I plan on setting up my bicycle with one of those devices that holds the rear tire and gives some resistance so I can exercise through the winter. I think it's called a bicycle trainer.

When using one of those for weight loss: Is it better to ride for a long time on low resistance or at a low speed? Or is it better to ride harder, spinning your legs faster or with more resistance for a shorter amount of time?

Sorry; there isn't even an exercise tag on here. Feel free to retag as appropriate.


The answer to this question is dependent on a number of factors, but the short answer is just 'yes'.

If you are purely looking for weight loss then the equation is calores in minus calories out equals delta, and so long as the delta is negative, i.e. that you burn more than you consume, then you will lose weight. It's just simple arithmetic.

So, in the first place, just eat the same as you have ever done and do more exercise, then the weight will come off.

To do more training, though, will also require a balanced diet. If you up your training load without changing your diet, you will get more tired and notice other negative effects. You'll be hungrier, you'll eat more, it's not as easy as just upping the workload.

What you're actually asking is about making this weight loss more efficient, maybe even drastic, and getting the bang for your buck. So if you sprint, on a higher resistance, with higher cadence, then your heart rate will be higher and you'll burn more - but you'll be able to maintain it for less time. But if you try for a low cadence, with low stress, you'll maintain for a lot longer, but you'll burn less quickly. You'll lose weight either way, but you'll also do it differently and prepare your body differently.

To do this properly, you'll probably want to work just below the anaerobic threshold, this is the point at which the body is still able to consume enough oxygen to assist the work through using sustainable sources within the body (i.e. fat stores), but without all that pesky lactic acid being produced (and burning other sources, e.g. muscle). This is the point where many endurance athletes will try and aim their training (also known as LSD - Long, Slow, Distance), to sit for extended periods at a heart rate set at a maintainable point. You'll need a heart rate monitor and a means to test yourself. For a reasonably trained athlete, this will likely be around 150 bpm.

For what it's worth, my rule of thumb is that I'll burn about 40 calories per mile almost irrespective of speed ... but if you really want to lose weight, go running. I reckon I burn about 120 calories a mile when running.

  • +1 for the calories in - out equation, that's what I would have written. I'd give another +1 for the LSD mention if I could... – darkcanuck Dec 20 '10 at 20:22
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    Another thing to consider is to add interval training to your bike trainer workouts. Basically, it's alternating higher intensity exertion with lower intensity exertion. The "spinning" workouts that one can do at a gym/fitness center is an example of this. Interval training can boost fat burn and one's endurance as well. A link: mayoclinic.com/health/interval-training/SM00110 – user313 Dec 21 '10 at 0:40
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    Agree that biking is not the best way to lose weight; biking is too efficient. Swimming is ridiculously inefficient and great exercise. On the other hand, biking for transportation or fun can be good ways to lose weight because you are motivated. Also I suppose indoor biking is an easier exercise to do while watching TV or reading. – Chinasaur Jan 19 '11 at 11:04
  • The issue with running is the load on joints for a lot of people, which is lower when biking. But you can do interval training on a ton of things - bikes, ellipticals, treadmills, running, etc. – Batman Dec 23 '13 at 14:45

The 'best' way is by measuring your bodies response to whatever you are doing. The best method by todays understanding is while using a heart-rate monitor. As Unsliced mentioned, riding just below the anaerobic threshold. You achieve that by monitoring your heart rate as you exercise, and holding it in that zone as long as possible. That allows you to continuously work very hard, but not so hard that you deplete your bodies ability to deliver oxygen and get tired.


Gary Taubes makes a very reasonable argument that you can't "exercise to lose weight".

Or rather, that the conventional view that manipulating calories in through diet and calories out through exercise will cause you to gain or lose weight is not backed up by science. That is, while "Energy in - energy out" is true, it is not useful, as the cause of fat gain or loss is elsewhere.

(He argues that carbohydrates in the diet are the "true cause" of fat gain, but this part of his argument is not as strong.)

  • I tend to agree with Gary Taubes in that exercise, without diet change is unlikely to result in significant, lasting weight loss. Unfortunately, a discussion of the contentious issue of weight loss, is probably not going to fly in this question. Although... I would enjoy that discussion. ;~) – user313 Jan 24 '11 at 21:40
  • "You can't outrun a bad diet" or "Weight is lost in the kitchen." – jqning Aug 25 '15 at 21:37

The equipment you are talking about is called a turbo trainer. In terms of weight loss I'm not sure which is best, spinning (pedalling quickly against low resistance) is good for cardiovascular stuff, whereas grinding along in a high gear or against a higher resistance is going to improve your strength and build muscle.

My gut feeling (if you'll excuse the slight pun) is that spinning will help you drop weight, but that's just intuition not knowledge talking.

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