What Muscles does cycling work?

Cycling is an impressive display of endurance, stamina, and resilience. However, what people often forget is that all these qualities allow you to move the bike forward with your strength.

In a nutshell – every pedal stroke means mobilizing your body to generate energy to activate primary muscles for motion.

So which leg muscles do you employ while cycling? And when are they most engaged? Read on and we’ll tell you!

So Which Muscles are Affected?

As an expert in cycling regularly, Melissa Sebastian – health and wellness coordinator with Trek Bikes-can attest to the fact that your leg muscles are key when riding a bike.

These include your quadriceps muscles, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles. To pedal effectively one must mix strength and precision; push (the knee extending) as well as pull (knee bending upward).

As you depress the pedal not only will you activate all quadricep muscle groups but also those in the calves.

On upwards movements of pedaling both hamstring glutes along with shin muscles gain activation. When done right each movement becomes natural allowing for greater performance!

Taking the terrain into account is essential when biking. For instance, climbing hills requires more quad and calf muscle engagement than flat land while going downhill ordinarily calls for less leg effort as you take advantage of momentum rather than strength to go forward.

On a stationary bike, although you can’t realistically traverse real hills, it is still possible to replicate them by increasing or decreasing resistance accordingly so that your experience closely resembles what would happen in an outdoor ride.

As you cycle, your upper body will benefit from the exercise too. Specifically, your biceps, triceps, and shoulders as they work to stay in place with squared-off shoulders, bent elbows tucked into the torso, and neutral wrists.

Furthermore, your chest and back are engaged to keep you steady while biking. According to Sebastian, this is an excellent way of toning up the entire upper body and prevent knee pain, and exercising your hip flexors!

Cycling is not just an excellent way to condition your whole body, but it also strengthens your core.

As per Kathleen Kulikowski, Master SoulCycle Instructor on Equinox, when you set up the seat and handlebars at a hip height position – with knees slightly bent at 25-35 degrees – then your core stays engaged throughout the entire ride. So make sure you have them adjusted correctly!

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cycling

Great inquiry! Whether you choose to ride an outdoor or indoor bike, both will provide a full-body workout. Nonetheless, the type of bicycle may determine how heavily certain muscles are utilized.

Riding an outdoor bike requires more work from your upper body and core than a stationary one would. Road bikes are less stable, which puts extra strain on the back, chest, and core to keep balance while riding.

Sebastian explains that this is especially true for the transverse abdominis lower body muscles group – it has to labor hard when dealing with wobbly surfaces to prevent any side-to-side movement happening during cycling.

An indoor cycling class that incorporates arm movements like bicep curls, shoulder presses, or tricep dips will undoubtedly work your upper body more than a ride without those exercises.

Similarly, if you participate in hands-free riding or dance moves that require the use of your core muscles to keep you upright and prevent flopping off your bike seat, then those additional muscular activations are sure to give you an extra burn!

As Sebastian puts it best: “The possibilities for intense workouts when taking an indoor cycling class are quite endless.”

Embark on an invigorating indoor cycling class that incorporates additional movements such as bicep curls, shoulder presses, and tricep dips to maximize your arm muscles’ workout.

Moreover, classes that involve hands-free riding or dancing like shimmies and shakes ensure you activate your core even further otherwise you’ll be at risk of flopping off the bike – warns Sebastian!

What are the other benefits of cycling?

1. Cycling may help you lose weight

Routinely riding a bike, particularly with vigorous intensity, can be beneficial for weight management as it reduces body fat (1).

Furthermore, research indicates that combining cycling with sprint and strength training stimulates the metabolism to burn more calories even when not exercising (2).

Incorporating these activities into your workout routine is therefore suggested if you want to manage your weight effectively.

2. Cycling will help strengthen your legs

Make your bike rides even better and get your legs in shape with some weightlifting exercises, such as squats, leg presses, and lunges!

Cycling is an excellent way to boost overall function in the lower body while also strengthening major muscle groups like quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves – all without over-stressing joints.

3. Cycling is good for beginners

Riding a bike is fairly simple. If you have difficulty with a standard bicycle, stationary bikes are a great alternative.

If you’re new to fitness or bouncing back from an injury or illness, you can cycle at a low intensity. As you get fitter, you can increase the intensity or continue to cycle at a chill pace.

Studies have shown that even sedentary people reap the health benefits of cycling, so it can be a great introduction for exercise novices (1).

4. Cycling lowers cholesterol

Cycling can be an invaluable practice that contributes to your health and well-being. Recent studies have indicated its potential in improving lipid profiles, which may reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

One review of 300 trials even suggested indoor cycling has an overall beneficial effect on total cholesterol.

5. Cycling is good for mental health

Suffering from stress, depression, or anxiety? Consider cycling! Not only does it help you stay in the moment and improve concentration by focusing on your cadence or route – research shows it can also benefit cognitive functioning.

In particular, a study found that older adults who practice outdoor cycling experienced improved well-being.

Need an extra shot of energy to get through the day? Try going for a 10-minute spin on your bike! Exercise is not just good for physical health but can provide emotional relief as well.

So if you’re feeling sluggish – hop on your bicycle and take off into the horizon!

Exercise releases endorphins that help combat stress and lift your mood, according to one remarkable study.

Working out outdoors has proven far more advantageous than an indoor exercise in producing these feel-good hormones.

If you make cycling a part of your daily routine, you will undoubtedly experience an elevated sense of confidence and satisfaction!

6. Cycling can help people with cancer

Cycling is an excellent way to get back into healthy habits for anyone dealing with cancer. However, it’s important to take precautions and remember that fatigue or pain may be present during treatment.

Always consult your healthcare team before exercising, and don’t overexert yourself if you’re not feeling up for it.

On top of that, cycling can even reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by helping maintain a lean figure while keeping fit!

Recent research has indicated that being active during breast cancer treatment can drastically reduce the side effects and improve one’s quality of life.

For those suffering from this debilitating disease, staying active is essential for managing fatigue levels and improving their well-being.

7. Cycling can offer a positive start to your morning

Starting your day with a healthy habit like cycling is the ideal way to jumpstart your circulation while giving yourself an instant sense of accomplishment. It may even motivate you to make healthier choices throughout the day.

For casual cyclists, engaging in fasted morning rides at a low intensity has been proven to reduce fat levels, improve endurance performance, and give you more energy throughout the rest of your day.

However, trained athletes mustn’t attempt this before long-distance bike rides as it can be detrimental to their health.

8. Cycling may help prevent and manage medical conditions

Taking part in regular physical activity is essential to avoiding and effectively managing health problems.

Cycling, specifically, can make all the difference when it comes to reducing your risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack as well as minimizing high blood pressure.

Furthermore, new studies suggest that engaging in cycling over an extended period (at least 5 years) has been proven to lower mortality rates among those living with diabetes by up to 35%.

Therefore, if you want the best chance at maintaining good health for many years into the future – get out there on two wheels!

9. Cycling is environmentally friendly

Choosing to ride a bike rather than drive can have an immense impact on reducing your carbon footprint.

Recently, research conducted in Europe revealed that cycling for at least one of your daily commutes decreases the associated transportation-related carbon emissions by 67%.

Cycling is also ideal when you want to reach nearby destinations without having to trek there and back; another advantage lies in not needing an expensive parking space in crowded areas. Make sure you cycle whenever possible – it’s a great way to help protect our environment!

10. Cycling improves balance, posture, and coordination

As you maintain control of your bike, it not only strengthens balance and coordination but also enhances the way you walk.

Balance begins to deteriorate with age or lack of physical activity, so make sure that you don’t let yours decline!

Decreasing muscle imbalances is a strong preventive measure against falls and fractures; it can help protect from injuries as well as keep life-limiting conditions at bay.


Cycling is an incredibly versatile form of exercise with a multitude of benefits. From developing muscles to reducing the risk of health problems, this activity can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities.

Not only does cycling provide a great way to keep fit but it also has environmental advantages and helps to improve your overall sense of well-being.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the fresh air – your body and mind will thank you!

Happy cycling!

Similar Posts