Cycling is the most popular sport after running, and it’s for a good reason. Most people learn how to ride a bike as a child. It has a low barrier of entry because it doesn’t require a lot of special equipment. It’s also a great cardio workout, a good form of entertainment and it’s very relaxing. Oh, and you can also use it as a means of transportation! This is my favorite part about it. It kills two birds with one stone.
But, is cycling good for abs?
Cycling doesn’t build your abs directly, but it can help reveal your abs if it’s coupled with a proper diet and some additional exercises. Riding the bike helps shred the fat that covers your abs. Let’s see how cycling can help you get a six pack, and bust some myths along the way!
The Basics of Being Lean
Fitness is a multi-billion dollar a year industry teaching people how to be lean and strong.
But look at this guy!
Either he had early access to one of the fitness programs or he had an intuition about the fundamentals of having a six-pack.
In reality, a six-pack is not necessarily a super strong abdomen, but an abdomen that isn’t covered in a layer of fat. If you have seen a skinny child, you may have seen his abs revealed. That’s not because he’s so strong, but because he has no fat covering his abs.
If you can shred enough fat from your stomach, you will reveal your abs. But how do you achieve that?
Weight gain, weight loss and maintaining your weight is the result of a balance:
- Eat more calories than you burn and you will gain weight
- Burn more calories than you eat and you will lose weight
- Burn the same amount of calories as you eat and you will maintain your weight
As long as you have a reasonably strong abdomen, your six-pack will show. You don’t actually need to do a bunch of ab training to achieve that.
How Does Cycling Help With Revealing Your Abs?
Unlike in building muscles, where you can target specific muscles and muscle groups directly, targeted weight loss doesn’t exist. It’s not possible to lose weight from your abs, thighs or any other specific part of your body alone. Weight loss happens everywhere, and your body decides where it draws the energy from. The best way of burning extra calories is by doing cardio exercise, which elevates your heart rate and forces your body to tap into its energy reserve.
There are two ways of tipping the weight balance in the favor of weight loss:
- Burn more calories – move more and do more exercise
- Ingest less calories – eat less
Cycling helps with burning more calories, since it is an excellent form of cardio exercise. Most people can burn 300-400 calories with 30 minutes of vigorous cycling. 1 lb of fat contains 3500 calories. If you do the math, you can burn 1 lb of fat by cycling for 5 hours.
In fact, since cycling is a low-impact sport, it’s easy to get started with, even if running would put your knees under too much stress.
If you consider becoming a bike commuter, you may spend 1-1.5 hours in the saddle every day, which is more than 5 hours a week. Even if you don’t go at your maximum speed all the time, you may burn 2500-3500 calories each week. Small numbers add up. That’s the equivalent of 4 lbs of body fat burnt each month.
Weekend riders easily spend 3-5 hours in the saddle on weekends. Since they don’t need to worry about sweating when arriving at work, they can go all out, and maximize that time, burning 3000-4000 calories in one weekend session.
Of course, these numbers are general numbers, and how much you burn is specific to you, but can understand why and how cycling accelerates weight loss.
Calories Eaten vs Calories Burnt: a Perspective
You may have heard the saying that “abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen”. This is true because you strengthen your core muscles during your workouts, but in order to reach and maintain a healthy weight you need a proper diet keeping in mind the balance we just talked about.
Here’s a list of things that contain or burn 3500 calories, or 1 lb of fat.
|3500 Calories IN||3500 Calories OUT|
|4.6lb of chicken breast||5-6 hours of moderate cycling|
|4.55 lb of roast beef||4-5 hours of vigorous cycling|
|3 lb of whole grain bread||7-8 hours of walking|
|25 servings of ice cream||5-6 hours of jogging|
|12 Snickers bars||6 hours of continuous push ups!|
|25 cans of coke|
|3 average Big Mac meals excluding desserts|
|50 lb of lettuce|
The reason why most people put on weight more easily than they lose it is because you can ingest calories much faster than you can burn them, and short term, eating gives you more pleasure than exercising. This is why the saying goes: you can’t outrun (or in our case outpedal) your fork (and why you feel hungry after having a salad for dinner).
5 Hacks to Maximize Your Time in the Saddle
Choose Best Time of the Day
You can get great benefits from cycling just by riding your bike at the right time of the day.
When you eat, your blood sugar level goes up. This is a form of energy your body can tap into to fuel your activities. You have probably experienced this when you were feeling low on energy and felt energized after taking a bite to eat. (Cyclists going out for longer rides keep energy bars in their pockets in order to keep their blood sugar level high.)
After several hours of not eating your blood sugar level is low, and your body starts to use the energy stored in your fatty tissues. This is a magical moment to go cycling, since pedaling on an empty stomach forces your body to burn even more fat to keep you going.
Cycling first thing in the morning, even before having breakfast, is an excellent way to get lean faster. It’s also known as fasted cardio.
For example, if you’re a bike commuter, and you can hold off having breakfast until after getting to work, you have done some fasted cardio. Even if it’s only a 20-30 minute ride, your body benefits from it enormously.
HIIT stands for High Interval Training. It’s a fancy way of saying that you should put a lot of effort into shorter segments of your ride and recover by pedaling at a normal pace in between.
Working harder always requires more energy, which translates into higher calorie consumption and quicker weight loss.
Of course, working harder also means sweating more.
If you’re a commuter, you can use HIIT on your way home, when you can arrive as a sweaty mess, and you have the time to cool down and take a shower.
If you’re a weekend warrior, HIIT enables you to get the same (and MORE!) benefits as on a constant effort ride, but in a shorter time frame.
HIIT also has the benefit of not draining you quite as much as a constant long ride, so it’s much less likely to overeat when you reach for your fork.
Water is important not only because you need to hydrate yourself, but it also has another important effect.
The longer you ride the bike the more hungry you will feel after. Cravings after riding the bike are completely normal, and they can easily lead to overeating if you’re not careful. This completely ruins the gains of the ride.
Instead of reaching for food after riding your bike, drink a glass of water instead. It will fill your stomach, and help you feel satiated with less food.
This hack works also if you’re not into cycling, AND you can use it before you sit down for every one of your meals.
This hack works perfectly whether you’re a hobby cyclist or a bike commuter. In fact, I use this very trick every day as a bike commuter, and I’ve been able to keep my usually uncontrolled appetite in check for years.
Snacking During the Ride
This tip works for longer weekend rides, and doesn’t apply to bike commuters so much, since their commute is very unlikely to be longer than 1.5 hours each way.
If you go out for longer rides (90+ minutes), taking some snacks with you can help you lose weight. A bit counter-intuitive at first, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
The longer you ride, the hungrier you get by the end of the ride, and the more you will want to eat. However, if you ingest some food throughout the ride, you can maintain your hunger level to a minimum, which means that you are less likely to feel famished.
Here are some great snacks you can take with you on the ride:
- Energy bars
- Various nuts
- Homemade trail mix with peanuts, dried cranberries and raisins
Push the Last Mile
You don’t only burn calories during the ride, but throughout the day.
If you push harder toward the last part of your ride (e.g. 10-15 minutes), you can enjoy some added benefits because you put your body in a higher oxygen consumption state even after getting off your bike.
Making a bigger effort toward the end is probably not the best idea on your way to work (unless you have a shower), but it is very effective on your way home or when you go out on a dedicated training session.
How Much Weight do I Need to Lose to See My Abs?
I’m sure you’re now wondering: just how much weight do I need to lose?
The answer to this question depends on a few factors, such as your body composition, core strength, just to name a few.
Body Mass Index is a good indicator of how much fat you have in your body.
Men can start showing abs once their BMI reaches 25, women’s abs may become visible at a BMI of 28.
Here’s a link to a free BMI calculator you can use to know your value.
- Enter your current height and weight to determine your BMI.
- Enter a lower weight than your current weight until you reach at least 25 or 28
- Subtract the goal weight from your current weight
Now you have a rough idea how much weight you should lose to start revealing your abs.
If you ride your bike enough, you can get a six-pack
This is only partially true. Cycling can make your weight loss-faster, but you can easily ruin any gains you made cycling if you don’t watch what you eat. Also, if your core is completely weak and you have nothing to show, then even a lean torso will only be six-pack-less.
Cycling is useless when it comes to showing abs
You can get a six-pack without cycling, but it’s false to say that riding the bike is useless when it comes to revealing abs. It is a fantastic help to burn calories, if coupled with the right diet and additional exercises.
Of course showing abs isn’t only about being lean, but also about being strong. Although giving you the complete blueprint to a ripped body is beyond the scope of this post, here is a video that shows you some additional exercises you can do at home without any equipment.
Listen to Jim! He’s trained Hollywood actors to look their best for movies. He knows what he’s talking about.
You won’t get a six-pack by cycling alone, but it’s a very powerful tool to accelerate your way to revealing your abs. The main thing is to find an activity you enjoy doing. That way the journey becomes fun instead of an arduous task.
My favorite bike commuting products
Here are some of the products I love using for bike commuting. They make riding so much more fun and enjoyable.
Ergon GP5 Bar End Grips: These are super comfortable, ergonomic grips that offer me two extra hand positions on my flat bar bicycle. They also offer a much more comfortable grip that helps distribute my weight on the handlebar better.
Bar end mirrors: If you ride much among cars then a bar end mirror can make riding much safer. You don’t have to turn around every single time to check on the traffic coming from behind.
Bike lights from Cateye. This is essential year round. I recommend going for a more powerful light than just a to-be-seen light. I like the 800 lumen ones from Cateye because they are affordable, portable and still give out plenty of light so I can see where I’m going even in pitch dark. The battery lasts for a long time too, and it’s USB rechargeable.
Bike rack. This bike rack from Dirza is great because I can put it on almost any bicycle regardless whether they have mounting points for racks or not. I can leave it on my bike for commuting or take it off for weekend rides or whenever I don’t need a rack.
If you want to check out my full list of recommended products, you visit my recommended gear page.