Can You Lose Weight With Indoor Cycling?

Spinning class
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You may be pedaling to nowhere (and sometimes fast)—but that doesn’t mean you can’t shed pounds or reduce your body fat with indoor cycling. Depending on your cadence (or pace) and the resistance on your bike, it’s possible to burn 400 to 600 calories (and sometimes more) in a 45-minute indoor cycling class. Since it takes 3,500 calories to lose one pound of body weight, if you were to burn 500 calories per class, you could melt off a pound with seven classes—without changing a single thing about your dietary habits or doing any other form of exercise. Pretty impressive!

The Research

Slimming down with cycling isn’t just a theoretical possibility. Research has proven these results are readily achievable. In a 2010 study involving sedentary, overweight women, researchers from the University of Palermo in Italy had the participants perform three indoor cycling sessions a week for 12 weeks and re-evaluated their body composition along the way. Without any restriction on their food consumption, the cyclists lost 3.2 percent of their body weight and 5 percent of their body fat after 12 weeks; meanwhile, their lean muscle mass increased by 2.6 percent. Similarly, a 2010 study from Lithuania found that after young women did aerobic cycling training three times a week for two months, their body weight, body mass index, and body fat all decreased—and the results started kicking in after just two weeks! 

Plus, research suggests that people work harder in a group exercise environment when they’re motivated by an instructor and their fellow participants. Add to this the pulse-pumping music that’s typical of an indoor cycling class, and the energy in the studio can inspire you to push yourself harder and ramp up your calorie expenditure in the process.

A hidden advantage: Indoor cycling also offers the opportunity to tone and strengthen all of the muscles in your legs (and your glutes) while you’re torching calories. But in order to do any of this, you need to have sufficient resistance on the bike—there’s just no way around that! Your muscles do the cycling work that helps burn body fat and produce more energy—and you need to push against resistance to get that effect. Otherwise, you really are just spinning your flywheel without reaping calorie-burning or muscle-strengthening benefits.

Building and retaining muscle strength is especially important if you’re trying to lose weight because you’ll want to shed body fat, not lean muscle mass. Lean muscle is what keeps your metabolism revved up, causing you to burn more calories 24/7.

To get the best slim-down effects from indoor cycling, it helps to remember this formula:


It’s easy to gauge how challenging your resistance (gear) is, and how fast you’re pedaling (your pace) will be obvious. So if you really want to get a pulse on how hard you’re working, it’s best to use a heart-rate monitor. The numbers on the monitor won’t lie.

Watching Calories After You Exercise

A note of caution: When you start doing indoor cycling regularly, you may find that your post-exercise appetite kicks into high gear. Be careful how you deal with that hunger. If you’re trying to lose weight, you can’t eat whatever you want just because you did indoor cycling; after all, you probably burned 400 to 600 calories, not thousands, in that session.

Having a post-exercise snack can help your body recover from the intensity of an indoor cycling session and keep your appetite in check—but the snacking needs to be done smartly. To make sure you don’t overdo it in the calorie-consumption department, stick with a portion-controlled snack that contains protein and carbohydrates, such as low-fat chocolate milk, a banana with a tablespoon of nut butter, or non-fat plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup of berries. 

Taking this approach will help your body stay properly fit and fueled for indoor cycling while also allowing you to shed unwanted pounds and develop more defined muscles. Once you start reaping these feel-good, look-great benefits, you’ll want to keep on cycling. It’s a form of positive reinforcement you’re likely to get hooked on!