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The number one part of your body that is going to transform the most through cycling indoors is…your legs.
This is perhaps no massive surprise. I’ve been cycling on stationary bikes for over a decade now, and I know indoor cycling tones and builds leg muscle, improves leg endurance, and just keeps your lower body in tip-top shape!
In this post, I’ll look at the 14 ultimate stationary bike benefits for legs, which are:
- Cycling sculpts muscles…fast!
- Most of the major cycling muscle groups are in the legs
- The quads – the engine room of cycling
- Tone your calves
- Tone your hamstrings
- Greater leg strength
- Enhanced leg endurance
- Gaining muscle through indoor cycling
- Rehabilitation from leg injuries
- Tone your glutes
- Leg toning which is low impact
- Next level leg toning
- Think about gender
- Happy legs, happy mind!
Let’s dive into the benefits:
1. Cycling Sculpts Muscles – Fast!
Let’s start with the ultimate motivation first – you can get your legs in good shape through indoor cycling…fast!
To a degree, your legs begin to show the benefits of indoor cycling as soon as you hop on the bike and start pedaling.
If you ever had the chance to observe the lower body of any competitive cyclist, you will notice that they have perfectly sculpted and toned muscles because of the powerful effect of cycling on the legs.
And you don’t need a full pro workout schedule to see significant results in pretty short order.
Exercise bikes serve as an excellent choice for getting your legs in shape and toning them quickly if done in the right way.
The two most obvious and easiest ways of toning muscles is:
- To pedal faster
- To pedal against more resistance
Not rocket science, I think you’ll agree! There’s a lot more technical info on the way – but this in a nutshell is what to do!
It is common knowledge that the legs are the first to get into shape and are the focal point of any cycling exercise. That being said, the entire body and other major muscle groups are also affected by cycling but the most impact is on the lower body rather than the upper body.
2. Most Of The Major Cycling Muscle Groups Are In The Legs
There are four major muscle groups that are the main players in cycling, and three of those are in the legs!
The four major muscle groups are:
- The quads
- The hamstrings
- The calves
- The glutes (not technically in the legs, but close!).
Out of all of them, the quads are the most important. (This is the muscle group at the front of your thigh).
Here’s a quick table that explains how important they all are, and their role, before I’m going to break down the effect that indoor cycling has on all of them:
|Muscle Group||Importance In Cycling||Role In Cycling|
|The quads||High||Providing a large part of the power into the downstroke to turn the pedals|
|The hamstrings||Medium||Providing some power to the downstroke, but also helping the leg raise during the upstroke of the pedals|
|The calves||Medium||Working with the quads to provide some power to the downstroke|
|The glutes||Medium-High||Stabilizing the hips, and providing power|
3. The Quads – The Engine Room Of The Whole Operation (Effect On Thigh Muscles)
It’s highly likely you’ll see the effects of indoor cycling on your quads first.
Why is this?
The quads are the most important muscle group during cycling, particularly the rectus femoris (a muscle that is a part of this group).
When I do spinning classes, the biggest burn I experience is in the quads (and sometimes followed by the glutes). I imagine you’ll be the same.
The quads are already a super-powerful muscle group, and cycling will really add to this strength – as well as toning them, and making them look all aesthetic as well.
4. Tone Your Calf Muscles
Even though calf muscles do not play such a significant role in cycling as the quads, the benefit of cycling concerning these calves is almost as much as the other muscles of the lower body.
Cycling helps work the muscles of your calves – mainly the gastrocnemius and soleus – through the process of plantarflexion during the pedaling strokes.
What does this mean in English?
Well…this action (of plantarflexion) usually happens at the point of pedal stroke that normally corresponds to 5 and 6 on a clock face, as your toes point downwards and your foot flexes.
Also, the calves help the quads to force downwards on the pedals from the top of the pedal stroke to the bottom.
Top tip – If you want your calves to be toned faster, you will have to increase the resistance and intensity of your bike workout.
That being said, it is also imperative to remember that you should not continue with a high-resistance routine for long periods in one go because you run the risk of straining your knees or other injuries. High resistance should be used in bursts – not one prolonged go.
5. Tone Your Hamstrings
The hamstrings are the large muscle group at the back of your thighs.
To be honest, they do nothing like the work of the quads, but they are still active throughout the cycling process. Cycling will help to strengthen, tone, and sculpt these – so it’s all good!
6. Greater Leg Strength
You will see an increase in leg strength if you use high resistance and low cadence cycling.
Cadence refers to how fast your pedals are rotating when you are cycling. To increase your leg strength, you need a cadence of below 80 revolutions per minute (as mentioned in the February 2016 Applied Nutrition, physiology, and Metabolism article published by Canadian Science Publishing) (Source)
You can focus on using a gear that provides a lot of resistance.
You can always gear back if you find it to be too much of an effort and wait until you increase your fitness level.
Here’s a quick table that shows you the varying benefits of different cycling cadences:
|60-80rpm||Against a high resistance, this is ideal for muscle development and leg strength|
|90rpm||Good cadence for intermediate cyclists|
|80-100rpm||Standard cadence for hobbyist cyclists|
|100-110||Pro road race cyclists|
|110+||Pro cyclists during sprints|
If you’re looking for a free video for of a low cadence indoor cycling routine, then a brilliant one is the following (provided by GCN Training):
Top Tip – If leg strength is a big focus for you, you can really up your game by also combining cycling with weightlifting exercises such as leg presses, lunges, and squats a few times per week.
7. Enhanced Leg Endurance
The enhancement of leg endurance involves the opposite effort and effect as compared to leg strength.
It calls for low resistance and high cadence. It is recommended to use a relatively low gear with a cadence of more than 100 rpm.
It is important to remember that a high cadence can leave you out of breath. You can switch between higher cadence and lower resistance and vice versa to find your suitable combination and pace as per your fitness level.
Indoor cycling is one of the best cardio exercises to build leg endurance.
8. Gaining Muscles through a Stationary Bike
Stationary bikes are a great way to tone your thighs, buttocks, and legs in addition to your back, arms, and abdominal muscles. Your muscles work hard when you increase the resistance of your indoor exercise bike.
While a low resistance is important for warming up and improving endurance, a higher resistance is needed to gain muscle mass.
This works just like traditional resistance weight training.
When you lift weights, your muscles exert themselves against a force. This creates small rips in the muscle fibers called micro-tears.
These micro-tears then build back stronger and bigger.
To achieve these micro-tears in the first place, you need to be doing a low number of repetitions of an exercise against a high level of resistance. In the gym, it is usual to do 6-12 repetitions of an exerice, over 3 to 6 sets. This is an optimal amount for muscle gain.
Of course, cycling doesn’t quite work like that – but the overall idea is the same. To grow muscle you must up the resistance as high as is feasible.
Work against this resistance in short intervals, interposed with periods of lighter cycling. Most spin classes have this kind of structure to the workout anway.
This is the best way to build muscle mass through indoor cycling.
9. Rehabilitation From Leg Injuries
In case of rehabilitation or injuries after an ankle sprain or a knee sprain, an exercise bike is an ideal way to work your muscles.
Many physiotherapists suggest indoor cycling as part of leg rehabilitation programs.
The reason why it is called a soft sport is because of its low impact that gently works the joints without putting too much stress on them.
A big thing is that you can access indoor cycling at your level. Light cycling or interval training is a great way to get back into exercise again following an injury, and you can ramp up the intensity over the course of weeks or months.
Listen to your body!
10. Tone Your Glutes (Impact On Legs)
Turning on the steep setting to make your muscles work harder to start each muscle stroke helps build your glutes or butt muscles. Working against resistance puts a lot of stress on both thigh muscles as well as your glutes.
The Gluteus Maximus muscle is responsible for the beginning phase of the downward pedaling stroke and it is at work whenever you are cycling.
How does a strong butt help strong legs?
Well, it’s kind of obvious that both work together.
And also, the glutes have other roles when cycling. The glutes help the hips remain stable. Weak glutes mean your hips will be moving all over the place, and this actually impacts your legs. Your legs are then required to keep your hips in place.
A Strong butt means your legs are freed from this role. They are able to focus on forcing the pedals downwards.
11. Leg Toning Which is Low Impact
Cycling is considered one of the best low-impact sports options out there.
Low-impact sports are ones that don’t put stress on joints through repetitive pounding (like running does, for example).
So without putting in a lot of joint-pounding work that you would in other sports, like running, you can get your legs toned with cycling easily and with less risk of injury.
Not only will this give your legs a sleek look but you will have more stamina for running if you choose to switch cycling with running.
12. Next-Level Toned Legs
If you want toned legs like all the professional cyclists out there, then you can ride your stationary bike for 15-20 hours a week.
If you want to take a sneak peek into the kind of training taken on by professional road cyclists, then check out this video:
Research has shown that professional cyclists have a larger thigh muscle cross-section than those non-cyclists. (Source) This is no great shock!
I should say, that every person’s unique body makeup will react differently when it comes to the effects of cycling. This is especially true with the large hamstring muscles that help sweep the pedals up and quadriceps muscles that push the pedals down.
These muscles become the most pronounced, and results will vary depending on your genetic makeup.
However, riding at a steady, long, and slow pace is sure to put you in the fat-burning zone so that your muscle mass grows while the fat content decreases.
This leads to perfectly toned leg muscles as well as better body composition.
13. Think About Gender – Some Differences Between Men And Women
One of the key factors to keep in mind with how cycling impacts our entire body is the difference between the two sexes.
Since men have a higher level of testosterone compared to women, they in turn have more muscle mass than women.
Thus the effects on the male body are more pronounced and occur faster as compared to women.
That is why women would need more strenuous exercise with more resistance compared to their male counterparts.
14. Happy Legs, Happy Mind!
The positive effects you will derive from cycling have an ever-lasting physiological effect on your mind as well as body.
Cycling, apart from being great for your legs, also releases happy hormones in the brain that help uplift your mood and thus make you more positive.
Your legs go through physical changes that you will be able to see if you compare your legs to a person who does not cycle. And that should make you happy too!