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So I’m currently 187cm, 99 kgs, 30y/o. I have two goals, firstly, to lose weight (so that I can start running again) and once I’ve lost weight, to then start improving my performance.

I’m currently cycling to achieve this, as it’s easy on my body while I’m overweight. I’m riding a single speed to work and back most days (12km each way) and then on the weekend try to do a longer ride.

I’ve been told (by a friend who is extremely fit) I’m exercising at too high a heart rate, and that I won’t see any benefit from this. For example, I did an 80km ride in 3 hours with an average HR of 160. This does however feel reasonably comfortable for me. I typically hit a max of 195 occasionally, not every time I exercise though.

So my question is, for my current goal of weight loss, is this too much? I am losing weight slowly (.5kg a week roughly). It might also be worth mentioning that I was reasonably fit in the past but a few injuries and life in general has got in the way for the past 2 years or so.

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  • Just a side note, losing .5kg a week is a decent and healthy amount to lose.
    – MJB
    Feb 16 at 8:38

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The main problem with long and intense exercise is that it requires a lot of recovery afterwards. Even somebody in fairly good shape will feel an all-out 3 hour ride the next day and probably even the day after that.

It also increases the risk of over-use injuries. On a bicycle an exhausted state also increases the risk of traffic accidents.

Recovery gets even harder on a calorie deficit.

Most good professional training programs limit long all-out sessions to a few times a year (often in the form of races). Normal training is either long&easy or short (<1 hour) but hard. The goal of long easy sessions is usually to build endurance (for which low intensity is good enough). The short but hard sessions (often interval training) improve your muscles’ maximum strength, VO2max, anaerobic capacity and so on.

That being said, if you can manage it recovery-wise and injury-wise there is nothing inherently bad about doing long rides at a higher intensity.

A single-speed bike is probably sub-optimal for good, structured training since you can only adjust intensity in a limited range.

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A lot of people confuse what's not good for weight loss must not be good for the body. Cycling that much will definitely improve your health and cardiovascular system tremendously. There's two main issues I can think of when doing cycling and losing weight:

  1. cardio exercises lasting longer than an hour and more than low intensity seem to plateau your results and burn more glycogen than actual fat after the first hour, which is why you'll never see "go for a 3 hour walk" as part of a fat loss diet, but "go for an hour walk" or an hour bike ride is fine. This just means it's burning carbs and possibly a little muscle more than it is pure fat.

  2. Doing the same cardio exercise multiple times a week will cause your body to adapt to that exercise, making it not lose weight as efficiently. Your body is built for survival, so if it sees that you are cycling every day, it'll adapt and find a way to store fat or energy better and burn less energy doing so. The end result is that you quit losing as much weight.

My advice? If you're making progress, don't worry about it too much. if you aren't, you can cycle your cardio exercises and try to choose a healthy mix of low, medium, and high intensity exercises throughout the week, keeping in mind the higher intensity, the shorter the exercise should be. Try not to do cardio every single day of the week either, a low, medium, and high intensity cardio exercise each week should be plenty.. the goal really is just to burn extra calories that you don't burn from dieting. You could also add weightlifting if you have access into the mix. If you love cycling, then keep doing it, it just might not be the most efficient way to burn fat, but it's definitely heart healthy.

I also like to cycle between eat less, exercise less - and eat more, exercise more. Spend a few weeks mostly dieting, than a few weeks mostly exercising. But this is up to you

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  • -1. For weight loss all that matters is how many calories you burn vs how many you eat. Longer, harder exercise will burn more calories. If you can avoid over-eating afterwards you can lose a lot of weight quickly. The biggest problem is that long and hard exercise requires good recovery (to avoid injury and overtraining) which can be difficult on a calorie deficit (especially a severe one).
    – Michael
    Feb 14 at 17:16
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Moderate exercise in most studies has shown improvements of health markers concerning the cardiovascular system. The 12km bicycling is definitely giving you a lot of improvements concerning overall health.

A high heart rate when exercising without underlying conditions isn't that bad. I would be more concerned about irregular stressful activities such as a 3 hour bicycle ride when you're ill prepared for it. That is because the benefit you get from this on a weight loss perspective is minimal but the chance of overall burnout is high. That's because these sessions are very stressful overall. If you're interested in HIIT training which is typically seen as very beneficial for weight loss overall you will spike your heart rate to 90% capacity frequently.

You would benefit more from reducing the bicycle ride to 1 hour and using the 2 other hours for anaerobic exercise. This can be either weight training or high intensity interval training. Best weight loss plan remains a good diet plan, but a mix of consistent aerobic and anaerobic exercises helps you reach weight loss goals in a better way.

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    I would not say that someone who rides 24km 5 days per week is ill-prepared for an an 80km ride on the weekend. Feb 9 at 0:46

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