Riding a bike is a fantastic (and fun) sport, bringing many physical benefits to the table. However, when you’re powering down on the pedals, have you ever wondered — what muscles does cycling work?
The answer will surprise you.
The main muscles cycling works are:
- Hip flexors.
- Lower back.
The Muscles Involved in Cycling
As you can probably guess, the leg muscles are the main group that gets a workout, but others play the role of support.
So — what muscles does cycling work?
Cycling can build a great butt! This trio of muscles (gluteus maximus, medius and minimus) kicks off the pedal revolution. You work them when initiating the downward stroke and part of the push motion — they join ranks with the quadriceps.
However, you won’t get as much of a glute workout if you remain seated. The real booty-building happens when you get out of the saddle and stand during your pedal stroke.
The quadriceps muscles usually do the lion’s share of the pedal stroke, so if you cycle regularly, you should notice more definition and an improvement in strength in this region.
The hamstrings are the long muscles on the back of the thighs. They allow your hip to extend and your knee to bend. They’re one of the major players and activate on the foot’s upward swing — recovery phase — of the pedal stroke.
Venturing up-hill can really engage the hamstrings — more so than pedaling on a level surface.
You might not feel your calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius) while you’re pedaling, but they’re playing a supporting role. Located in the rear of the lower leg, they lift the heel in the upstroke — recovery phase — of the cycling motion.
When your bigger leg muscles start to get tired, you may feel it more in your calves, as they take the strain trying to keep pedaling.
This muscle group is responsible for hip flexion movement — bringing the legs up towards the torso and back to the top of the pedal stroke.
They’re often a weak point. Sitting for too long can cause them to become tight and affect your range of motion and posture, which can lower your performance on the bike. To improve your flexibility, try exercises like lunges, supine leg extensions, and low mountain climbers.
Biceps, Forearms & Shoulders
Cycling works the upper body too.
Gripping the handlebars and controlling the direction of your bike, leads to the biceps tensing up. You also engage the forearms when you need to brake.
If you do mostly indoor cycling on a stationary bike, you probably won’t notice that much muscle engagement in the upper body. You’re more likely to notice it out on the road because you change position more — standing, pedaling uphill, on the drops.
Yes, you have the opportunity to tone your abs too when you ride. Your midsection provides stability when you’re in the saddle, so you don’t lose your balance. The core is made up of four main muscles:
- External obliques — the largest of the ab muscles — help you rotate your core, bend sideways, and flex the spine.
- Internal obliques — just below the externals and serve a similar function.
- Transversus abdominis — the deepest of the ab muscles — essential for pelvis stability.
- Rectus abdominis — makes up the classic “six-pack” and used to flex and stabilize the spine.
It’s a good idea to perform core exercises in between rides to strengthen these muscles. It will help you balance better on the bike.
By keeping your body steady, your core is preventing unwanted movements. This means all your energy is channeled where it’s required — the legs and, ultimately, the pedals.
The lower back muscles serve the same purpose as the core muscles — they keep you upright and well-balanced while riding.
Extensor muscles at the back of the spine provide stability for standing and when lifting things. The erector spinae muscles support the glutes, which play a massive role in the pedal stroke. Flexor muscles at the front of the spine help us to bend forward, flex, and arch the back.
The obliques are the bridge between the abdominals and the lower back. It’s important not to neglect your back in favor of strengthening your core — they’re both crucial muscle groups for cycling and should be as balanced as possible.
How’s that for a full-body workout? You should be getting a better understanding of why cycling is so beneficial!
What Will Cycling Do For My Body?
Cycling benefits include:
- Low-impact — that smooth pedaling action offers you an effective workout that’s also easy on the joints.
- Increases metabolism — studies indicate cycling for 45 minutes continues burning up to 37 percent more calories post-workout.
- Improves cardiovascular health — riding a bicycle is an aerobic exercise elevating heart rate.
- Climbing inclines, sprint intervals, and cycling in big gears creates resistance — developing lean muscle mass and increasing strength.
- Promotes better posture, flexibility and balance.
- Burns fat — the aerobic advantages of rides means you can drop body fat — creating definition.
- Encourages weight loss — riding your bike (14-15.9mph) for 30 minutes burns up to 450 calories. Combine that with a sensible diet, and you’re on the way to shedding pounds.
What Muscles Does Cycling Work FAQs
“Does Cycling Build Muscle?”
It sure does. Bike exercise will build muscle. Plus, the more muscle you have, the easier it is to lose fat! A higher muscle mass has a positive effect on metabolism.
“Can You Lose Belly Fat by Cycling?”
Experts suggest that the best kind of exercise to get rid of belly fat is a combination of cardio and resistance training. Cycling has elements of both — cardiovascular stimulation and pedaling against resistance.
However, when you’re off the bike, try adding a strength training routine. Lifting weights will improve your riding ability.
If you’re serious about losing belly fat, you should alternate between low-intensity, steady-state training (LISS) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This has shown to be more effective than one or the other.
“Does Cycling Make Your Legs Bigger”
Ladies, there’s no need to worry about gaining hulk-like legs! As cycling builds muscle and helps get rid of fat, you should tone up not bulk up.
Conclusion: What Muscles Does Cycling Work?
Answer—almost all of them! At least, that’s how it feels when you wake up the day after a serious ride.
When it comes to choosing a well-rounded workout, you can pick riding bike any time.
Your lower body musculature will get a heck of a session if you do it with any more intensity than a leisurely Sunday ride — and even some of your upper body muscles will be used if you’re on the road.
If you’re on a stationary bike — you’ll still be working some mammoth muscle groups!