It's possible to lose weight using a stationary bike as your primary form of exercise, but you'll need to vary the way you use it to maximize your calorie burn. Harvard School of Public Medicine estimates a 125-pound person will burn more than 420 calories per hour pedaling at moderate intensity, and 630 calories per hour at a vigorous pace. Pedaling at the same steady speed for 30 minutes limits your muscle use and doesn't let you take advantage of the full benefits an exercise bike offers. Mix up your indoor rides for the most effective workout.
If you're just starting to work out using an exercise bike, a moderate-intensity routine that doesn't change your pedaling speed or resistance settings won't maximize your calorie burn, but will help you gradually build the stamina and endurance you'll need to perform more intense workouts that burn more calories. Your goal as you start using a stationary bike for the first two to three weeks is to work out longer rather than harder. Once you are able to pedal at a heart rate that keeps you breathing heavily for 30 minutes, you can start changing your resistance settings and pedaling intensity. To meet the American Heart Association's guidelines, exercise five times weekly at whatever speed lets you continue for 30 minutes without stopping.
Once you've built the stamina and endurance for 30-minute workouts, begin changing your pedaling intensity throughout your workouts. Start with a moderately intense pedaling speed to warm up. After five minutes, reduce your resistance setting and pedal faster until you reach a vigorous intensity, at the high end of the breathing level you can continue without stopping. Add 30- to 60-second sprints, pedaling as hard as you can against a high resistance setting, or as fast as you can using little resistance. After each sprint, recover with two minutes of low-intensity pedaling. Add standing on your pedals for one or two minutes to use more of your hips, butt and quadriceps. The more sprints you do and resistance you use, the more calories you'll burn. Many fitness centers offer aerobic spinning classes, which use exercise bikes to create multi-intensity workouts.
Athletes can burn calories and improve their anaerobic conditioning for sports on an exercise bike with interval-training workouts. This type of workout consists of short, high-intensity sprints, followed by longer recovery periods. Depending on your conditioning, you'll sprint for 30 to 120 seconds, recovering with slow, low-resistance pedaling for two to four minutes, based on how long your sprint was. Workouts like this usually last only 10 to 15 minutes, and might be a good way to end an endurance workout.
Cycling Workout Format
No matter what type of workout you perform, use the same format each time. Start with a few minutes of moderate-intensity pedaling at a low resistance level to stretch your muscles, warm them and elevate your heart rate. Perform your workout, then finish with a five-minute cool-down of slow pedaling with little resistance to get your breathing back to normal. Get off the bike and stretch your muscles, holding your stretches for 20 to 30 seconds each.