Does bicycling reduce your stomach?
June 2, 2015 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Pretty straightforward question: does biking reduce your stomach?

I'm completely burned out on running after a good four or five years, and am looking at other sports to fill the gap; I really like the idea of bicycling, since it's something I already know I enjoy, and there are many biking paths in my area.

I've got a new gut - yippee. So my question is: will biking reduce my abdominal fat? Or will it simply work out the muscles in my calves and thighs? (and butt?)

I already walk, swim, and occasionally lift weights. I'll probably buy a bike no matter what but I'm curious and want to know what kind of impact biking regularly will have on my body.

Thanks in advance!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Any exercise will reduce your stomach if you burn more calories than you take in.

Bicycling is good for your leg muscles, but won't burn belly fat any more than another kind of exercise would.

There is no such thing as spot-reduction of fat. That's not how the body works.
posted by suelac at 4:41 PM on June 2, 2015 [31 favorites]

will biking reduce my abdominal fat?

If the caloric expenditure from cycling in combination with your caloric expenditure from other exercise exceeds your caloric intake, yes, cycling will reduce your abdominal fat. Otherwise, no (which is, unfortunately, happening to me right now).

Or will it simply work out the muscles in my calves and thighs?

This is not a mutually exclusive choice. You can strengthen muscles and increase abdominal fat (by eating too much when exercising) or weaken muscles and decrease abdominal fat (by continuously starving yourself while cycling to the point of not allowing muscle recovery) or various combinations of the above.

The scientific consensus is that spot reduction is not possible at significant levels (see cite/cite/cite). You lose fat by expending more calories than you consume, not by a particular method of expending calories.
posted by saeculorum at 4:42 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Fat deposits go where they go, without regard for what part of your body is being exercised. Cycling burns calories pretty effectively, so it will lower your overall BMI and get rid of fat in the same distribution as any other form of exercise. I find that distance cycling is more of a core workout than you might think, and it's also a million times more fun than going to a room full of sweaty people and pushing heavy things around.
posted by contraption at 4:42 PM on June 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Well, anecdotal evidence: biking is pretty much the only exercise I do, and my body still deposits fat on my belly, because that is where excess pizza is genetically destined to live on my body. Nothing about my particular form of exercise changes that.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:52 PM on June 2, 2015 [14 favorites]

There is some evidence that high intensity exercise can reduce visceral fat. Google of 'visceral fat exercise' will turn up academic studies of this. Visceral fat is abdominal fat that accumulates around your organs, and can lead to the appearance of a 'gut'. Thus, vigorous bicycling may help diminish your gut, independent of total weight, because of the correlation between high intensity exercise and diminished visceral fat.
posted by u2604ab at 4:56 PM on June 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

I've heard that rowing is more effective. Can be a rowing machine not a boat of course.
posted by w0mbat at 5:08 PM on June 2, 2015

Biking does use abdominal muscles. Try doing some exercise that works your belly till you're nice and sore, then biking a few kilometers. You'll feel it.

Think about the strength required to balance yourself both side-to-side and upright (like climbing hills). It's good exercise is what it is!:D
posted by eisforcool at 5:10 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

It may not reduce the fat (though as u2604ab points out, it may do something about visceral fat--no way for us to tell if that's what your gut comes from, though!) BUT, it may help to strengthen and develop the muscles in your core, which potentially would reduce the *appearance* of your gut, and also improve your posture which, same.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:10 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I bike as my primary form of exercise and use a heartrate monitor every time. I don't swim, but compared to everything I've done (including using boring stationary bikes at the gym) biking outdoors burns the most calories for me in the same amount of time. Even without specific targeted results, I can't speak highly enough of how it's helping me reshape my body.
posted by erratic meatsack at 5:10 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

The only thing that will spot reduce belly fat is liposuction. Otherwise you need to lose body fat all over through cardio, which is something you can do through cycling.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:25 PM on June 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

When I did sit ups, my stomach was flatter. I guess that's an old school answer. With all the modern core and blah blah blah crunches blah stuff. I did sit ups and it worked for me.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:05 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I carry weight in my stomach, which is a sad thing that I just have to make my peace with. I do cardio because it's good for my heart and lungs, and I do lots of Pilates because having a strong core is good for balance and overall well-being. But the sad fact is that I'm always going to carry weight in my belly, and the only thing that I could do to prevent that would be to diet, which I'm not willing to do. I have very strong abs because of the Pilates, but I still have a belly, because that's where I carry any extra weight on my body. So basically: riding a bike is good exercise and an excellent means of transportation, but you're not going to alter your basic fat-distribution patterns, because that's genetic. So I vote that you ride a bike because it's good exercise and you enjoy riding a bike, and then figure out how to dress for the body that you're probably stuck with.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:06 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

My experience has been: Going for a nice hard 60km with 500m elevation gain burns a lot of calories but after I'm finished, I'm so famished that I eat back most of those calories. I prefer biking over jogging for a couple of reasons (you go farther distance-wise so you can actually see stuff, less stress on your knees) but I also find cycling to be way more time-consuming.
posted by alidarbac at 7:49 PM on June 2, 2015

Biking burns fewer calories than running, but the advantage is that you can do it pretty much forever (at a moderate pace, on a comfortable bike). If you really wanted to burn fat you could bike 2 hours a day, which is probably equivalent to 1.5 hours running... But NO ONE can really run 1.5 hours a day consistently, while biking that far won't kill you.
posted by miyabo at 8:20 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Spot reduction is a myth. You just need to lower your body fat overall, and tone/tighten as much as you can. You can't just lose weight in your stomach -- that is impossible.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:26 PM on June 2, 2015

Best answer: If your abs are weak and not being held in the proper place, focused exercise can help. Crunches and sit-ups are really not as effective for flat abs as core exercises like squats and planking, for many reasons, mostly related to the muscle groups they work and the importance of your core to support your posture.

However, there is a saying: "abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym", i.e. you can have the most toned abs in the world but no one will see them until your body fat is low enough that they show. Spot reduction of fat is simply not possible without liposuction, regardless of what those internet ads might imply to the contrary, so losing overall body fat through adjusting your diet is pretty much the only solution here.

tl,dr: No, not really. But cardio is always worth the effort :)
posted by ananci at 8:26 PM on June 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Depends on how you bike. Interval training is good for burning calories, and kicking your metabolism up a notch. Long rides burn calories, and can take you far from your fridge/cookie jar. Also, building more large muscle mass, like your quads, will also provide a small boost to your resting metabolism, as your body has to feed muscle more than it has to feed fat. However, the only way you'll see quick, noticeable reductions in weight is to change your diet - for me cutting carbs works really well, (except no beer makes me sad).
If you can bike at a pace that keeps your heart rate elevated for a few hours a week or more, and cut way back on anything that spikes your insulin, like sugar, bread, pasta, etc. then you'll start seeing/feeling results within a few weeks. Training with a heartrate monitor can be really effective for this.
Digression: When I was younger and had a lot more time, I biked 2-300 miles a week. I was very lean, (always easier at 19 than 47), but my legs got so big there wasn't a pair of pants on the planet that would fit me right.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:47 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing the 'you can't spot reduce fat' comments, but I do find that cycling does amazing things to my obliques that help my tummy look trimmer in a way that running never does.
posted by penguin pie at 7:19 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It definitely reduced my gut when I started biking and lost about twenty pounds. I think suddenly exercising was like a sneak attack on my fat. I'd say I was at my peak flat-stomach about seven years ago when I was biking a lot of miles.

I still bike everyday but not as much overall and am up about ten/twelve pounds from then and most of it is in my gut it seems. This seems to be the average weight I hold at if I don't change my eating habits/levels. (I do drop some fat when I bike more in the summer and get it back when I bike less in the winter).
posted by mikepop at 7:36 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just joined a spin class a few weeks ago. I love it--it's hard and when you get a really good instructor, it's awesome--but YMMV. My friend who asked me to join did it lose weight; so far, she's at 30 pounds weight loss, but that it wasn't solely due to spin classes. She adjusted her diet to eat better as well. As for me? Well, I will let you know if there's any change other than my lower body!
posted by Kitteh at 12:06 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Biking was the quickest fat-reduction method I've ever tried. When I did however, I wasn't a cardio monster. I had about an 11 mile commute to work and some weight to lose. Unlike the treadmill, I couldn't NOT do it- I had to get to work! and on time! That was a great motivator. If you're used to YEARS of running, I think you'd have to bike pretty hard, fast and long to make more of a difference than running. I also adjusted my diet considerably, that might be something to look into with the running.
posted by tremspeed at 1:08 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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