positions for a minute.