13 Cycling Benefits For Legs (+Tips)


The best thing about cycling for exercise is that it is easy and you can start anytime you want. They say that you never forget how to ride a bike, so maybe it’s time that you hop on a bike to enjoy all the benefits that it offers – specifically leg toning.

Cycling is considered to be the best leg work out there is. Even though it can be referred to as a whole-body workout, the leg muscles are the primary targets for cycling benefits. The results of cycling on the lower body major muscle groups are limitless. 

Cycling is the best form of exercise as it is ‘socially oriented, it’s fun, and it gets you outside and exercising,’ says Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

If you’ve tried cycling, you may have noticed that your muscles are sore all over – not just your legs. Road and mountain biking work similar muscles to indoor cycling, but recumbent bikes (whether stationary or on the road) require less work from the upper body and core. 

While cycling, the calories you can burn depend on how intense and how long you work out. (Source)

Here’s what your leg muscles can expect from any form of cycling that you’re doing, be it indoor, outdoor, stationary, or recumbent bike.

mountain bikers going up a hill

1. Cycling Sculpts Muscles – Fast!

Your legs begin to reap the benefits from cycling as soon as you hop on the bike and start pedaling. If you observe the lower body of any competitive rider, you must have noticed the perfectly toned and sculpted muscles because of the powerful effect of cycling on the legs. 

Exercise bikes offer a great deal of help in getting your legs in shape and toning them quickly if done right. The easiest and obvious way of toning muscles is to pedal faster. 

Since it is common knowledge that the legs are the first to get into shape and they are the focal point of the exercise of cycling, regular cycling results in toned legs as these muscle groups take the most effect via cycling. 

Even though the entire body and other major muscle groups also get affected by cycling, the importance of the impact of cycling on the lower body is unmatched from its impact on the upper body.

2. A Constructive Beginning to Your Day

Studies have shown that people who chose cycling as their exercise of choice in the morning, are more active throughout the day. 

Starting your day with a healthy activity like cycling wakes you up by boosting your circulation and allows you to start the day with a strong sense of accomplishment. 

If you want to burn fat, enhance endurance performance, and boost your energy and metabolism levels throughout the day, try fasted morning rides at a low intensity.

A 2019 study showed that people who had a habit of exercising before breakfast improved their response to insulin, which helped them in burning twice as much fat as those who exercised after breakfast.

Since the major attention of cycling is focused on the leg muscles, these are the first ones to start getting into shape a few days after you begin cycling.

3. Greater Leg Strength

An increase in leg strength is achieved by using a low cadence and high resistance. Cadence refers to how fast the pedals are rotating.

To increase leg strength, you should utilize a cadence below 80 revolutions per minute, says a February 2016 Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism article. 

Focus on using a gear that provides considerable resistance. For instance, on an 18-speed bike, set it in high and fourth gear. 

Gear back if you find it too much of an effort until you increase your fitness level. Cycling improves overall function in your lower body and strengthens your leg muscles without putting undue stress on them. It targets your hamstrings, calves, glutes, and quads.

To make your legs even stronger, try incorporating weightlifting exercises, such as squats, leg presses, and lunges, a few times per week into your workout regime, to further enhance your cycling performance.

4. Enhanced Leg Endurance

The short answer for whether or not cycling is going to make your legs huge is – no. (Source

The enhancement of leg endurance requires the opposite effect and effort as leg strength, it calls for a high cadence and low resistance.

It is recommended to utilize a cadence of more than 100 rpm and a relatively low gear. For instance, on an 18-speed bike, place it in low and sixth.

Note: a higher cadence could leave you gasping for breath. Switch between lower resistance and higher cadence and vice versa to find your suitable pace and combination as per your level of fitness.

Of course there is a bit of debate about the validity of strength training through cycling. This video offers an interesting debate on the topic:

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5. Leg Strength and Stationary Bike

Stationary bikes are an excellent option if you want to build strength and endurance. Biking targets most of the muscles in your lower body and can create quite an impact, depending on the resistance settings. 

If you are ready to face a challenge and build leg strength, try gradually increasing the resistance to a more challenging level, so the muscles can get to work.

When you exercise for a significant length of time, it toughens and revitalizes muscles and acts as effective strength training. The constant relaxation and contraction of muscles while cycling is a strong exercise that aids in muscle toning. 

6. Gaining Muscles via Stationary Bike

Stationary bikes are the perfect way to tone your legs, thighs, and buttocks in addition to your arms, abdominal, and back muscles. Your muscles are hard at work when you increase the resistance of your exercise bike. 

A low resistance level is good for improving endurance and warming up, but a higher resistance is necessary to gain muscle mass. 

The muscles of the lower body are constantly in action on the exercise bike: the hamstrings, the glutes, your quadriceps, and your calves.

7. Stationary Bike and Your Joints

In case of any injuries or rehabilitation after some knee or an ankle sprain, an exercise bike is ideal and a soft sport to work your muscles. Indoor cycling is a low-impact sport that gently works the joints without putting too much stress. 

However, pay strict attention to your choice of stationary bike. For instance, if you want to find the best kind of bike for your knees, first determine the fragility of your knees. 

Two mountain bikers on a dirt trail through a forest

8. Build Muscle Mass

The resistance element of cycling means that it doesn’t just burn fat, it also builds muscle – particularly around the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

People with a higher percentage of muscle i.e. mostly men are enabled to burn more calories via all exercises including cycling. 

It should be kept in mind that developing quads like a track sprinter would require you to devote a serious amount of time to the exercise.

9. Tone Your Quadriceps Muscles – Thighs 

A cycle begins to move when the knee and hip put pressure down on the pedal. This action is helped by other muscles as well, like the glutes and quad muscles, and then later on by the hamstrings and calf muscles. 

The thigh muscles or quads work the cycle in the pull-upstroke phase. During cycling, one specific group of the quadriceps muscles is majorly involved, i.e. the rectus femoris. 

Therefore, cycling is one of the best methods to get your thigh muscles toned and in shape, with minimal effort and without overstressing your joints.

10. Cycle to Tone Your Calf Muscles

Even though the calf muscles play a small role in cycling, the benefits reaped by these muscles are almost as much as the other muscles of your body

Cycling works the muscles of your calves (soleus and gastrocnemius muscles) through the action of plantarflexion, during the pedal stroke.

The action of plantarflexion happens at the points of the pedal stroke which correspond to five and six on a clock face, as your foot flexes and your toes point downwards.

If you want to get toned and shapely legs in a shorter time span, you will have to increase the resistance on your bike to add to the intensity of the workout. 

Doing so will simulate uphill cycling. However, always keep in mind not to continue with a high resistance routine for longer periods or you might run the danger of straining your knees or risk other serious injuries.

11. Tone Your Glutes – Butt Muscles

Get out of the house, head to the hills, and improve your muscle toning by cycling there. Steep hills make your muscles work harder than usual, to start each pedal stroke. 

Riding uphill is hard work in itself and thus it places a high amount of stress on both your glutes and thigh muscles, giving them a hard time, a harder workout, and stimulating muscle fiber damage.

This damage is exactly what the human body needs for toning the leg muscles. It leads to improvement in strength and muscle toning once they’ve recovered from the stress.

Your gluteus Maximus is responsible for the beginning of the downward phase of the cycling pedal stroke and is at work whenever you are pedaling.

Who can say no to a little more toning and lift to their rear? The answer is no one! Cycling is an exceptionally extraordinary activity to tone your gluteal muscles.

12. Hips and Core

Contrary to popular belief, the hips and core generate much of the power for indoor cycling.

Hips and glutes strengthening exercises can help you improve your pace and comfort when you’re on the bike, resulting in the ultimate leg toning. 

In addition to this, participating in indoor cycling in a routine can help you tone and strengthen the muscles groups of your hips and glutes. It’s a win-win situation.

13. Low Impact Leg Toning

Cycling is considered to be one of the best low-impact exercise options among many others. Some people get confused while choosing between running and cycling, without knowing the major differences. 

Running is a weight-bearing exercise whereas cycling is not; it’s easy on the joints and results in lesser injuries as compared to running. It is the best low-impact way to get your leg muscles toned including hamstrings, glutes, quads, etc. 

Scientists have conducted researches that showed that long-distance runners suffered a lot more muscle damage as compared to cyclists. 

However, since cycling is not a weight-bearing exercise, it doesn’t do much in the department of increasing bone density as other weight-bearing exercises – hence it’s always a good idea to incorporate strength training into your exercise regime. 

Furthermore, whilst cycling is less likely to result in an overuse injury, it can still occur. A professional bike fit is important. If you plan to act economically in this area, you might end up spending even more money on physiotherapy, in the long run. 

Top Tips For Focussing on Your Legs Through Cycling

Cycling Around Hills and Sprints

Riding around lots of hills and sprints will make you stronger and eventually build muscle.

Hills offer the best arms and legs toning and within a short amount of time.

Sprinters who regularly choose to cycle on hills can develop the best quads over time. 

Next-Level Toned Legs 

If you want toned legs like those of professional cyclists, ride your bike for 15-20 hours a week. Professional cyclists have a larger thigh muscle cross-section than non-cyclists. 

‘Strong’ is different than ‘big’ and in this regard, every person’s unique body makeup will react differently to the effects of cycling. This is especially true with the quadriceps muscles that push the pedals down, and the large hamstrings muscles that help sweep the pedals up are the ones that get the most pronounced. 

Riding at a slow, long, and steady pace is sure to put you in a fat-burning zone so your muscle mass may grow while fat decreases resulting in a different – a much better body composition and perfectly toned leg muscles.

Indoor Bike

Some people are unable to ride outside for one reason or other, for those people, indoor cycling is also a good option. 

There are two types of exercise bikes. An upright bike has the rider pedals in an upright position, similar to an outdoor bike. The second type is the recumbent bike, in which the rider is in a reclined position. These bikes provide more back support. 

Indoor cycling is still a perfect form of resistance training as it gets your heart rate high and works muscle groups of both the lower and the upper body. 

If you can’t ride outside, due to weather or other factors, cycling indoors on a stationary bike is just as effective for muscle toning. Choose a hilly course to get your muscles to work harder, in turn getting the most benefits. 

A Recumbent Bike

Recumbent bikes offer more back support than upright bikes. These bikes may call for getting used to, but sitting with a backrest has proven ideal for cyclists who want to give their backs some relief. 

Recumbent bikes similarly work on your lower body as other forms of cycling, with added support. People who have recovered from injuries don’t have to be completely cut off from exercise due to the option of recumbent bikes. The recumbent bike works on the following muscles of your body:

  1. Abs (core muscles)
  2. Calves
  3. Hamstrings
  4. Glutes (butt)
  5. Tibialis anterior (shin muscles)
  6. Quadriceps (thighs)

The main focus here is the legs muscles, therefore recumbent bikes can be considered a good option for toning your legs without having to go out.

The Difference in Toning Between Men and Women

One of the key factors that differentiate how cycling impacts the entire body is the difference of sexes, i.e. male or female. Since men tend to have more muscle mass than women because of a higher percentage of the hormone testosterone, the male body is affected faster and is more obvious.

Stationary Bike and Health Benefits

A routine workout on your stationary bike has far greater benefits than plain old muscle building and toning. It is better for your body, health, as well as your mood. 

As you pedal, the quadriceps (the large muscles in the front of the thighs) are hard at work, especially on the down-stroke. The muscles in the back of your thighs (the hamstrings) get a workout when your legs pull up during the up-stroke.

The calves get a workout on the down-stroke as well as up-stroke. Incorporate cycling into your daily routine and you are sure to end up with lean, strong legs from your hips to your ankles.

Happy Hormones!

The positive effects derived from exercises have an ever-lasting psychological effect on the minds of the exercisers. Exercises help in releasing happy hormones in the body, hence the uplifted mood and positivity.

Now that you’re aware of the benefits of the exercise of cycling on your legs, hop on your bike and make the most of your time. Share this article and spread awareness.

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site.

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