Transform Your Cycling Game: Essential Leg Workouts for Cyclists

Author: Kier

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The purpose of leg exercises is two-fold.

Firstly, they help you perfect your pedalling. With larger and stronger leg muscles, you’re able to pedal faster for longer. You can also take on higher elevations and cycle across trickier terrain with perfect agility.

Secondly, added leg strength also reduces the chances of getting injured when you’re cycling. Muscle mass makes your legs more robust.

While cycling helps you build muscle, I definitely recommend that you also fit in some targeted leg exercises to perform when off the bike. From squats to plyometric exercises, here are my best leg workouts for cycling.

Training to Failure

First off, a quick note on training effectively and resistance training to failure.

When doing an exercise, if you take your sets close to failure, you don’t need as many of them to get the same result. You can get more out of 2 hard sets done at the right intensity than 5 sets where you leave some reps in the tank.

The idea is that nearly all of the growth comes in the last few reps. So if you want to get the most out of your time in the gym, working close to momentary muscle failure is a necessity. Many people complete sets without even getting within 5 reps of failure. This means that the entire set has negligible benefits with a goal to build muscle or strength.

Key Takeaways: Best Leg Workouts for Cycling

  • Maximize Gains: Push sets close to failure for better results with fewer sets.
  • Leg workouts supercharge your pedal stroke.
  • Exercising your legs also reduces injury risk.
  • The best workouts for cycling are squats, lunges, deadlifts, step-ups, leg presses, and plyometric exercises.
  • Squats exercise every single muscle in your legs.
best leg workouts for cycling


I am not a qualified trainer. The exercises listed are based on my personal experience. If you’re unsure about any exercise, please consult a certified professional for guidance on proper technique. Incorrect form, especially with weights, can cause serious injury.


I’ve started off with squats because they are the best way to strengthen all the muscles in your legs in a single exercise (plus your abs and glutes, as a bonus). In particular, squats are great for building your quadriceps, which are your power muscles when it comes to your pedal stroke.

Not only do squats help you to build leg muscle, but they help you develop hamstring balance.

Squats are also good because there is a huge range of variations. The basic bodyweight squat is great for beginners; while the Bulgarian split squat and the goblet squat can help you build even more muscle further down the line.

You also have the option to load with a barbell, racked on your shoulders.

How to squat:

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. If you’re squatting with dumbbells, hold these at your shoulders with the inside of your hands facing each other. Slowly bend your knees and lower your body into a squatting position. Ideally, your thighs should be parallel to the ground. Push through your feet to shift your body back up to the starting position.

You should aim to do 2-3 sets worth, between 6-12 reps each depending on the weight used. Just remember – push sets close to failure for better results with fewer sets

cyclist workout squat


Another all-round cycling exercise you need to fit into your routine is lunges. Lunges work your calf muscles, hamstrings, quad muscles, and glutes. By adding single-leg lunges to your routine (so you do a set on one leg, then the other) you’ll be able to curb any imbalances you have in your legs.

To build extra muscle in your hamstring and glutes, it’s worth adding reverse lunges to your routine, too.

How to lunge:

Stand with one leg in front of the other. For this example, put your right leg out first. Try to shift your weight forward by letting your heel hit the floor first. Start to lower your body forward until your right shin is vertical to the floor and your right thigh is parallel to the floor.

Pushing with your right heel, revert back to the starting position and then repeat 10 times or so. Then do the exact same exercise now for your left leg.

Repeat this around 10 times (for each leg) for 3 sets.

cyclist weight training


Deadlifts are excellent for strengthening your glutes, hips, and hamstrings. This is also the perfect exercise if you want to work on your core strength and stability. Once you master the basic deadlift movement, you can turn up the heat with more challenging variations. These include single-leg deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts, both of which will build stronger legs.

How to do deadlifts:

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the dumbbells in front of your legs. The palms of your hands should be facing inwards.

Start to bend your knees and hips. Lower the dumbbells down towards the floor while keeping your arms straight. Keep your back as neutral as possible and your core tight. Keeping your feet shoulder-width apart throughout the exercise is very important.

Allow the dumbbells to hang in front of your knees and shins. Once the dumbbells are as low as they can go, push through the ball of your foot and your glutes to return to the starting position.

You should aim to do 6-12 reps for 4 sets.

When it comes to increasing the weight for deadlifts, the natural progression is to use a barbell. However, I’ve experienced back issues with barbell deadlifts, possibly due to poor technique. As a result, I now prefer using a trap bar for my deadlifts.

cyclist weight lifting


Step-ups are super easy to master. They help condition your lower body and build muscle in your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. You can do step-ups without using any weights. However, to create extra strong legs, I’d recommend doing them with dumbbells. You’ll, of course, also need a step or box.

How to do step-ups:

Hold the dumbbells in your hand at shoulder width and height. Step and place your right foot onto the box. Pressing through the heel of your right foot, bring your left leg to meet your right leg on the box. Bend your right knee to bring your left foot to the ground again, and bring your right leg down after.

Switch legs and repeat the process. Once you have performed the exercise on the opposite leg, you have completed one rep.

Continue for 3 sets of 6-10 reps.

Leg Presses

If you’ve got access to a gym with a leg press machine, you should definitely include leg presses in your workout routine. They’re practical and effective because they’re really easy to learn and master. Plus, using a leg press machine, you can incrementally make your workout tougher by adding more weight.

Leg presses exercise your hamstrings, glute muscles, thighs, and quadriceps.

How to do leg presses:

Place both your right and left foot on the platform roughly hip-width apart. Bend your hips and knees to create a 90-degree angle (you may have to adjust the seat if this feels uncomfortable).

Push your feet against the platform until your legs are in a straight position. This counts as one rep.

Repeat the process for 8-12 reps for 4 sets.

Plyometric Exercises

Plyometric exercises are great for building leg stamina, endurance, and acceleration. Skipping, jumping, and bounding are all good, but squat jumping is the best plyometric exercise for cyclists.

How to do squat jumps:

Starting from the squat position we covered earlier, jump as high and as powerfully as you can, before landing in the same squat position. The jump should be powered entirely by your feet and leg muscles. To minimize artificial momentum, keep your hands by your hips at all times.

cyclist doing burpees step 3

Next Step: Consult with a Professional Trainer or Coach

Once you have mastered all of the above exercises, you could hire a professional trainer or coach to take you to the next level of workouts. If you’re serious about building your lower body, a professional could lead you through Romanian deadlifts and Bulgarian squats.

A personal trainer will be able to recommend an exercise routine to follow during periods of intense training. When cycling regularly, the last thing you want is to injure yourself through leg exercises. A trainer will be able to recommend when to stop, and what muscle areas to tackle.


Should I still do leg exercises if I cycle every day?

You should still do leg workouts at least once per week if you cycle every day. However, it may not be a good idea to increase your weight load during periods of high-intensity cycle training. If so, you should only do leg exercises to maintain the muscles you currently have, rather than build them.

How do I strengthen my legs for uphill cycling?

The best exercises that make uphill cycling easier include calf raises, one-leg squat jumps, alternate leg bounds, power skipping, and depth jumps. Before you start cycling, you should try to do some bridge changeovers. This will set you up to tackle tough elevations with ease. Pedaling with one leg also helps you to build muscle in your hip flexors.

Photo of author


Kier focuses on improving all things bike, and is always looking to take his ability to a new average (hopefully a higher one!). When not on the bike Kier is normally downing coffee and cake.
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