What Muscles Does Cycling Work?

Professional cyclist riding road bike

Cycling is a low-impact cardio exercise that has many health benefits.

It is an excellent aerobic workout that increases stamina, lung capacity, and metabolism, and boosts muscle mass and strength.

Cycling regularly can help you achieve a lean, toned look over time. It targets and strengthens many muscle groups, some of which may surprise you. But what muscles does cycling work exactly?

This handy guide will tell you all about the different muscles that benefit from cycling so you can get the most out of your hobby and cycle your way to strength and good health.

Can Cycling Build Muscles?

How cycling build muscles

Cycling burns calories, melt fat, and builds stronger, leaner muscles. Some of the main muscles affected include the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

You may never develop quads like a track sprinter by cycling alone, but you’ll still benefit from toned glutes and legs when you bike regularly.

While pedaling, your legs push down and pull up on the pedals. The downward force engages your quad and calf muscles while pulling back and up and activates the muscles in your glutes, hamstrings, and shins.

The riding terrain also impacts how your muscles are affected. Cycling uphill puts more pressure on your quads and calves than on smooth, flat roads. Riding downhill requires more momentum than your muscles to move you forward, which means your legs will exert much less effort.

If you prefer to ride a stationary bike, you can increase the resistance to help you gain the benefits of riding an uphill course and build strength that way.

If your body has a higher percentage of muscle than fat, it will tend to keep burning calories even after the workout (in this case, cycling). This can help you achieve your weight loss and muscle mass goals much more quickly.

Muscles Worked With Cycling

Here are some of the key muscles that cycling strengthens:

Glutes

Glutes

Biking is a great way to work out your gluteal muscles or buttocks. Three gluteal muscles work with the hips to rotate the thighs when the body moves: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.

The gluteus maximus is the largest and is mainly responsible for powering your strokes when you push down on the bike pedals. Activating and strengthening your gluteal muscles through cycling will prevent strain on your lower back and pain in your knees when you use your hamstrings.

Cycling also strengthens your gluteal muscles and helps you achieve a nice, toned butt.

Quads

Quadriceps or quads are a large muscle group that makes up the main portion of your thighs. They are one of the most powerful muscle groups in the body and are heavily worked while cycling.

Your quads are essential for pushing down the pedals with ease and efficiency so you can cycle faster and for longer.

This muscle group is also crucial for riding uphill, so if you are fond of cycling up mountainous terrain or inclined pathways, your glutes will benefit.

Calves

Calves

Your calf muscles are located in the back of your lower leg, running from below the knees to the ankles.

Cycling targets calf muscles, especially the soleus and the gastrocnemius. These two primary muscles work together while pedaling your bike, making them more chiseled and defined. This is why cyclists’ calf muscles look bigger and more prominent than non-cyclists.

These muscles transmit the power that the quads produce with each pedal stroke and give you a little extra power when you cycle. The soleus is mainly responsible for raising the heels, while the gastrocnemius is the larger muscle that pushes you forward.

You can stand while riding to further strengthen these muscles and make them more chiseled. When you stand, you use your body weight and crank up the resistance during the ride. This demands more effort from your calf muscles, which will tone and strengthen them further.

Hamstrings

Your hamstring muscles start from your hips and go all the way to the back of your legs, crossing behind your knees. Hamstrings are crucial for riders as they bend the hips and knees as they push down and pull back up on the pedals.

These muscles work the most from the six o’clock to nine o’clock position of the pedal stroke. Once the pedals reach four o’clock, your hamstrings exert the most power to bring the pedals back towards six o’clock.

It is essential to take care of your hamstrings and avoid putting unnecessary pressure on them. Cyclists often experience fatigue or weakness throughout the hamstring due to overexertion or lack of stretching before and after a ride.

If your hips or the back of your knees hurt, it could be that your hamstrings are pulling too much on them. In this case, you can reduce the pressure on your muscles by lowering your bike seat.

Shins

Your shin muscles or Tibialis Anterior are crucial for cycling. They draw your feet from an outstretched point at the six o’clock position to a nine o’clock position during pedal strokes. These muscles are most engaged during power pedaling.

Upper Body Muscles

Girl riding road bike in standing position

Cycling primarily involves the lower body, but it also engages your upper body muscles. After all, you cannot move your legs without much-needed support from your back and arms to keep your body in place.

Your back muscles are vital for keeping your body upright and balanced as you ride, even more so when you’re cycling uphill or in a standing position. Upper body support is also vital for changing positions while riding.

Cycling strengthens the biceps and triceps in your arms and the deltoids in your shoulders. They also target and tone the upper and lower ab muscles that form your core.

Other Cycling Benefits

Aside from targeting various muscles, cycling offers other health benefits, too. Here are some of them:

Weight Loss

young couple riding mountain bikes

One of the most well-known health benefits of regular cycling is healthy weight management. Regular biking, especially at a high intensity, can reduce body fat.

Cycling burns 400 to 1,000 calories per hour, depending on the intensity of the session and your weight. This type of aerobic exercise will increase your daily calorie deficit, making it much easier to lose weight.

Lower Cholesterol Levels

Biking regularly can also help reduce bad cholesterol in your body. Lower cholesterol means better heart health and a much lower risk of heart attack and stroke in the future.

A review of 300 studies has shown that biking indoors positively affects cholesterol levels. It may increase high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol and reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Brain Health

cycling outdoors can enhance brain power

Concentrating on your pedal strokes or the road while biking improves your focus and helps you stay in the present moment. This regular, almost meditative movement distracts your mind from negative thoughts and can even relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.

According to a research study, cycling outdoors can enhance brain power and mental health for senior adults. Doing any form of exercise such as cycling also boosts endorphin levels, or feel-good hormones, which leads to a rush of happiness and overall positive feelings. Exercising outdoors only enhances these positive effects.

So if you find yourself in a moment of brain fog and can’t concentrate on the work at hand, get on your bike and take a ride around your neighborhood for half an hour or so. You will immediately feel better, and experience a boost in your focus and performance at work.

Improved Balance and Posture

Those who have mobility issues can benefit greatly from cycling. Balancing your body on a bicycle can help you improve your coordination, balance, and gait.

People usually experience a decline in mobility with age and years of inactivity. So it’s important to stay active and mobile to maintain good balance and coordination.

The improved balance will prevent falls and fractures, reducing injury risks and helping you stay healthy and fit for decades to come.

Conclusion

What muscles does cycling work?

It targets and strengthens your glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings, shins, biceps, triceps, deltoids, and ab muscles. Cycling also leads to many other benefits for your well-being besides helping you enjoy the outdoors safely. Get on your bike every day and stay fit, healthy, and happy.

We hope you enjoyed reading our article on how cycling works out different muscle groups. Check out our website for more such blog posts and guides to learn more about your favorite hobby.

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Last Updated on July 25, 2022 by Editor

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