Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs?

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Written By Samarjit Sinha

Working out for 10 years | Has a home gym | CPD (UK) Certificate holder in Fitness

Does cycling build leg muscle?

Cycling is a great way to build leg muscle. While there are many different types of cycling, all of them will have some impact on muscle development.  If you’re looking to really bulk up your legs, you’ll need to supplement your cycling with weightlifting in the gym.

Let’s explore the key cycling muscles and the top strategies to strengthen those legs with a cycle. I’m Samarjit, an avid leg training enthusiast. From uphill cycling to squats and more, I’ll guide you through the journey of building strong, powerful leg muscles. Stay with me to discover how cycling can give you the leg strength you’ve always wanted.”

I was once Googling cyclist legs and I was amazed how rugged their legs were. But those were professional people. Not like you and me.


This study done over a period of 6 months clearly shows that cycling training increase hypertrophy of the leg muscles.

Key Takeaways!

  • Cycling effectively builds leg muscles, focusing on quads, hamstrings, and calves.
  • Uphill running on your cycle provides a great leg muscle workout.
  • Standing up to pedal engages your leg muscles more intensely.
  • Cycling in higher gears outdoors is an excellent muscle-building strategy.
  • Spin bikes offer a controlled environment for targeted leg muscle development.
  • Incorporating sprints into your cycling routine is ideal for leg muscle growth.

What are the key cycling muscles?

When cycling, the main muscles used are the quadriceps and hamstrings in the upper leg. These muscles work together to create hip flexion, as well as hip and knee extension. This occurs when the pedal is at the 6 and 12 o’clock positions. 

Additionally, there is some knee flexion that happens between these positions to help bring the pedal back up to the top.

Cycling is a great exercise that can provide a lot of benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, increased endurance, and stronger leg muscles. When you cycle, you use different muscles than when you do other activities. 

Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 1

These cycling muscles are used to pedal and produce power which propels the cyclist forward. Cycling muscles work differently than other activities, leading to different effects on the muscles and different injury risks. 

Is cycling better than treadmill?

For example, because cycling is a repetitive motion activity with low impact on your joints, it can be easier on your body than running.

However, indoor cycling workouts target similar muscle groups as road and mountain biking, but with less work from the upper body and core.

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This can lead to imbalances in these muscle groups if you only cycle indoors.

Does cycling build leg muscle

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Uphill Running

Ride up hills is a type of exercise where the rider forces themselves to ride in an arc rather than on level ground. This creates greater resistance and, therefore, makes it harder for riders to maintain speed and momentum.

Mountain biking is all about overcoming gravity. To ride up hills successfully, you need to use your muscles to push against the force of gravity. This can be tiring, so bodybuilders work to exhaust their muscles over a short period of time. 

However, mountain climbers are not looking to push themselves to fatigue; they are aiming to maintain their strength throughout the ride.

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Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 2

Stand Up to Pedal

A stand-up to pedal program is a movement where cyclists ride their bikes on the sidewalk, which encourages drivers to be more careful when passing cyclists.

Therefore, cycling while standing uses different muscle groups than when sitting and is a more effective way to build muscle. For example, the quadriceps, calves and glutes are used predominantly during the seated pedal on the downstroke. 

On the upstroke, you’re using your hamstrings and hip flexor muscles. When you raise your heels while standing, you’ll need to use more calf muscle.

When you’re cycling, there are three ways to generate power: standing (or more accurately, “leaning”), sitting and pedaling slowly. 

Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 3

And pedaling slowly means that you are taking it slowly and not intensely how it mean to be.

While standing up, the muscles work hard and you are using all the leg muscles. You can use more power and speed in this posture.

For standing up you will need a gym cycle with strong base or a rugged spin bike like Evolve.

The power phase happens while the hip and knee extend, pressing downward on the pedal.

This action starts with a combination of gluteus and quadriceps muscles, but then is joined by hamstrings and calf muscles quarter ways through the revolution. 

So, in order to generate more power, you need to engage all of these muscles throughout the entire cycle.

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Slow down to increase time under tension

When you’re cycling to build muscle, it’s important to remember that you’ll get the most benefit from pedaling slowly. 

This will make you do more of the work yourself, with less assistance from the bike’s mechanical apparatus. 

This works best if you have spin bikes. You can not get much tension from typical air or magnetic bikes.

The slower you go, you are putting more muscles under tension, so they get trained better.

Use high gears on outdoor cycles

When riding a bike on level surfaces or slight downhill grades, shift into high gears to provide more resistance.

Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 4

This will cause your muscles to work harder and produce micro-tears in the muscle tissue. These tears will need to be repaired, leading to muscle growth.

Get a Spin Bike instead

To keep building muscles, you will need to keep adding weights. With usual outdoor cycles that is not possible. But with good quality spin bikes, you can dial the tension up to 20-25kg easily. This will get your quads on fire and you will build muscles for sure.

And you should do sprints for Muscles building in legs

Sprinting is an extremely effective way to build muscle. To get the most out of your sprints, sprint on a straightaway and mix up seated and standing sprints.

Cycling is a great way to lose weight without building too much muscle in your legs; however, if you want to develop leg muscles, sprinting is the way to go.

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Sprinting not only improves your endurance and strength, but can also help improve your speed.

Sprinting for muscles is a great way to improve your overall health and well-being. Sprinting can help you lose weight or get fit quickly.

Additionally, sprinting has many other benefits such as improving heart health, helping with cognitive function, and reducing stress levels.

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Top muscles used in cycling?

The primary muscles used in cycling are located in the hips and legs. The most important muscles in the quads.

The other most important muscles used are the hip extensors.

The least important muscles would be your arms, but without using them you will not be able to ride easily as well.

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Other Strength Workouts to do build leg muscles


Squats are a type of weight-bearing exercise that target the entire body, primarily focusing on your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. The squat is a compound exercise that targets all of the muscles in your legs. It is an excellent exercise for building muscle and increasing strength and power.

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Single-Leg Deadlifts

Single leg deadlifts are a form of deadlift that requires the lifter to move only one leg at a time. This exercise can be performed for strength, balance and flexibility purposes.

Calves Raise

A calf raise is a type of exercise that focuses on the muscles in the thighs and lower back. The movement requires someone to place their hands on their hips, then lift one leg up towards their chest while simultaneously lifting their other leg up towards the ceiling.

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Stretching is a practice that can help increase flexibility and range of motion. It is done by engaging in repetitive movements while the joints are extended, which causes the muscles to lengthen and relax.

Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 5

The main goal of stretching is to increase the range of motion and flexibility, as well as prevent injuries from overuse.


Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline that originated in ancient India. It has since become a core practice in many other Asian countries as well as the Western world.

Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 6

Do some other Sports

Sports are a form of physical activity involving competitive physical feats such as walking, running, jumping, or throwing. Some sports have specific rules for competition, while others can be done without any particular rules. 

Most sports have a defined start and finish line. Activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, rowing, and cycling are considered physical exercises but are not usually referred to as sports.

I would suggest you play football sometimes.

Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 7

Will cycling give me big legs?

Cycling is a great way to get strong legs. However, don’t expect to have huge muscles overnight. The amount of muscle you gain from cycling depends on the type of riding you do and how intense it is. 

Cycling doesn’t build large muscles as bodybuilding does. Rather, cycling is more likely to develop aerobic systems than muscle mass.

Creatine and whey protein can help with mass and recovery.

Bicycle riding is an age-old form of exercise that has made a resurgence in recent decades. People cycle for leisure, to commute, or to improve their cardiovascular fitness. 

Cycling can also help with weight loss and give you some unique muscle tone in your legs. For example, cycling can help create a distinctive teardrop shape over your kneecap.

Riding cycles is an excellent way to get stronger and more muscular. It can also be a powerful tool for health, providing numerous benefits such as weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, and increased muscle mass. 

However, cycling is not the only way to achieve this goal – weightlifting is another great option. Before beginning any fitness program, it’s best to consult with a physician to ensure that the program will suit your needs and goals.

You can read this study, it is about the unique muscularity that cyclists develop.

Advantages of cycling when it comes to building leg muscles

Muscle gain

Stationary bikes are a great way to tone your entire body, not just your legs. You can increase or decrease the resistance on the bike to focus on different muscle groups.

The lower body muscles are constantly in action when cycling, so you will see results from hips to ankles over time. But for obvious reasons, cycling is lower body focused.

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Overall leg strength development

Gym bikes are great for building strength and endurance because they work out most of the muscles in your lower body.

When you spend a significant amount of time on a stationary bike, it toughens and revitalises muscles, making it an effective strength training routine.

The constant cycling of muscles while riding a stationary bike is also an effective exercise.

Research suggests that young people should see more strength and muscle gain by doing high intensity cycling. Whereas, old people should see strength gain with moderate training. In both cases it will take much longer than typical weight training or strength training.

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Cycling is a great way to build leg muscle strength. When done with proper form, cycling will maximize your muscles’ use and prevent any injuries. In addition, cycling is an excellent way to tone your leg muscles.

Before starting your cycling routine, make sure you do a proper warm-up by cycling at an easy pace for a few minutes. 

Additionally, be sure to stretch each major muscle group of your legs. If you experience any cycling knee problems, seek treatment, and they should go away.

Improve leg muscles endurance

The short answer to whether or not cycling will make your legs huge is no. Cycling, at its heart, is an endurance exercise and as such it won’t result in the same muscle growth as you would see from a strength-based workout. 

Leg endurance is achieved by using a high cadence and low resistance, which requires a lower gear than strength. It’s recommended to use an 18-speed bike in low and sixth gear for enhanced leg endurance.

Does cycling build leg muscle? Or can only tone your legs? 8

Cycling is considered to be one of the best low-impact exercise options, with running being its main competitor.

Both activities have their own benefits – cycling is great for toning muscles and improving cardiovascular health while running can help with weight loss and increase bone density.

Cycling is a great exercise to improve leg endurance because it is not weight-bearing and doesn’t result in injuries as much as running does. Researchers found that long-distance runners suffered more muscle damage than cyclists. 

Cycling also helps tone leg muscles including hamstrings, glutes, quads, etc. However, it is still important to have a professional bike fit to avoid overuse injuries.

Scientists found that long-distance runners suffered more muscle damage as compared to cyclists. 

This is because the repeated contractions of the same muscle group caused the runners to experience micro-tears in their muscles.

As a cyclist pedals, they use all the major muscle groups in both legs, which leads to less muscle damage and better endurance.

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Increase Leg Strength

Biking is a great exercise for many reasons. First, it is an excellent option for building strength and endurance. Second, when you bike regularly your muscles are toughened and revitalised, making them work more effectively overall.

Muscle Groups Used in Indoor Cycling


Since at high speed, you have to hold on to the handles tight. And you will be moving around as well, thus your back muscles will develop. 

While standing up, you will need to hold on tight and keep the balance as well.

And your grip strength will develop as well. However, for more optimum back muscle development, you should do pull-ups.

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Upper Arms

There is not much you can do to train upper arms with a gym cycle or outdoor cycle. But if it’s a cross-trainer then you can move the arms and get some arm workout as well.

Hips and Glutes

Cycling for obvious reasons trains the hips and glutes. The whole movement is done by your legs. If you increase your flywheel tension, then you will have more chance of increasing muscle mass.

And you may also go slower to increase time under tension.


Cycling power is generated by the core and hips, so cycling with correct posture will help tone your abdominal muscles. You’ll be able to see a change in your abdominal muscles after cycling for a long time.


When you are cycling, the muscle in your quadriceps work hard on the down-stroke to push the pedal.

The muscle in the back of your thigh also get a workout when your legs pull up during up-stroke. The calf gets a workout on both the down-stroke and up-stroke.


No matter your body composition you can do cycling. Be it outdoors or indoors, and onset of muscle soreness comes off late as well.

Cycling emerges as a dynamic and efficient means to build leg muscle. It engages a range of muscle groups, such as the legs, back, upper arms, hips and glutes, core, and more. Uphill running, standing up to pedal, and incorporating sprints elevate its effectiveness in sculpting strong and powerful legs.

Whether you prefer outdoor cycling in higher gears or a spin bike for precision, cycling provides an excellent platform for enhancing leg strength and overall muscle endurance. The positive predicates paint a clear picture of the advantages of cycling for leg muscle development

Cycling exercises are hard to scale no you might want to get some gym cycle where you can adjust the force. Then you would be able to enjoy the benefits of cycling for fitness at home.

Ref: Home Gym India Youtube channel

About The Skinny Author


Working Out for 10 years | Owns a home gym |Certificate course done on Improving Aerobic Fitness, Diet | CPD (UK) Accredited Certification on Fitness

Yo Friends, this is Samarjit! A skinny guy who is building his tiny home gym.

I have successfully gained 10 kgs in 10 months going to commercial gyms. And I have been working out on and off for about 10+ years now.

I have gone swimming, done martial arts, Olympic lifts and body-building-type workouts!

I canceled the gym subscription as I was more into making my home gym for workouts. And getting ready, then getting my cycle and ride to the commercial gym seemed a drag after 10 hours in the office.

Thus, I needed a home that I could access at any moment!
And I started building my home gym!

I had to research a lot to build my home gym and decided to share effective, budget-friendly home gym machines, and nutrition to buy as per your goals here in

If you have question then contact me here

Ps: The author is highly experienced with making small workout routines, understanding and guiding people to get gym equipment, and setting up the home gym as per their Fitness goals.

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