What muscles does cycling work: in different types, pain and injury, how to build cycling muscles

Muscles that cycling works are primarily lower body muscles including quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, gluteus maximus, soleus and gastrocnemius (calf and shin muscles), which are the most important muscles for cycling. But cycling is a low-impact and comprehensive full-body workout that involves almost all muscle groups in the body including core muscles and upper body muscles. Core muscles used for biking include erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominals and transverse abdominals, which are crucial for maintaining balance and stability during a ride. The upper body muscles used when cycling are the upper back, shoulders, and triceps, which support posture and control on the bike.

Muscles in the cycling pedal stroke work differently across each phase of the biking cycle: the downstroke engages the quadriceps and gluteus maximus; the pull back from the bottom of the stroke involves the hamstrings, hip flexors, and calf muscles(including the soleus and gastrocnemius); the upstroke is dominated by the hip flexors and hamstrings; and the transition back to the downstroke activates the shin muscles, particularly the tibialis anterior.

Muscles are engaged differently across various cycling types such as road cycling, mountain biking, gravel biking, track cycling and indoor cycling, as well as in different biking positions including cycling out of the saddle, cycling uphill, standing up, and even cycling backward.

However, cycling pains and injuries are commonly seen among cyclists like muscle soreness, knee pain, lower back pain, saddle sore and forearm pain. Cycling muscle workouts come in handy to avoid and prevent pains and injuries from cycling.

In this article, we will explain what muscles biking work, how muscles work differently in various cycling types and positions, what are the common cycling muscle pains and injuries, and how to build your cycling muscles strength to prevent injuries and pains.

Table of Contents

What muscles does cycling work?

Muscles used in cycling are muscle groups like lower body muscles including calf, thigh, gluts and foot muscles, core muscles including back muscles and ads, upper body muscles including arms and shoulder muscles.

The 1985 study by Professor Mats Ericson at KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, examined the activity of eleven lower extremity muscles during ergometer cycling in different conditions, finding that vastus medialis and lateralis, gastrocnemius medialis and lateralis, and the soleus were the most activated, with muscle activity varying significantly with changes in work-load, pedaling rate, saddle height, and pedal foot position.

Muscles used in cycling diagram

The diagram of muscles used in cycling is designed based on muscles used in cycling and how these muscles are used in different phases of pedal stroke during biking.

Muscle used in cycling diagram

What muscles does cycling work for females?

Muscles cycling works for females include the same primary groups as for males like lower body, core and upper body muscles due to the universal mechanics of cycling. In females, there might be less natural muscle mass in the upper body compared to males which possibly affects upper-body engagement and anatomical differences may lead to varied muscle development, particularly in the lower body and core.

What muscles does cycling work for males?

Muscles cycling works for males include the same primary groups as for females like lower body, core and upper body muscles, with no significant differences in the specific muscles engaged due to the activity. In cycling, males typically engage more upper body muscle mass compared to females, particularly in the shoulders and arms, and may experience different levels of muscle development and endurance in the lower body with variations being more individual-specific than gender-specific.

Types Of Muscle Contractions During Biking

During biking, there are three primary types of muscle contractions involved: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. Understanding these contractions is important for cyclists as it helps in optimizing training, improving performance and reducing injury risks.

  1. Concentric Contractions: These occur when a muscle shortens under load, such as when the quadriceps contract to push the pedal down during the downstroke, directly contributing to forward motion.
  2. Eccentric Contractions: This type of contraction happens when a muscle lengthens under load, for example, when the hamstrings and calf muscles control the motion of the leg during the upstroke, helping in stabilizing and preparing for the next power phase.
  3. Isometric Contractions: These contractions involve maintaining muscle tension without visible movement, such as when the core and upper body muscles stabilize the cyclist’s posture during a ride, ensuring efficiency and balance.

Types Of Muscle Contractions During Biking

Lower body muscles used in cycling

Lower body muscles used in cycling are organized into four main groups: the calf (soleus and gastrocnemius), thigh (hamstrings and quadriceps), glutes/buttocks (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), and foot (plantar flexors and dorsiflexors). These muscles are more crucial in cycling compared to the core and upper body muscles, as they are directly involved in the pedal stroke, providing power and stability.

  • Quadriceps: These front thigh muscles including hip flexors are essential for the downstroke, generating most of the power in pedaling.
  • Hip Flexors: These muscles are crucial in lifting the leg during the upstroke, allowing for a smooth pedaling motion.
  • Hamstrings: Located on the back of the thigh, hamstrings are key during the upstroke, helping to pull the pedal back up.
  • Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus: These buttock muscles are vital for initiating the pedal stroke and provide power, especially during climbing and acceleration.
  • Soleus and Gastrocnemius: These calf muscles aid in the push and pull motion of cycling, contributing to the overall efficiency of the pedal stroke.
  • Plantar Flexors and Dorsiflexors: Located in the foot, these muscles help in effectively transferring power to the pedals and maintaining proper foot positioning.

The 2016 study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance by Iñigo Mujika from the University of the Basque Country, Spain, found that competitive female cyclists with greater lower-body lean mass (LBLM) tend to have significantly higher maximum mean power per kg LBLM, suggesting that resistance training off the bike could effectively modify LBLM, and highlighting the need for further research into cycling-specific training strategies and the potential mechanisms for improved endurance.

Lower body muscles used in cycling

Core muscles used in cycling

Core muscles used in cycling include the erector spinae in the back, obliques, rectus abdominals (abs), and transverse abdominals (stomach muscles). While they may not be as directly involved in propulsion as the lower body muscles, the core muscles are crucial for maintaining stability, balance, and an efficient power transfer from the body to the bike.

  • Erector Spinae: These back muscles are essential for maintaining an upright and stable posture, especially important during long rides.
  • Obliques: Located on the sides of the abdomen, obliques support lateral stability and balance, helping in maneuvers and maintaining form.
  • Rectus Abdominals (Abs): Often known as the ‘six-pack’ muscles, they play a key role in stabilizing the upper body and maintaining an efficient riding position.
  • Transverse Abdominals: These deep stomach muscles are critical for core stability, aiding in power transfer and reducing the strain on the lower back.

In a study in 2019 by Luke Ruckstuhl from the Sports Medicine Center, Bern-Ittigen, House of Sports, Switzerland, which involved 111 elite cyclists from Swiss cycling national teams, it was found that 47.9% of athletes who intensified their core strength training over four months significantly reduced their back pain in cycling, competition and daily life.

Core muscles used in cycling

Upper body muscles used in cycling

Upper body muscles used in cycling include the upper back, shoulders, triceps, arms, and neck muscles. While these muscles are not as directly involved in pedaling as the lower body and core muscles, they play a crucial role in maintaining posture, stability, and control during cycling.

  • Upper Back: These muscles are essential for supporting the spine and maintaining a stable posture, especially during longer rides or when cycling in an aggressive position.
  • Shoulders: Shoulder muscles help in controlling the bike and in maintaining upper body stability, particularly important when maneuvering or riding out of the saddle.
  • Triceps: Essential for supporting the upper body when leaning on the handlebars, the triceps aid in absorbing shock from road vibrations.
  • Arms: While not the primary cyclists in cycling, arm muscles contribute to overall bike control and stability, particularly during technical rides or when navigating rough terrain.
  • Neck: The neck muscles play a key role in maintaining head position and comfort, especially important given the forward-leaning posture of cycling.

The 2011 research led by Segerström Åsa B from Department of Health Sciences, Lund University, Sweden, found that upper body muscle strength and endurance have a correlation with exercise capacity in cycling, as evidenced by improved maximal oxygen consumption (O2peak) and work rate (WRpeak) in sedentary healthy male subjects after six months of combined training, suggesting that upper body strength, particularly in the arms, chest, and trunk, can enhance cycling performance by enabling the rider to effectively transmit force from the handlebar to the pedals.

Upper body muscles used in cycling

How are those muscles used in the pedal stroke during cycling?

Muscles used in the pedal stroke during cycling work differently at various points in the pedal circle, such as the downstroke, pull back and lift up, each engaging different muscle groups for efficient cycling.

Muscle used in cycling diagram

  • Downstroke (Pushing Down Phase):
  • Quadriceps: The primary muscles in the downstroke, the quadriceps are responsible for extending the knee and pushing the pedal down.
  • Gluteus Maximus: This muscle is engaged at the beginning of the downstroke, providing power for the initial push.
  • Pull Back (Bottom of the Stroke):
  • Hamstrings and Hip Flexors: As the pedal reaches the bottom of the stroke, the hamstrings and hip flexors work to pull the pedal back in a motion that starts to prepare for the upward phase.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): These muscles assist in this phase, particularly when the foot is pointed slightly downwards to pull the pedal back.
  • Lift Up (Upstroke):
  • Hip Flexors: The hip flexors are key in lifting the leg up during the upstroke, which is more pronounced when using clipless pedals that allow for an upward pull.
  • Hamstrings: Continue to assist in pulling the pedal up, especially in a well-coordinated pedal stroke where the cyclist is actively engaging in pulling up.
  • Transition to Downstroke:
  • Shin Muscles (Tibialis Anterior): These muscles help in transitioning the foot from a downward-pointed position at the bottom of the stroke to a flatter position as the pedal moves towards the top of the stroke.

What muscles are worked when cycling differently?

The muscles worked when cycling differently are influenced by the type of cycling and the rider’s position. For instance, road cycling primarily engages the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, with a focus on endurance. Mountain biking demands more from the upper body and core for stability over rough terrain, while gravel biking, similar to road cycling, requires additional core stability for varied surfaces. Track cycling places a high emphasis on explosive power from the lower body, particularly the quadriceps and glutes. Indoor cycling often mirrors road cycling but allows for more controlled resistance adjustments. 

The 2016 study led by José M Muyor, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed that road cyclists exhibit greater thoracic kyphosis, lumbar flexion, anterior pelvic tilt, and hamstring extensibility compared to mountain bikers and non-cyclists, highlighting the significant impact of cycling modality on spinal posture and flexibility.

In terms of position, cycling out of the saddle engages the glutes and lower back more intensely, uphill cycling increases the demand on the quadriceps and calf muscles, downhill requires more control from the core and upper body, standing-up cycling engages the core and upper body for balance, and cycling backward, although less common can uniquely engage the hamstrings and glutes.

The 2019 study by Rodrigo Rico Bini, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, indicated that in sprint cycling, significant alterations in upper body position can affect aerodynamics and alter the contribution of knee and hip joints to leg work, although these changes do not influence peak muscle forces, underscoring the balance between muscle forces and drag in cycling performance.

Muscles used in different cycling types

Muscles used in different cycling types like road, mountain biking, gravel, track cycling, and indoor cycling vary primarily due to the different demands and riding conditions of each style. 

  • In road cycling, there’s a significant emphasis on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, focusing on endurance and sustained power output. 
  • Mountain biking requires more engagement from the upper body and core muscles, including the arms and shoulders, for maneuvering over rough terrain. 
  • Gravel biking, blending elements of road and mountain biking, demands both lower body strength and core stability for varied surfaces. 
  • Track cycling, often characterized by explosive power, heavily relies on the quadriceps and gluteal muscles. 
  • Indoor cycling typically mirrors road cycling in muscle use but allows for targeted resistance training. 

Each type of cycling challenges different muscle groups, reflecting the specific physical demands of the discipline, whether it’s maintaining a steady pace on the road or navigating technical trails in mountain biking.

What muscles do road cycling work?

Muscles that road cycling works are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calf muscles (including soleus and gastrocnemius), hip flexors, and to a lesser extent, the core and upper body muscles such as the erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, upper back, shoulders, and arms.

  • Quadriceps: These front thigh muscles are crucial for powerful pedal strokes, especially during the downstroke.
  • Hamstrings: Located on the back of the thigh, they play a significant role in the upstroke phase of pedaling.
  • Gluteus Maximus: One of the primary muscles for generating force, especially during uphill climbs.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): These muscles are engaged throughout the pedaling cycle, aiding in the push and pull movements.
  • Hip Flexors: Important for lifting the leg during the upstroke, contributing to a smooth cycling motion.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Provide stability and balance, reducing fatigue and the risk of lower back pain.
  • Upper Back, Shoulders, and Arms: While less engaged than the lower body, these muscles support posture and assist in bike control and steering.

In road cycling, the focus is predominantly on the lower body, but the contribution of the core and upper body is essential for overall endurance and efficient power transfer.

What muscles do road cycling work

What muscles does mountain biking work?

Muscles that mountain biking works are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calf muscles (including soleus and gastrocnemius), hip flexors, core muscles (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis), and a more significant engagement of upper body muscles such as the shoulders, arms, and upper back.

  • Quadriceps: Essential for pedal pushing, especially on steep ascents common in mountain biking.
  • Hamstrings: They aid in pedal pulling, especially during technical climbs and maneuvers.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Provides powerful thrusts during uphill riding and technical sections.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Engaged continuously for pedal power and balance, especially on uneven terrain.
  • Hip Flexors: Crucial for the upstroke in pedaling and maintaining balance over the bike.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Play a significant role in stabilizing the torso, which is essential for maneuvering and maintaining control on variable terrains.
  • Upper Body Muscles (Shoulders, Arms, Upper Back): Heavily utilized in mountain biking for bike handling, control during descents, and absorbing shocks from rough trails.

In mountain biking, the engagement of upper body and core muscles is more pronounced compared to road cycling, due to the need for greater bike control and stability on challenging terrains.

What muscles does mountain biking work

What muscles does gravel biking work?

Muscles that gravel biking works are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius), hip flexors, core muscles (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis), and upper body muscles like the shoulders, arms, and upper back.

  • Quadriceps: Vital for the downstroke, providing sustained power on diverse terrain.
  • Hamstrings: Engaged during the upstroke, aiding in pedaling efficiency over long distances and varied surfaces.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Key for generating power, especially on uphill sections and uneven terrain.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Continuously engaged for pedaling power and maintaining balance on loose surfaces.
  • Hip Flexors: Essential in lifting the leg during the upstroke, contributing to smooth pedaling dynamics.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Provide stability and balance, crucial for handling the mixed terrain of gravel biking.
  • Upper Body Muscles (Shoulders, Arms, Upper Back): More engaged than in road cycling, these muscles assist in bike control and stability on variable gravel surfaces.

Gravel biking, blending elements of road and off-road cycling, demands a holistic engagement of muscles, with a particular emphasis on core and upper body strength for maneuvering and stability on unpredictable terrain.

What muscles does gravel biking work

What muscles does track cycling work?

Muscles that track cycling works are predominantly the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius), along with a focus on core muscles (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis), and upper body muscles including the shoulders, arms, and upper back.

  • Quadriceps: These front thigh muscles are heavily utilized in track cycling for powerful and explosive pedal strokes.
  • Hamstrings: Essential for the pulling action during the upstroke, contributing to the high-power output required in track cycling.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Provides significant thrust and power, especially during sprints and start phases.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Engaged throughout the pedal stroke for added power and stability on the bike.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Crucial for maintaining a stable and aerodynamic position, especially during high-speed cycling.
  • Upper Body Muscles (Shoulders, Arms, Upper Back): These muscles are more engaged in track cycling compared to road cycling, as they aid in maintaining a solid grip and control over the bike during rapid maneuvers and sprints.

In track cycling, the focus is on explosive power and speed, requiring strong engagement of the lower body muscles, while the core and upper body muscles provide essential stability and control during high-velocity cycling.

What muscles does track biking work

What muscles does indoor cycling work?

Muscles that indoor cycling works are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius), hip flexors, along with core muscles (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis), and to a lesser extent, the upper body muscles like the shoulders, arms, and upper back.

  • Quadriceps: These front thigh muscles are heavily engaged for the downstroke, providing the primary force in pedaling.
  • Hamstrings: Active in the upstroke, these muscles assist in pulling the pedal up and completing the pedal cycle.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Key for generating power, especially during intense sessions like climbs and sprints.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Continuously engaged in both the push and pull phases of the pedal stroke.
  • Hip Flexors: Important for the upward movement of the legs, facilitating a smooth pedaling rhythm.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Crucial for maintaining balance and stability, particularly during challenging indoor cycling workouts.
  • Upper Body Muscles (Shoulders, Arms, Upper Back): While not as actively engaged as in outdoor cycling, these muscles help maintain posture and handlebar grip during the workout.

Indoor cycling primarily focuses on the lower body and core muscles, offering a rigorous cardiovascular workout while enhancing muscle endurance and strength.

What muscles do indoor cycling work

Muscles used in cycling indoor vs. outdoor

Muscles used in cycling indoor versus outdoor are largely similar, engaging the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, calf muscles, hip flexors, and core muscles, but there are differences in the extent of upper body muscle use and the variety of muscle engagement due to varied terrain and riding conditions.

  • Common Muscles: Both indoor and outdoor cycling heavily engage the lower body muscles, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles, for pedaling. The core muscles, including the erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis, are similarly used in both settings for stability and posture.
  • Muscles in indoor Cycling: Tends to have a more consistent muscle engagement pattern, especially in the lower body, due to the stationary and controlled environment. Upper body engagement can be less varied since there’s no need for bike maneuvering or balancing against environmental factors.
  • Muscles in outdoor Cycling: Involves more dynamic muscle use, especially in the upper body, as riders navigate turns, climbs, descents, and varied terrains. This necessitates greater activation of the shoulders, arms, and upper back. Additionally, outdoor cyclists might experience more varied lower body muscle engagement due to constant adjustments to terrain and incline.

Understanding these differences is important for cyclists aiming to train effectively for either indoor or outdoor cycling, as it can influence workout focus and cross-training activities.

What muscles are worked when cycling in different positions?

Muscles that work when cycling in different positions such as out of the saddle, uphill, downhill, standing up, and cycling backward are varied to adapt to the demands of each posture. 

  • Out of the saddle cycling engages more of the gluteus maximus and core muscles for balance and power. 
  • Uphill cycling puts greater emphasis on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles for increased force against gravity. 
  • Downhill cycling requires more from the core and upper body muscles, including shoulders and arms, for stability and control. 
  • Standing-up cycling, similar to out-of-the-saddle position, predominantly uses the quadriceps and glutes, demands more core engagement for balance. 
  • Cycling backward, though less common, uniquely activates the hamstrings and gluteal muscles in a reversed motion. 

Each of these positions shifts muscle engagement, highlighting the adaptability of the body to different cycling techniques and the importance of a well-rounded training approach to strengthen various muscle groups.

Cycling out of saddle muscles

Muscles used in cycling out of saddle position primarily include the gluteus maximus and core muscles, with a shift in engagement compared to seated cycling that involves increased activation of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, as well as the upper body muscles for balance and stability.

  • Gluteus Maximus: Heavily engaged for providing power and thrust, especially during climbs or sprints.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Play a crucial role in maintaining balance and stability when out of the saddle.
  • Quadriceps and Hamstrings: Experience increased activation to support the weight of the body and generate additional force during pedaling.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Work harder to stabilize the lower leg and aid in the pedaling motion.
  • Upper Body Muscles (Shoulders, Arms, Upper Back): More actively engaged to maintain posture, control the bike, and absorb more shock, especially on uneven terrain.

Cycling out of the saddle requires a more dynamic engagement of the entire body, with a particular emphasis on the muscles that provide power and maintain balance. This position can offer a more intensive workout and is often used during challenging parts of a ride, such as steep inclines or sprints.

Cycling out of saddle muscles

Cycling uphill muscles

Muscles used in cycling uphill position are predominantly the lower body muscles, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus, which are more intensely engaged compared to flat terrain cycling. This position requires increased work from the calf muscles and core for stability and balance.

  • Quadriceps: These front thigh muscles bear the brunt of the effort in pushing the pedals down, especially important for generating force on inclines.
  • Hamstrings: Engaged in pulling up the pedal, the hamstrings work in tandem with the quadriceps to maintain a consistent pedal stroke.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Provides significant power for uphill cycling, helping to propel the cyclist forward and upward.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): These muscles work harder to stabilize the feet and aid in the push-pull motion of pedaling uphill.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): The core is crucial for maintaining an upright posture and balance, which is particularly challenging on uphill gradients.

Cycling uphill requires greater muscular effort and endurance compared to flat terrain, with a focus on the power-generating muscles of the lower body and the stabilizing role of the core muscles. This makes uphill cycling a highly effective workout for building strength and stamina.

Cycling uphill muscles

Cycling downhill muscles

Muscles used in cycling downhill position are predominantly focused on stabilization and control, rather than propulsion, with greater engagement of the core and upper body muscles compared to flat or uphill cycling. This position involves the lower body muscles, but in a different capacity.

  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Essential for maintaining balance and stability at high speeds and during rapid changes in direction.
  • Upper Body Muscles (Shoulders, Arms, Upper Back): Heavily engaged in controlling the bike, managing braking, and absorbing shocks from the terrain.
  • Quadriceps and Hamstrings: While less engaged in propulsion, these muscles still work to maintain leg position and control, especially when maneuvering.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Involved in stabilizing the pelvis and aiding in bike control.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Help in maintaining foot position on the pedals and contribute to overall leg stability.

In downhill cycling, the emphasis shifts from the powerful, repetitive motion of pedaling to the dynamic control and stabilization required to navigate descents safely and effectively. This necessitates a strong core and upper body, making downhill cycling unique in its muscular demands compared to other cycling positions.

Cycling standing-up muscles

Muscles used in cycling standing-up position primarily include the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles for power generation, with increased engagement of the core and upper body muscles compared to seated cycling for balance and stability.

  • Quadriceps: These front thigh muscles are highly engaged for providing the primary force in the downstroke while standing.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Offers significant power, especially when standing to climb or accelerate, contributing to the overall thrust.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Work vigorously in the push and pull phases of the pedal stroke, aiding in power generation and balance.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): More actively involved in maintaining an upright posture and stability, crucial for controlling the bike in a standing position.
  • Upper Body Muscles (Shoulders, Arms, Upper Back): Engaged for supporting the body, maintaining a grip on the handlebars, and absorbing more shock, especially on uneven surfaces or during vigorous pedaling.

Standing-up cycling requires a dynamic engagement of the entire body, with a focus on lower body power and a significant contribution from the core and upper body to maintain balance and control. This position is often used for short bursts of intense effort, such as climbing steep hills or sprinting.

Cycling backward muscles

Muscles used in cycling backward position, an unconventional and less common form of cycling, primarily involve the hamstrings and gluteus maximus, which are engaged differently compared to forward cycling. This reverse action utilizes the calf muscles, core, and to some extent, the quadriceps in a unique manner.

  • Hamstrings: These muscles play a more dominant role in backward cycling, responsible for pulling the pedal up and pushing it down, reversing their usual function.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Continues to provide power, but in a different pattern of movement, aiding in the backward pedaling motion.
  • Calf Muscles (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Engaged for stabilizing the feet and aiding in the reversed pedaling action.
  • Core Muscles (Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): Essential for balance and stability, as backward cycling presents unique challenges in maintaining body equilibrium.
  • Quadriceps: Although less engaged compared to forward cycling, they still contribute to the overall pedaling motion, especially in the phase opposite to their usual downstroke action.

Cycling backward is a rare and unconventional practice, often used in specific training exercises or as a novelty. The reversed pedaling motion requires a unique pattern of muscle engagement, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and coordination in cycling.

Cycling muscles vs running muscles

Cycling muscles versus running muscles are characterized by different patterns of engagement and emphasis; while both cycling and running heavily use the lower body, cycling focuses more on the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles, whereas running places greater stress on the hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors, along with significant involvement of the core and upper body for balance and posture.

Common Muscles:

  • Hamstrings and Calves: Both activities engage these muscles extensively, though in different ways; cycling uses them primarily in pedaling motion, while running utilizes them for propulsion and shock absorption.
  • Hip Flexors: Important in both cycling and running for leg lifting and forward motion.

Cycling-Specific Muscles:

  • Quadriceps: Heavily used in cycling for the downstroke, providing the main force in pedaling.
  • Gluteus Maximus: Particularly engaged during uphill and sprinting phases in cycling.

Running-Specific Muscles:

  • Core Muscles (including the Erector Spinae, Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis): More actively engaged in running for maintaining posture and stability.
  • Upper Body Muscles (including Shoulders and Arms): Used more in running for balance and maintaining rhythm.

While both cycling and running are effective lower-body workouts, the specific demands of each activity result in different patterns of muscle engagement, with cycling focusing more on sustained, repetitive lower-body movements and running involving a broader range of muscles for dynamic movement and impact absorption.

What are the common cycling muscle pains and injuries?

The common cycling muscle pains are muscle soreness and fatigue, particularly in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, often due to overuse or inadequate conditioning. Lower back pain is frequently experienced, stemming from prolonged riding postures or improper bike fit.

Common cycling muscle injuries include patellar tendinitis, iliotibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, muscle strains (especially in the quadriceps and hamstrings), and lower back strain, often resulting from overuse, improper bike fit, or inadequate stretching and conditioning.

Cycling muscle pain

Cycling muscle pains include delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), neck pain, hand pain, forearm pain, low back pain, muscle sprains and strains, hip pain, urogenital pain, knee pain (including Patella-Femoral syndrome and ITB Syndrome), ankle pain, foot numbness, saddle sore, and AC joint sprain, each associated with specific muscle groups and causes.

  • Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): Affects various muscle groups used in cycling, such as quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, due to intense exercise and micro-tears in muscle fibers.
  • Neck Pain: Cycling neck pain involves the upper trapezius and cervical spine muscles, strained from maintaining a forward-leaning posture.
  • Hand Pain: Often related to the muscles in the hand and wrist, due to pressure and gripping the handlebars.
  • Forearm Pain: Caused by overuse of forearm muscles, leading to increased pressure and pain.
  • Low Back Pain: Cycling lower back pain involves the lumbar and lower erector spinae muscles, strained from prolonged bending and cycling posture.
  • Muscle Sprains and Strains: Affects various muscles, often occurring in the legs and back due to overexertion.
  • Hip Pain: Hip pain from cycling can involve the hip flexors, gluteal muscles, or adductors, resulting from repetitive pedaling motion.
  • Urogenital Pain: Caused by compression affecting the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Knee Pain:Patella-Femoral Syndrome: Affects the quadriceps and surrounding knee muscles. ITB Syndrome: Involves the iliotibial band and related hip and thigh muscles pain around knees.
  • Ankle Pain: Related to the muscles around the ankle joint, affected by pedaling motion.
  • Foot Numbness: Foot pain from cycling involves foot muscles, caused by pressure on nerves.
  • Saddle Sore: Affects the gluteal and pelvic region muscles due to prolonged pressure.
  • AC Joint Sprain: Involves shoulder muscles, typically due to trauma.

Cycling muscle pain

What are the symptoms of cycling muscle pains?

The symptoms of cycling muscle pains are fatigue due to prolonged exertion, cramps from muscle overuse or dehydration, soreness as a result of micro-tears in the muscle fibers (especially common with DOMS), numbness often caused by compressed nerves or reduced blood flow, and muscle pulls or tears, which can occur from excessive strain or insufficient warm-up.

What happens if my cycling muscles are imbalanced?

If your cycling muscles are imbalanced, it can lead to inefficient pedaling technique, increased risk of overuse injuries, and discomfort, because certain muscles may become overworked while others are underutilized, leading to poor posture and alignment on the bike.

What is piriformis syndrome in cyclists?

Piriformis syndrome in cyclists is a condition where the piriformis muscle, located in the buttock region near the top of the hip joint, becomes tight or spasms, leading to pain, numbness, or tingling along the sciatic nerve. It happens due to prolonged sitting on the bike saddle, repetitive pedaling motion, or incorrect bike fit especially if they have poor flexibility or muscle imbalances in the hips and glutes. This syndrome can affect cycling efficiency and comfort, and in severe cases may significantly impair riding ability.

Can you pull a muscle cycling?

Yes, you can pull a muscle from cycling because of the repetitive motion and the strain on certain muscle groups, especially if you overexert yourself or don’t warm up properly, which can lead to muscle strains or pulls.

Can you tear a ligament cycling?

Yes, you can tear a ligament from cycling because accidents, falls, or sudden, incorrect movements during intense cycling can put excessive stress on ligaments, leading to tears, especially in the knees or ankles.

Can cycling cause buttock pain?

Yes, cycling can cause buttock pain because prolonged periods in the saddle can lead to pressure on the buttocks and surrounding areas, potentially causing discomfort, muscle soreness, or aggravating conditions like piriformis syndrome.

Can cycling weaken pelvic floor muscles?

No, cycling typically doesn’t weaken pelvic floor muscles because cycling is a low-impact exercise that generally does not exert the kind of downward pressure on the pelvic floor that can lead to weakening, unlike high-impact activities like running.

Why does my left glute hurt when cycling?

Your left glute hurts when cycling because of muscle imbalances, improper bike fit, prolonged pressure from the saddle, or specific cycling posture that places excess strain on your left gluteal muscles. Same for the right glute hurts when cycling.

Why is my inner thigh muscle pain after cycling?

Your inner thigh muscle pain after cycling because of overuse or strain of the adductor muscles, which may occur from maintaining a sustained pedaling position or not being accustomed to the specific demands of cycling.

Why is my lower abdominal muscle pain after cycling?

Your lower abdominal muscle pain after cycling because of the engagement and possible strain of these muscles during intense or prolonged cycling, especially if your core strength is not fully developed or if you have an improper cycling posture.

Why is my calf muscle pain after cycling?

Your calf muscle pain after cycling because of overuse, muscle fatigue, dehydration, or insufficient stretching, as these muscles are heavily engaged in the pedal-pushing motion during cycling.

What are the most common cycling muscle injuries?

The most common cycling muscle injuries are Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, Numbness and paresthesias, metatarsalgia, and low-back pain, each occurring due to the specific physical demands and positions of cycling listed below.

  • Achilles Tendinitis: This injury involves inflammation of the Achilles tendon, often resulting from overuse, improper bike fit, or incorrect pedaling technique.
  • Plantar Fasciitis: Characterized by pain in the bottom of the foot, this condition is caused by strain on the plantar fascia, potentially exacerbated by improper footwear or pedal positioning.
  • Numbness and Paresthesias: These symptoms, including tingling or loss of sensation in the hands or feet, can arise from prolonged pressure or poor positioning on the bike.
  • Metatarsalgia: This refers to pain in the ball of the foot, often a result of pressure from pedaling, especially if bike shoes are ill-fitting or lack adequate support.
  • Low-Back Pain: Common in cyclists due to prolonged bending and lower back stress, this pain can be exacerbated by poor posture, a non-ergonomic bike setup, or weak core muscles.

What are the most common cycling muscle injuries

A study led by Dr. Tony Wanich from the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, US, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS) in 2007 highlights that many common lower extremity cycling injuries, including knee pain, patellar quadriceps tendinitis, iliotibial band syndrome, and metatarsalgia, are preventable and often result from inadequate preparation, inappropriate equipment, poor technique, and overuse, with treatment focusing on non-surgical methods and injury prevention through proper bike fit, equipment, and training techniques.

What helps muscle pain from cycling?

To help muscle pain from cycling, one should engage in proper warm-up and cool-down routines to prepare the muscles for exercise and aid recovery, incorporate regular stretching to maintain muscle flexibility, ensure adequate hydration and nutrition to support muscle function and recovery, use foam rolling or massage to relieve muscle tightness and improve blood circulation, adopt an appropriate training schedule to prevent overuse injuries, maintain proper cycling posture and bike fit to reduce strain, and consider taking rest days or engaging in low-impact cross-training activities to allow muscles time to recover. Additionally, using hot or cold therapy can alleviate pain and swelling, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may be used as needed. These strategies combined can effectively address and prevent muscle pain resulting from cycling.

How to manage sore cycling muscles?

To manage sore cycling muscles, one should incorporate rest and recovery, stretching, heat and cold therapy, foam rolling or massage, hydration and nutrition, over-the-counter pain relief, low-impact cross-training, and review cycling technique and bike fit.

  • Rest and Recovery: Essential for muscle repair, allowing time off the bike after strenuous rides can help prevent overuse injuries.
  • Stretching: Gentle stretching can improve flexibility, alleviate stiffness, and enhance blood flow to the affected muscles.
  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat can relax and loosen sore muscles, while cold therapy helps reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Foam Rolling or Massage: These techniques aid in breaking down muscle knots and improving circulation, hastening the recovery process.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Adequate fluid intake and a balanced diet rich in protein and nutrients are crucial for muscle repair and recovery.
  • Over-the-counter Pain Relief: Medications like ibuprofen can provide temporary relief from muscle soreness and inflammation.
  • Low-Impact Cross-Training: Activities like swimming or yoga maintain fitness levels without putting additional strain on sore muscles.
  • Review Cycling Technique and Bike Fit: Ensuring proper cycling posture and an ergonomically correct bike setup can prevent future muscle soreness and enhance comfort during rides.

How to manage sore cycling muscles

How to build your cycling muscles?

To build your cycling muscles, incorporate strength training exercises for the lower body, core strengthening workouts, regular cycling with varied intensity, upper body exercises, adequate recovery, proper nutrition, hydration, and complementary cross-training activities.

  • Strength Training for Lower Body: Include exercises like squats, lunges, and leg presses to target quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, essential for pedaling power.
  • Core Strengthening Workouts: Perform planks, bridges, and abdominal exercises to enhance stability and improve power transfer while cycling.
  • Regular Cycling with Varied Intensity: Engage in consistent cycling sessions, incorporating hills and speed intervals to build endurance and muscle strength.
  • Upper Body Exercises: Incorporate workouts for the arms, shoulders, and back to improve overall balance and control on the bike.
  • Adequate Recovery: Allow time for rest and muscle repair, crucial for muscle growth and preventing overtraining.
  • Proper Nutrition: Focus on a balanced diet rich in protein, carbohydrates, and essential nutrients to fuel muscle growth and repair.
  • Hydration: Maintain adequate fluid intake to support overall muscle function and recovery.
  • Cross-Training Activities: Add low-impact exercises like swimming or running to your routine for overall fitness and to reduce the risk of cycling-related overuse injuries.

How to build your cycling muscles

Does biking build muscle?

Yes, biking can build muscle because it involves continuous use of major lower body muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, which can lead to increased muscle strength and endurance over time.

Does cycling build leg muscles?

Yes, cycling can build leg muscles because it consistently engages key lower body muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, leading to improved muscle tone and strength in the legs.

Does high-resistance cycling build muscle?

Yes, high-resistance cycling can build muscle because it requires more force to pedal against the resistance, leading to increased muscle activation and growth, particularly in the lower body muscles.

Does indoor cycling build muscles?

Yes, indoor cycling can build muscle because it involves repetitive use of the lower body muscle (particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes), which can lead to increased muscle strength and endurance, especially when using higher resistance settings.

Can cycling strengthen back muscles?

Yes, cycling can strengthen back muscles because maintaining a proper cycling posture requires engagement of the lower and upper back muscles, which helps in building their strength and endurance over time.

Does cycling strengthen knee muscles?

Yes, cycling can strengthen knee muscles because the continuous pedaling motion involves extensive use of muscles around the knee, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, which support and stabilize the knee joint.

Does cycling build calf muscles?

Yes, cycling can build calf muscles because the repeated pedaling action, especially during climbing or high-resistance cycling, actively engages and strengthens the calf muscles, including the gastrocnemius and soleus.

Does cycling build core muscles?

Yes, cycling can build core muscles because maintaining stability and balance on the bike, especially during challenging rides requires constant engagement of the core muscles, including the abdominals and lower back.

Does cycling build arm muscle?

No, cycling doesn’t significantly build arm muscles because it primarily focuses on the lower body muscles for pedaling, with the arms playing a more supportive role in balance and control rather than intense muscle building.

Does cycling tone your stomach?

Yes, cycling can tone your stomach but only if it is combined with a balanced diet and overall fitness regimen, as cycling engages the core muscles including the abdominal region, contributing to muscle toning and definition.

Does biking make your butt bigger?

No, cycling can’t specifically make your butt bigger because while it does work the gluteal muscles for power and endurance, cycling alone is unlikely to increase muscle size significantly without a targeted strength training regimen and nutritional support.

Does cycling cause muscle loss?

No, cycling can’t cause muscle loss, instead, it helps build and maintain muscle strength and endurance, particularly in the lower body, as long as it’s balanced with adequate nutrition and recovery.

Does cycling reduce muscle mass?

No, cycling typically doesn’t reduce muscle mass but it could lead to reduced muscle mass only if it’s excessively long-duration at a low intensity without adequate nutrition or strength training.

Is cycling good for pelvic floor muscles?

Yes, cycling is generally good for pelvic floor muscles because it is a low-impact exercise that doesn’t exert excessive strain on these muscles and can help in overall strengthening and toning of the lower body, including the pelvic area.

Is cycling good for psoas muscle?

Yes, cycling is good for the psoas muscle because it actively engages this hip flexor during the pedaling motion, contributing to its strengthening and flexibility, which is beneficial for overall hip and lower back health.

Cycling muscles workout

Cycling muscles workouts involve strength training, squats, single-leg deadlifts, heel raises, core work, varied intensity cycling, upper body workouts, cross-training, and proper recovery, each targeting specific muscle groups and aspects vital for enhancing cycling performance like FTP cycling.

  • Strength Training: Incorporates exercises that target the primary muscles used in cycling, enhancing overall strength and power for better cycling performance.
  • Squats: Target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, crucial for effective pedaling power and climbing ability.
  • Single Leg Deadlifts: Focus on improving balance and strengthening the hamstrings and glutes, which are key for stability and power in cycling.
  • Heel Raises: Strengthen the calf muscles, aiding in the push-pull action of the pedal stroke.
  • Core Work: Involves exercises like planks and crunches to strengthen the abdominal and lower back muscles, essential for maintaining proper cycling posture and balance.
  • Varied Intensity Cycling: Incorporating different intensities and terrains in cycling workouts to improve muscular endurance and adaptability.
  • Upper Body Workout: Strengthens the shoulders, arms, and back, which support posture and control while cycling, especially during long rides or when cycling out of the saddle.
  • Cross-Training: Engaging in other forms of exercise like swimming or running to complement cycling, enhancing overall fitness and reducing the risk of overuse injuries.
  • Recovery: Incorporating adequate rest, stretching, and possibly foam rolling to aid in muscle recovery and prevent injury, which is as crucial as the workouts themselves.

How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle by Cycling?

To build muscle by cycling, it typically takes several weeks to months of consistent, targeted cycling training activities, depending on factors like frequency, intensity, and individual fitness levels. 

However, it’s important to note that cycling, while effective for increasing muscular endurance and toning, is not the most efficient method for rapid muscle building compared to strength training. Cycling predominantly targets the lower body muscles and requires sustained, repetitive effort over time to see noticeable muscle growth. The process involves proper nutrition, adequate recovery, and potentially supplementing with strength training exercises to achieve significant muscle development. 

Therefore, while cycling can contribute to stronger and more toned muscles, especially in the lower body, it may not lead to rapid or significant muscle mass increase as seen with weightlifting or resistance training.

Will cycling give me big legs?

No, cycling will not typically give you big legs because it focuses more on building muscular endurance rather than the hypertrophy (muscle size increase) typically achieved through weightlifting or high-resistance strength training.

How do you cycle without losing muscle mass?

Cycling typically wouldn’t lead to muscle mass loss because it is a muscle-strengthening cardiovascular activity, especially for the lower body, but to avoid losing muscle mass from cycling, you should incorporate strength training into your routine. Focusing on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges can help maintain and build muscle in your legs and glutes. Additionally, it’s important to consume a balanced diet with adequate protein to support muscle repair and growth. Balancing cycling with varied intensity and incorporating rest days can prevent overtraining and muscle fatigue. Maintaining a calorie intake that meets your activity level is crucial; consuming too few calories can lead to muscle catabolism, where the body starts using muscle tissue for energy. By combining cycling with strength training and proper nutrition, you can enjoy the cardiovascular benefits of cycling without compromising your muscle mass.