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How Cycling Affects Your Muscles



How Cycling Affects Your Muscles

When we talk about muscle development, most people associate it with hitting the gym. And although weight-lifting, anaerobic exercises are probably the fastest way to build lean muscles, there are other ways you can achieve great muscle tone. Cycling is one of those sports which can be said that it’s good for your health overall. 

Not only does cycling help you train your lower part of the body – quadriceps, and hamstrings in the upper leg, and soleus and gastrocnemius in the calf – it also significantly improves your core strength. What most people actually don’t realize is that cycling can also affect your upper body muscles – triceps, biceps, and deltoids. On top of everything, as a predominantly aerobic exercise, cycling also keeps you in great shape. We shouldn’t disregard the fact that it can keep a person healthy, as a direct consequence of all of these characteristics.

We’ve created this article in order to give you insight on how cycling can have a profound effect on your overall body musculature and health. So, let’s further break down all the muscles/ muscle groups that cycling involves.


Thighs – Hamstrings and Quadriceps

Having those huge, tree-trunk-shaped legs can be an unanswered wish for many people. Even though your best bet for building these muscles would have to be lifting a lot of heavy weights (squats and deadlifts are essential exercises in this regard), cycling can also make you gain some serious upper leg strength. That’s the main reason why those muscle groups are so actively engaged in cycling, and why does it happen so often that a cyclist needs those special jeans.

In order to achieve this, you’re going to have to ride for many hours a week: some 15 to 20 hours a week is a must if you aim to have those legs that you pride yourself in. Quads are responsible for pushing the pedals down, while hamstrings are sweeping them up. They do most of the work when you’re cycling – they contract intermittently, together creating the pedaling action. Now, think of the pedal stroke motion as if it’s a clock – there’s a push-power phase and a pull-upstroke phase. Different muscles and muscle groups are engaged throughout this motion. We’ll try to explain which muscles exactly are active while a cyclist performs this movement.

There’s also a difference if a cyclist is pedaling while in the saddle, or while she or he is standing. In the first case, most power happens when the pedals are between 12 o’clock and 5 o’clock. That’s when the quads are most actively engaged, and even more so if a cyclist is riding steeper terrain. What happens next is that hamstrings are helping to bring the pedals back to the starting position (12 o’clock) from the bottom of the stroke.


Calves – Soleus and Gastrocnemius

The muscles that make this motion possible are also calves. Together with hamstrings, they are also active when a cyclist returns the foot to the top range – between 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock position in the pedal revolution.

Gastrocnemius medialis and gastrocnemius lateralis are working both in the so-called push-power phase and the pull-upstroke phase. They are actually engaged the most during the push-power phase. This is especially the case with the gastrocnemius medialis. We’d have to say that this particular muscle is most active somewhere between 1:30 o’clock, all the way until 7 o’clock. On the other side, gastrocnemius lateralis is active even longer – somewhere between 1 o’clock and 8:30. 

In short: if you want to have those much sought-out ’tear-drop’ calves, together with nicely toned thighs, then cycling is definitely a great choice for you. The fastest way to achieve this is by starting immediately and riding long hours every week. In case you’re worried that this would put your bike under a lot of strain, make sure to invest in the high-quality bike and gear, like the ones you can find at the Bicycles Online shop. As an outcome, not only will you ensure your bike is in perfect condition every time you go out for a ride, but you’ll also be safer on your way to getting more fit, leaner, and having a more visible muscular tone all around your body.


Glutes – Gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus (Together With the Rest)

Have you ever wondered why cyclists often times have perfectly shaped glutes? The answer to this question lies in the fact that those three muscles are working very, very hard when the push-power phase happens.

Gluteus maximus is especially engaged from the starting, 12 o’clock position. It remains active until 5 o’clock. Gluteus maximus works at the same time (not throughout the same range of motion, but periodically) together with vastus medialis, rectus femoris, semimembranosus, biceps femoris (long head), vastus lateralis, gastrocnemius medialis and lateralis, and soleus.

As you can see, all these muscle groups have to work in complete synergy in order to make a bicycle move. The only muscle that works relatively independently from all these that we’ve mentioned is the tibialis anterior. That muscle works together with rectus femoris, from around 8 o’clock to 1 o’clock. It overlaps for a short period of time with gastrocnemius lateralis at the beginning, and vastus medialis and lateralis at the end.

Core Strength

Another huge advantage of riding a bike, when it comes to developing good muscle tone and becoming stronger in general, is the fact that your core works tremendously when you’re cycling. There’s a popular saying that the abs are made in the kitchen, but it can be also said that they’re equally made while riding.

There are two main reasons why this is the case. The first one involves the way you’re positioned while cycling. Your abdomen has to work out a lot in order to support the back – that’s why so many people experience back pain when they’re cycling for longer periods of time. The explanation is rather simple – both their core and back muscles aren’t strong enough to support the upper body. While it’s true that cycling can be hugely beneficial for overall muscle development, it’s also important for pro athletes to regularly hit the gym. They should work out all muscle groups in order to get better results. The core muscles are no different – the cyclists should work towards making their core muscles stronger, while biking also makes those muscles work, in return.

The second reason why riding a bike is advantageous to your core muscles is the fact that you’re performing a cardiovascular (aerobic) activity and burning calories. The math here is rather simple – in order to lose weight and have those six-pack abs, you need to spend more calories than you take in throughout the day. There are around 4,000 calories in a pound of fat, so you do the math about your own caloric deficit if an average adult needs around 2,000 calories to maintain her or his current body weight. If you burn enough calories by cycling (or any other form of activity) your abs are bound to show after some time.

Arms and Shoulders – Biceps, Triceps, Deltoids

Your arms, especially biceps and triceps are all working together with the core muscles in order to support your upper body.

To be frank, you can’t really expect to build a significant muscle mass in your arms, if the only form of exercise that you perform is cycling. 

Nevertheless, the fact that you can change many positions while riding can mean a difference in the amount of stress you provide to your arms and shoulders. In order to sustain these various movements, your upper body works to adapt, thus engaging those muscle groups as well.

Frequent changes in position – alternately standing, sitting, leaning forward, ducking, etc. can help your arms and shoulders get toned. Together with the fact that you’ll be getting leaner in general, will make these muscles more visible. As a direct result of the shifts and body movements, the entire arms and shoulders region will be put under pressure, thus making the muscles work extra in order to support the upper body.


Even though cycling alone won’t exactly make you swole or buff, it can be huge in keeping your muscles in balance. Not only does cycling work your upper legs and calves, but it also gives a nice tone to your arms (triceps and biceps), your shoulders (all three of the deltoid muscles), and your core muscles.

It’s basically a win-win situation – you’ll get leaner, stronger, and more healthy at the same time. So, there’s no need to wait any longer – go online and shop everything you need for your new favorite two-wheeler friend. Just make sure to ride fairly regularly, and you’ll most definitely have all those muscle groups worked in a great and fun way at the same time. 

That’s why cycling beats any other form of activity – it gives you both a cheap and quick way of transportation, it helps you get/ stay fit, healthy, and muscular. Not to mention that all of these things happen while you’re enjoying other perks of cycling: the beautiful scenery, nature, or pleasurable city ride. Either way, you simply can’t go wrong when opting for including cycling in your daily life.

Lena Hemsworth is a lifestyle blogger, foodie, and loves to lose herself in a good book. She's also an everlasting enthusiast who believes that there is nothing better than starting your day with a hot cup of coffee.