For a lot of avid cyclists, building leg muscle is one of the key ingredients in their game, particularly if they like to ride competitively. The logic goes that stronger leg muscles allow for faster and harder pedaling, upping your speed and allowing you to power through difficult parts of a course a little more easily.
Cycling alone will primarily build muscle endurance so it is always recommended that you get down to the gym and use other exercises to build that all important power. Squats and leg presses will help you to build muscles. However, that isn’t to say that it is impossible to use cycling to build leg muscle.
What Muscles Does Cycling Build?
The two largest muscles that riding a bike targets is your quadriceps and your hamstrings. These muscles contract in a sequence that creates the pedaling action. The quadriceps and hamstrings do most of the work when you ride a bicycle.
Does Cycling Build Calf Muscle?
Yes, after the quads and hamstrings the calf muscle is the next beneficiary, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus in the calf.
How Do I Build Big Leg Muscles?
Different types of riding does different things, for instance, sprinting all the time and riding short hard efforts will give you larger legs muscles. Endurance rides may lean you up and make your legs stronger, but the mass of the muscle will not be as evident. If you really want to supersize your legs then you are going to have to hit up the gym. High weight and low reps is the way to build your leg muscles, but at the end of the day you have to ask yourself – what kind of riding you want to be good at.
If you want to beat everyone to the next stop sign, then by all means, grab some weights and do short hard efforts to build that leg muscle. But, if you want to be fast on the 40+ km rides, then really focusing on endurance rides, mixed with some weight training and sprinting is going to be your best bet.
So How Can I Build Leg Muscle During a Ride?
Try any of the following techniques to start developing and building your leg muscles through cycling alone.
Standing While Riding
If you only sit when riding you will find that you are doing very little to foster muscle growth. After all, you are offering little resistance for your legs to power through, so they will simply tone up and build some level of endurance.
By standing you use your own body weight to add resistance, thus providing an excellent workout for your calf muscles in particular. Try riding slowly and raising your heels, all in the standing position, and you will find you apply more weight on your down-stroke, while also creating resistance using your body for the upstroke.
If cycling on a flat surface offers too little resistance for muscle building, it stands to reason that going uphill will remedy the issue. Gravity alone will force you to make more use of your leg muscles, taking them out of their comfort zone and forcing them to battle against resistance for the desired effect.
By riding uphill you are forcing both your bike and body against some resistance, allowing you to work on building your quadriceps and hamstrings. Do it enough and you will find that your muscles build up fairly quickly, allowing you to exhibit more power when you are riding on a flat surface.
Monitor Your Cadence
Your cadence plays a surprisingly important role in developing leg muscles, as knowledge of your peak cadence can allow you to adjust your cycling workouts to achieve peak levels of power. Your first step should be to discover your natural cadence for your current fitness level. In other words, this is the cadence that you ride at where you are at peak power and cycling smoothly. A lot of people will find that this is often in the 90-100 rpm range.
Once you know what you’re comfortable with, you can do various workouts around that level. To train pedal speed you can try dropping down a gear and going at a faster cadence, but if you really want to build muscle you should try popping up a gear and riding a little bit below your natural cadence. This will mean that you are still riding at a decent rate and you’re building your strength up as you do, due to the extra resistance offered by the higher gear.
So, you tell us! Does Cycling Build Leg Muscle?