14 Tips About Cycling Toning Your Arms


Regular cyclists like me are fully aware of the role cycling plays in a body’s transformation. From a resistance, strength, and speed perspective, cycling builds the muscular anatomy while targeting cardiovascular durability. 

Cycling tones and utilizes all the arm muscles (biceps, triceps, and deltoids respectively), and they all get an excellent workout.

In this guide, we explore the reasons and facts by which cycling influences your arms by toning your biceps, triceps, and deltoids, a few FAQs, things to avoid, things to adopt to turn cycling into a full-body workout, and other major cycling instructions. 

In short, you’ve found your answers to everything you’ve been wondering about cycling and upper body muscles. This is the ultimate 14 tips about cycling and arm toning!

Mountain biker going down a dirt hill

1. Cycling and Arm Toning 

Have you noticed that cycling 3-4 times per week is getting your upper body more buffed, even though you haven’t been doing any specific bicep/triceps workout? If you think you sound silly, don’t, because the answer is yes, biking is causing it! 

Specifically cycling on hills or similar places put more stress on the arms, making your muscles toned without you even trying. 

As you cycle, you naturally pull on the bars to oppose the downward force your legs apply to the pedals. On hills, you can feel it more. But you also get lean as your body burns fat. 

When you lose fat, you lose weight from everywhere, not just your legs. In this way, a bicycle is a great fitness machine, cheap, and a great human-powered transport device that simultaneously tones your arms. 

What more can you ask from an exercise, that even works on the muscles it doesn’t naturally target? 

The muscle groups that are used, targeted, toned, and exercised during a cycling workout are:

  1. Calf – soleus, and gastrocnemius;
  2. Thigh – hamstrings and quadriceps;
  3. Arms – biceps, and triceps;
  4. Shoulders – Deltoids;
  5. Foot – Plantar flexors and Dorsiflexors
  6. The Upper Body

While riding, your upper body is what helps you stay stable and retain your balance when you need to stand, duck, or lean forward.  Especially when a change of direction is needed, these muscles are hard at work.

Keeping your body weight upright like this for longer periods can help to tone your arms. 

It’s important to ensure your positioning is correct when riding. Minor mistakes can lead to major issues and can cause numbness and tingling in the arms, as well as thumb, hand, and wrist pain.

2. Arm Action = Calories Burned

When writing this article, I found a piece of research between two groups of cyclists.

One group of cyclists rode with lots of upper body muscular involvement. The other group rode with minimal upper body movement.

Comparative analysis between the two groups found that the group with vigorous upper body movements not only lost more calories via cycling, greatly improved heart and lung function but also had strong upper bodies. (Source).

While riding around on difficult-to-cycle areas, try to jump and wheelie your front tire over objects here and there; if you’re riding on the street, try to jump curbs and bunny hop on curbs. 

Be careful with traffic and try to find a trail or a route you can master, to avoid any inconvenience. A quick upper-body workout after you’ve done your riding helps as well.

3. Recumbent Bike

Forearm is often the forgotten element in your workout, but you can build strength in your forearms, wrists, and grip while riding a recumbent bike. Cross your arms over your stomach with the hand of the outer arm pointed out slightly from the body. 

Hold a lightweight – such as 2 to 5 pounds – in the hand that’s on the outside. Lift and lower the weight for 12 repetitions, then turn your hand over and do 12 more repetitions before switching hands. 

You can also hold a firm stress ball in each hand and squeeze for three seconds. Do this for at least two minutes.

4. Change in Position

Cycling strengthens the upper body as well as the lower.

While this area of the body is least attributed to cycling, the usage of arm muscles: biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles: deltoids cannot be overlooked. 

Many cyclists have to change positions while riding, some to a larger extent than others. Whether standing, leaning forward, or ducking on trial rides, upper body support is necessary to sustain these movements.

These shifts in body movements place pressure on the upper body and help to tone and strengthen the region. 

5. Resistance Training

You can get a fuller workout by doing upper-body resistance exercises while cycling.

For instance, alternate doing biceps curls and triceps extensions while cycling at a brisk pace. Start with light weights until you’re comfortable performing the coordinated, advanced movement. 

Over time, resistance training will help develop muscles in your arms and shoulders. As an added benefit, the upper-body movements and their variations will help you burn more calories than cycling alone. 

6. Mountain Bikes and Freestyles

Mountain bikers and other cyclists doing technical riding and stunts also have heavy upper bodies. Many tricks and techniques involved in those sports utilize the upper body to a larger extent than it may seem. 

Gaining extra muscle mass is useful for improving joint stabilization during landing stunts.

Even though no trick is limited by arm strength, these still require strong arms because the elbows and the wrists take some of the landing impacts. 

7. Why Tone Your Arms?

How many times have you hit a descent and move your hands to the drops, only to realize your arms feel more tired than your legs? You should be thankful for your triceps as they are the ones holding you up on the bike. 

This is the reason why triceps and bicep exercises are important to include in your strength-training regime.

When most of your power is coming from your lower body during cycling, it’s easy to miss the importance of the upper body. 

“Your triceps – a three-headed muscle along the back of your arm – is crucial when it comes to not just controlling the handlebars, but literally propping yourself up on those bars over long distances”, says Matthew Johnson, a certified trainer and fitness instructor.

8. Tingly Fingers

Your hands play a really important role in controlling your bike and maintaining your position and balance. It can be extremely dangerous for your hands to go numb or tingly during cycling, especially if you’re going at full speed. 

Cycling expert Metzl says “you have two major nerves that run very close to the skin under your wrist, placing too much pressure on them by riding a single position for too long can cause finger tingling and numbness, especially down the pinky and ring fingers”. 

Wearing padded gloves reduces the pressure.

You also need to remove your hands around on the bars to minimize the amount of prolonged pressure focused on any one spot.

This would be hard if you are a mountain biker, but you can still loosen your grip and move your hands around from time to time to relieve pressure and avoid pain.

Two cyclists on road bikes going downhill

9. Muscle Contribution

Though to a lesser extent, bicycle riding does incorporate your upper-body muscle groups. Your back and torso muscles, for example, are vital for maintaining balance while cycling. 

However, the biceps and triceps in your arms and the muscles in your shoulders; the deltoids, also contribute to maintaining stability. 

Even though the role of these muscles is to stabilize the body, they sometimes also propel it forward with force (though less than the lower-body muscles), these muscles also get buffed.

Here we see how hard a cyclist’s arms work in concert with their legs

10. Upper Body and Arm Bikes

Another way that cycling helps in toning your upper body muscles is if you use an arm bike. People don’t usually prefer using these unless they have to due to certain injuries. 

If you have a leg injury or are confined to a wheelchair, even low-impact options like swimming or traditional cycling are off-limits.

That’s where an arm bike comes in, so you don’t have to be on the sidelines completely. 

The arm bike offers an effective alternative for improving your heart rate, shedding calories, in addition to toning your arms. Some machines also provide cycling for both the lower and upper body, hence offering a total body workout.

11. Cross-Training

Sports such as running or cycling have a few options for cross-training that provide aerobic conditioning but rests the legs. The arm bike comes again into action here, providing true cross-training by enabling you to use your arms to enhance oxygen usage in your body and build cardio endurance during exercise. 

Note: Track cyclists don’t develop their musculature only on the track. They follow strength training regimens including basic exercises like squat and bench presses. As a result, their torso muscles and limbs grow significantly even though their sport is not dependent on upper-body mass.

12. Variations

Cycling offers an alternative to the health club standard-issue treadmills, stationary bicycles, and elliptical trainers.

However, doing the same workout every day leads to boredom and diminishing results as your body becomes accustomed.

You can introduce the variant of an arm bike. Because most people are not accustomed to pedaling with their arms, a workout on an arm bike can be more challenging than using the treadmill, or general cycling.

You don’t have to acquire high levels of coordination to begin exercise on an arm bike.

13. Fat for Fuel

Did you know that you can get a great arm workout on a stationary bike? (Source

The way to see and feel toned arms is to remove fat and build muscles.

According to the American council, an arm cycling workout burns approximately nine calories per minute, when you exercise at a heart rate greater than 70 % of your maximum heart rate. 

While you can’t tell your body which areas to burn fat, you will burn fat from all over, including your arms, hence the result of the toned arm via cycling. 

Your arm cycling workout needs to be a minimum of 15 minutes to alter your arms.

After a 5 minute warm-up of low to medium paced cycling, increase your pedaling speed to a level that elevates your heart rate into your training range. If the machine allows, vary your motions forward and backward to change the target on your arms. 

14. Targeted Toning

As you push and pull on the pedals of the arms cycle, your muscles contract, which improves your tone. Arm cycling uses your triceps, biceps, and deltoids. As your elbow flexes and extends your biceps and triceps contract. With persistent contractions, the muscle counters with improved strength and tone.

Defeating the hilly regions in your cycling routes is demanding yet worthy. You will get to notice more upper body development from rocking the bike there and pulling the arms. 

How Does Your Riding Style Change Which Muscles You Use?

The use of muscles during cycling depends on the type of riding you are doing. A lot of road cycling is about holding an invariable position for longer periods, which can result in aches if the setup is uncomfortable. 

Similar to a triathlete, you should consider positioning yourself high and forward, to avoid knee pain and enhance your tempo. Mountain biking is also a good option, it is considered to be even a more complete workout than road riding. 

Injury Risks

While cycling is a low-impact exercise, too much of it without any other exercises can become dangerous to your overall health, even if it’s arm cycling. 

Cycling has the advantage that it puts the load on the lower body than many forms of exercise, so it’s less likely that you pull a muscle. 

However, there are certain risks from holding the same position for long intervals; those of repetitive strain injury and aches and pains. Particularly if your bike setup isn’t correct, hence a fit bike is crucial.

Knee injury is the largest cause of injury that cycling physiotherapist Nichola Roberts sees in her practice. She tells that poor bike fit is the primary cause of knee pain, followed by trauma from an accident. 

A perfectly fitted bike can prevent many of the overuse injuries that occur from a poor position (Source).

Get the Most Out Of Cycling

Cycling is one of the most versatile exercises there ever was.

Few other workouts allow you to exercise indoors and outdoors, if you don’t feel like going out but want to cycle, there’s always indoor cycling via stationary bike. Follow these tips to make the most out of your cycling exercise: 

  1. A comfortable cycle is the most important thing to get any exercise from cycling at all;
  2. To avoid any injuries, always build up cycling volume slowly;
  3. To put minimal pressure on your joints, try maintaining your speed between 90-120 rpm;
  4. To really get those arm muscles working hard, make friends with the hills. They will help you tone your biceps, triceps, besides improving your fitness, and strength.
  5. There’s no point in an exercise if you’re uncomfortable in any way. Make sure to dress properly for cycling: warm clothing for outdoors is recommended.
  6. Clip-less pedals are a new way to up your cycling game. When your foot isn’t held in place with a clip, your muscles are in control of the whole pedal stroke, which aids in a better muscle toning effect. 

TIP: A gel saddle cover is an easy and cheap option for a comfortable fit. It can enhance comfort and you can move it from cycle to cycle easily. 

Tone Those Biceps and Triceps

If your arms get tired before your legs, your bicycle does not fit you properly. Your handlebars can either be too low, too far, or too loose.

Any of these will put more stress on your arms, shoulders, and neck when it shouldn’t be so because cycling mainly focuses on the lower body. 

A good bike is one that distributes your weight evenly and allows you to ride with a relaxed upper body posture, which also improves bike handling and makes the exercise more effective.

A lot of emphasis is placed on the aerobic benefits of cycling but you are also giving a wide range of muscles a workout while cycling, whether it’s outdoors or via indoor cycling.

The key muscle groups that cycling targets are the major ones in the human body. 

The contribution of the upper body consists of stabilization and pulling when riding out of the saddle. Adjust and variate your riding style, choice of bike, and type of riding to maximize upper body and core exercise and training in addition to the lower body.

Sources

How to Tone Your Arms on a Bike https://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/how-to-tone-your-arms-on-a-bike

Cycling Biomechanics https://www.physio-pedia.com/Cycling_Biomechanics

How to Improve Core Strength for Cyclists https://youtu.be/KmHqBYFYwmc

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. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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