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Cardio, An Illustration In Weight Loss

October 2012

I can remember reading a story last year about a fellow who had decided he would like to lose weight so he bought a bike and put almost 4,000 miles on that bike in a spring/summer/fall season. At first, I thought that was dubious, if not impossible for anyone but a retired fellow… Then I did that same thing this season. From March thru September I’ve got 4,024 all-purpose miles – running and riding (I didn’t count swimming, but I didn’t spend very much time in the water this year). The funny thing is, it wasn’t all that hard to do.  An hour most weekdays, and two to three hours on Saturday and Sunday.

The gentleman I read about lost 80 pounds. In one riding season.

Here’s the math:

From March till October 1st, I burned 222,204 calories, an average of 31,743 per month. Now, just looking at calories burned, if I managed only to eat enough calories a day to satisfy my basal metabolic rate (BMR) – or the amount of calories it takes to support bodily function, in other words, no dieting, that 31,743 calories per month would work out to about 9 pounds, each and every month. We’ve only scratched the surface though… For someone who started out overweight, the exercise is compounded. More lean muscle is built by cycling – especially in the big leg muscles. Lean muscle requires more energy to sustain, thereby adding to the loss.

There is a small trick to this – if your desire is to lose weight, you want to burn fat.  If the intensity of your workout is too high (we’re talking quite high here – in other words, if you’re 50 pounds overweight, you probably can’t physically push that hard for more than a half mile on a bike – above 75% of your maximum heart rate) your body will look for easier fuel first – carbohydrates and glycogen, or what you’ve eaten.  If you keep your cardio at or just below that 75% range, that’s where you’ll see the best results.  So saith the scientists.  To put this into context that is easy to understand without a heart rate monitor, if you can hold a conversation while you’re riding or running, you’re going too slow.  You want to be at a point where you can get out about two or three words at a time before you have to take a few recovery breaths.  The reasoning behind this is simple:  The faster you move the more calories you burn.  The trick is to find that happy medium where you’re burning calories efficiently and can do it almost every day without burning out or getting injured.  Using myself as an example here, sticking with cycling because running is a different animal altogether, my “butter zone” when I started out quite was a bit faster than I initially capable of.  I had to work up to a decent pace for a decent mileage over the space of a few weeks.  If you’re just getting off the couch, this will take a bit more time, but don’t dawdle.  If I were to do it all over again, I would ask my doctor (I just spoke with mine seven months ago about my plans to go from 1,800 miles in 2011 to over 4,000 this year, just to make sure I was good) about his thoughts on my goals, then stick with that plan until the workouts got too easy.  I’d call him again, tell him where I was at, and bump it up from there as he saw fit…  After that, I figured I’m in good enough shape to push it as hard as I can.

In short, I have no doubt, after putting in the miles this year, that losing 80 pounds in a season of riding is possible, though unlikely – going from the couch to 4,000 miles in a season takes a huge commitment.  I’d have done it myself this year, but I’ve been physically active for more than a decade – I just took it to a much higher level over the last year and a half… Instead of the weight loss though, I was asked on Friday if I’d like to start a modeling career. I won’t be holding my breath – I’ve been down this road before, and it’s usually paved with good intentions and hopes and dreams – and that rarely turns out as I’d hope and dream.  Kind of reminds me of something else.

So, there you have it. If you’re sitting on the fence about weight loss, there’s nothing between the way you are now and what you want to be but air, opportunity and a bike – or running shoes, or better yet, both.


  1. Sandra says:

    One of my favorite posts yet!

  2. IowaTriBob says:

    Spot on. I just learned this myself with my recent lab test. The trick as you point out is finding that sweet spot that not an all out effort but is still a solid level of effort.

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