In modern times, with an abundant supply of food, overconsumption of calories has become a significant issue that leads to weight gain, which can come along with short- and long-term health problems. To overcome this problem, people often resort to burning calories by biking or cycling. However, cycling or biking for weight loss may only offer a short-term solution to our weight loss goals...
In this article we will explain some of the negative externalities of cycling for weight loss and some better strategies for weight loss and maintaining a good physique with a healthy body fat percentage utilizing a more functional approach.
Is Cycling a good strategy for weight loss?
Cycling has many negative externalities, we’ll name a few and provide context why we think biking or cycling can do more harm than good.
To start, cycling causes muscle imbalances because it utilizes certain muscles more than others, causing too much tension in the quads and calves which can affect the alignment of the spine, pelvis and your overall posture. Postural imbalances oftentimes can lead to pain and injury.
Cycling also prioritizes type 1 muscle fibers, which are essential for endurance, however, not for activities like sprinting and throwing which primarily use type 2 muscle fibers, which are the fibers that are lost more as we age. Furthermore, as cycling promotes more imbalance in the body and our posture, this leads to anxiety, which, in turn, can lead to more impulsive overeating.
Calories burned biking per mile will vary depending on weight, speed, terrain and effort level. However, it is important to focus on long-term sustainable approaches to weight loss and overall health rather than solely relying on calorie-burning numbers.
Another question that is often up for debate, is what burns more calories walking or biking? Although biking can burn belly fat, we don't think it should be utilized for the reasons listed above. Walking, on the other hand, may burn fewer calories than biking, but it is a low-impact activity that can be sustained for longer periods, making it more effective for weight loss. Walking is also a significant biomarker of good overall health.
How Poor posture from cycling affects your stress response leading to more impulsive overeating
Poor posture and muscular imbalances caused by cycling for weight loss purposes can have a significant impact on the body's stress response. Stress is a natural and necessary response to challenging or threatening situations, but chronic stress can have negative effects on the body and mind. Poor posture while biking to lose weight can contribute to chronic stress in a number of ways.
Firstly, poor posture brought on by cycling can lead to muscle tension and imbalances. When the muscles that support the spine are weak or strained, it can lead to a posture that places excessive strain on certain areas of the body, such as the neck, shoulders, and lower back. This can cause muscle tension and pain, which can in turn trigger the body's stress response.
Poor posture can interfere with the body's ability to breathe deeply and efficiently. When we slouch or hunch, the chest and diaphragm can become compressed, making it difficult to take deep breaths. This can lead to shallow breathing and an increased heart rate, both of which can trigger the body's stress response.
Posture that is inefficient can also affect hormone levels in the body. Research has shown that slouching can cause a decrease in testosterone levels and an increase in cortisol levels, which are two hormones involved in the body's stress response. High levels of cortisol can lead to a range of negative health effects, including weight gain, insomnia, and decreased immune function.
Finally, poor posture can affect our mood and emotional state. Research has shown that people who slouch or hunch over are more likely to feel depressed, anxious, and stressed than those with good posture. This may be due in part to the fact that poor posture can affect the body's ability to release endorphins, which are hormones that help to regulate mood and reduce stress.
How cycling for weight loss promotes a bad posture
One common postural issue that can arise from cycling to burn calories is a rounded or hunched upper back. This can be observed when the cyclist is leaning forward over the handlebars, which can cause the shoulders to round forward and the upper back to hunch. This can lead to tightness in the chest and shoulders, and weakness in the upper back muscles, causing further postural imbalances.
Another postural issue that can arise from biking to lose weight is an anterior pelvic shift, which is caused by tight hip flexors and quadriceps muscles. The quads are the main muscles used when pedaling the bike and if constantly under isolated tension will lead to an anterior pelvic shift that can cause the lower back to compress excessively, leading to an increased curvature in the lumbar spine and thoracic spine
Thirdly, when we are seated over a bike trying to burn calories we are primarily neglecting the upper body muscles and most importantly the muscles of our core. The core for the most part remains inactive as we are seated on the bike while the ribcage is constantly inhaling and exhaling in a compressed position over the pelvis.
Calories in vs calories out
When you consume more calories than your body needs for daily activities and basic metabolic functions, the excess calories are stored as fat. On the other hand, when you burn more calories than you consume, your body uses stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss.
The "calories in vs calories out" concept is supported by the laws of thermodynamics, which state that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred or converted from one form to another. When you consume food, you're taking in energy in the form of calories. Your body uses this energy to power physical activity, maintain bodily functions, and store excess calories as fat. If you consistently consume more calories than you burn, you'll gain weight, and if you consistently burn more calories than you consume, you'll lose weight.
Of course, there are other factors that can affect weight loss and gain, such as genetics, hormones, and overall health. However, the principle of energy balance provides a useful framework for understanding how calorie intake and physical activity impact body weight.
Some better strategies for weight loss
What I might suggest for the reader is to instead start tracking how many calories you are consuming and making efforts to reduce caloric intake if weight loss is the goal. My fitness pal can be used to log in the food you are eating to see just how many calories are in your meals. Food scales will be required for this. Body weight Scales can also be used daily to make sure body weight is going down. First thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything is usually an accurate bodyweight reading to work from.
Fixing your posture and exercising for weight loss
Functional Patterns is a fitness methodology that focuses on improving movement patterns such as standing, walking, running and throwing while also addressing muscular imbalances and promoting overall health and fitness. Weight loss can be a beneficial side effect of training these 4 functions.
By focusing on full-body, multi-joint movements, it can burn a significant number of calories during each workout. The more calories you burn during exercise, the greater your calorie deficit will be, which can lead to weight loss.
Second, Functional Patterns training can increase your lean muscle mass. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, meaning it burns more calories at rest. By building more muscle through FP training, you can increase your overall metabolic rate, making it easier to maintain a calorie deficit and lose weight.
Third, Functional Patterns training can improve your overall fitness and health, which can support weight loss efforts. By learning to hold an upright posture and recruit the correct muscle groups when doing functional workouts you are able to build muscle mass that will help support healthy ligaments and joints. By maintaining good joint health you can support psychological well being as it enables you to engage in physical activities you enjoy, enhances body confidence, and reduces limitations in daily life. If you are able to have a good psychological well being you are less likely to impulsively over eat and thus able to keep a lower body fat percentage for the long term.
Many people turn to activities like cycling or biking as a solution for burning calories and losing weight. However, it's important to recognize that cycling to burn calories only provides a short-term fix to a long-term problem, and there are negative aspects to consider. It's worth noting that the imbalances and postural issues caused by cycling for weight loss purposes can contribute to anxiety, which, in turn, can lead to more impulsive eating. Walking may burn fewer calories compared to cycling for weight loss, but it is a low-impact activity that can be sustained for longer periods, making it more effective for losing belly fat. By training our walking gait to be more efficient with FP exercises, we can improve joint health and have a body that is truly primed for movement. Walking is an important function for all humans to master, and by making it more efficient we can reap the benefits of improved overall health.
Consulting with professionals who can provide guidance on exercises that promote balance, correct muscle activation, and joint health, such as Functional Patterns practitioners or the FP 10 week online course, can be a valuable step towards achieving long-term, sustainable health and fitness goals.
This functional approach should also be combined with other healthy lifestyle habits, such as a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management, to achieve sustainable weight loss results.
That's all for now. Train intentionally not habitually.
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- Nilwik R, Snijders T, Leenders M, Groen BB, van Kranenburg J, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJ. The decline in skeletal muscle mass with aging is mainly attributed to a reduction in type II muscle fiber size. Exp Gerontol. 2013 May;48(5):492-8. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2013.02.012. Epub 2013 Feb 17. PMID: 23425621.