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If you’re looking for a good form of indoor cardio for your legs, then spinning is just about the best type of exercise you can find.
Spinning helps tone all the muscles of the legs and surrounding areas, while also being extremely kind to joints such as the knee. Spinning boosts leg endurance and can help with weight loss, making your legs look more sculpted.
I’ve been spinning for more than a decade, and in this guide, I’ll take a look at 12 of the most important spinning benefits for legs.
1. Spinning Tones (Rather Than Builds)
A big thing to get your head around is that indoor cycling is more about toning muscle than building it. I always tell this to people that are slightly concerned they will end up with massive legs.
You can definitely build muscle through spinning, and I’ll tell you exactly how to do that later in that post, but for the most part, spinning is more about toning and sculpting.
Cycling is a high-repetition activity done against a reasonably low resistance.
To really build muscle, you want to look to engage in low repetitions of an exercise against very high resistance (like lifting weights in the gym).
Cycling is always going to be more about a higher number of repetitions. When you cycle, you turn the pedals literally thousands of times.
This is ideal for toning muscle, rather than building it to excess.
2. Spinning Reduces Fatty Deposits In Key Areas (Such As Calves)
Indoor cycling is great for weight loss, and one of the interesting things about losing weight is that we all tend to lose weight disproportionately across our bodies.
Gender seems to play a big role in this. Research suggests that men tend to lose weight first from their trunk and core areas.
On the other hand, women often lose fat from their faces, back, and calves. (source)
So, in terms of how this impacts your legs, if you’re female and looking for sculpted and slimmer calves, then indoor cycling, with all its weight-loss properties, is a great choice.
|Gender||Where You Tend To Lose Weight First||Where You Tend To Lose Weight Last|
|Male||Core and trunk||Belly fat (this paradoxically often the first to go, but also the hardest to get rid of completely)|
|Female||Face, back, and calves||Hips and thighs|
3. Spinning Tones Your Quads
Let’s take a look at the muscles that are toned the most through cycling.
Number one of these is the quads!
The quadriceps are the large muscle group at the front of the thigh. They are the most important muscle group in cycling, as they are the main source of power exerted onto the pedals (helped by the calves and glutes).
The quads are activated from the top of the pedal revolution to the bottom – and their role is to power downwards on the pedals.
Quads are often the muscle that you will notice will be strengthened and toned first through cycling – sometimes only after a week or so.
Strong quads are also healthy for your knees, as the stronger muscle takes the strain off the joint and cartilage.
4. Spinning Tones Your Calves
Another muscle that is important in cycling is the calf.
The calves work alongside the quads (and the glutes) to power downwards on the pedals. They are activated at the same time as the quads, from the top of the pedal revolution to the bottom.
The calves are more strongly activated when you leave the saddle, and you can really feel the burn when climbing.
Have you ever seen the calves on the Tour de France cyclists! They’re a thing to behold.
Yours not might look quite like that after a couple of spinning sessions, but they will definitely be more toned and sculpted as time goes on if you stick with it.
5. Spinning Tones Your Hamstrings
The hamstrings are the large muscle group at the back of the thighs.
These are the muscle group that is activated at different periods of activity from the glutes, quads, and calves.
The job of the hamstrings is to bend the leg, and so they are activated from the bottom of the pedal revolution to the top.
Hamstrings are not as important to cycling as glutes or quads, but they are the next most important after these two (about as important as the calves).
Once again, a regular spinning regime will result in strengthened, toned, and healthy hamstrings.
6. Strengthen The Muscles Around Your Knees
Indoor cycling is often the go-to exercise of choice for many people returning from knee injuries and is often recommended by physiotherapists. (Source)
One of the main reasons for this is it strengthens the muscles around your knee.
There has been a Study done that I found on the National Library of Medicine website (Source) that concluded that cycling positively promotes knee ligament health.
It found that cycling strengthens the quad muscles in particular, while also not adding any strain to the knee ligaments and cartilage.
I also found a fantastic Youtube video by Professor Doctor J Bellermans where he states, “Cartilage is strengthened by short bouts (10-15 min) of cyclic, non-impact, or soft-impact exercise, of moderate intensity and resistance, and with sufficiently long intervening resting periods.“
Cycling is great for all this. It is:
- Moderate intensity
- Moderate resistance
Here is that Youtube video in full:
What other kinds of exercises are good for knee ligament and cartilage health?
Here are some popular cardio exercises in the following table. The more ‘yes’ answers you receive, the more healthy the exercise is for knee ligaments and cartilage:
|Exercise||Is It Cyclic?||Low-Impact?||Low/Moderate Intensity?||Ability To Have Breaks?|
7. Indoor Cycling Is Low-Impact So It Is Kind To Your Knees
Another really crucial feature of cycling for legs is that it is low-impact.
What does this mean?
Well, a high-impact activity is one that jolts and jars the joints in a repetitive way. Jogging is a good example of this. When you jog, your knees, ankles, and hips are subject to repetitive impacts and jerks.
Cycling is fully low-impact, as all movements are smooth and fluid.
This has many benefits for your joints and keeps them healthy and trauma-free.
Here’s a table that demonstrates a range of popular cardio exercises, and whether they are high-impact or low-impact:
|Exercise||Low Impact||High Impact|
8. Build Muscle Through High Resistance Spinning
If you’re really looking to build muscle in your legs through spinning, then the best way to do this is by turning up the resistance as high as possible.
This forces your legs and your glutes to apply much more force against the resistance. This results in small tears in the muscle fiber that are known as ‘micro-tears’.
These micro-tears will rebuild and grow back slightly stronger and larger.
To really speed along this process of muscle development there are several other things you can do…
9. Indoor Cycling Interval Training
To really boost muscle development, try interval training.
Interval training is pretty much as it sounds. You split your cycling session up into intervals of high and low intensity. So, for example, you might cycle at a low intensity for 5 minutes, and then sprint for two – and complete this frequency.
What are the benefits of interval training?
Interval training helps you reap the biggest benefits of both high resistance and low resistance in one session.
Even if you cycle at the same average speed for the same amount of time, by separating your ride into intervals you will receive up to 30% more in benefits such as muscle development.
To get the best out of interval training, think about:
- Increasing the frequency of your sprints during a session
- Increase the speed of the sprints as your session evolves
- Increase the resistance of high-intensity periods
10. Climb For Extra Muscle Development
To really take things up a notch, you want to mimic the effect of climbing. How do you do this?
By putting up the resistance as high as you can bear.
You can cycle in this way both in and out of the saddle. Both have their benefits.
In the Tour de France, cyclists try to stay in their saddles for as long as possible. This is to conserve energy and keep the efficiency of their pedaling technique.
Staying in the saddle helps to really work your quads in particular. This will help build some muscle mass.
11. Get Out Of The Saddle
When you get out of the saddle, you work out your core, calves, glutes, and hamstrings even more powerfully.
Getting out of the saddle against high resistance makes cycling a weight-bearing activity.
Weight-bearing activities are those where the legs support the body weight of the athlete. For example, running is weight-bearing, as your weight is supported by your legs as you go.
Seated cycling is not weight-bearing as your body weight is supported by your saddle. It is non-weight-bearing (catchy name!)
However, when you get out of the saddle and cycle, cycling becomes weight-bearing. This means your legs have to take the full force of your body weight, while also forcing downwards on the pedals at the appropriate time.
Cycling out of the saddle for short intervals against a high resistance is the optimal way of building muscle mass through cycling.
If you want to see a quick summary of how to get the most out of cycling to build muscle, then here is a short but excellent video from Livestrong about exactly that:
12. Build Muscle Endurance Through Spinning
Probably the most potent way that indoor cycling acts on your muscles is to develop muscle endurance.
What is this?
According to Personal Touch Fitness, muscle endurance ‘is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to perform repetitive contractions against a force for an extended period of time. The greater your muscular endurance the higher number of repetitions you could complete.’
Indoor cycling is a high-repetition endurance activity. It helps the muscles in the legs develop stamina and the ability to keep contracting continually over a longer and longer timescale.