Unlock the Benefits: What Muscles Does Biking Work?

Author: Kier

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Cyclists have one of the most envied physiques. That’s because regular cycling leads to toned muscles and a lean figure. So, what muscles does biking work?

I’m going to guide you through the main muscle groups that cycling works and show you why this is the case. I’ll also give you some helpful tips on getting started with exercising these muscles.

Key Takeaways: What Muscles Does Biking Work?

  • The quadriceps are vital for cycling as they initiate each pedal stroke.
  • The hamstrings are important as they work with the quads to initiate pedal strokes and stabilize the pelvis.
  • The glutes are sometimes overlooked by cyclists but they’re crucial for generating power.
  • Your calves initiate the movement of pushing the pedal forward at the top of the stroke, and back at the bottom.
  • Your core muscles help you maintain stability and proper posture as you cycle.
A cyclist in a yellow shirt and helmet sitting on a road bike by a brick wall, holding a water bottle.


Your quadriceps muscles are at the front of your upper leg. They’re the muscles that are used to extend your leg at the knee. Out of all of the muscle groups, your quads get one of the toughest workouts when cycling. That’s because they initiate each and every pedal stroke.

It’s no surprise if you’ve ever seen an elite cyclist’s leg muscles you’ll have noticed that their quads are pretty impressive (well, okay maybe not the pure climbers!).

The stronger your quads are, the more power and speed you can generate when cycling. The risk of fatigue is also reduced when you have strong quads.

The cycling work that increases quad strength the most includes hill climbs, interval training, and other high-intensity efforts. These activities challenge your quads and build their strength over time.

close up shot of cyclist legs


The hamstrings are the primary muscles located in the back of your upper leg. They extend your hip and flex the leg at the knee.

They’re one of the most important muscle groups for cycling as they work in tandem with the quads to drive the pedal stroke. They also help to keep you stable as you pedal.

A good, 360-degree pedal stroke is ideal, and having strong hamstrings helps you to achieve this. Well-built hamstrings make it easier for you to generate power as you pedal, and make the stroke feel easier.

Think about the hamstrings in action when cycling. Pay attention to how your upper leg feels when you’re at the bottom of a pedal stroke. It should feel like you’re attempting to scrape something off the bottom of your shoe, and there will be a slight pull in your leg. The pull you feel is your hamstring hard at work.


The gluteal muscles, or glutes, are made up of three different muscles. These are the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and the gluteus medius. They’re lower body muscles located in the buttocks and they get a good workout from cycling.

They’re crucial for generating power and stabilizing the pelvis as you pedal. Some novice cyclists overlook the glutes when they’re considering their overall muscle fitness. However, they’re one of the major muscle groups used when cycling and shouldn’t be neglected.

In fact, muscle imbalances in the glutes can compromise cycling efficiency and disrupt the ideal pedaling mechanics that you’re aiming to achieve.

These imbalances can also increase the risk of injuries as they contribute to poor biomechanics. This puts more strain on other muscles and joints, particularly the knees and hips.

Maintaining strong glutes will help you to cycle for longer and in more comfort. They make you more stable on your bike and help you to generate more power during intense cycling periods.

calf stretch


Your calf muscles are at the back of your lower leg. They act as a conduit between the quads and the pedal making them absolutely essential for cycling. They’re worked very heavily during cycling and if you’ve been engaged in the sport for a while, you’ll most likely have noticed how toned your calf muscles have become.

If you want a strong and powerful pedal stroke, then you need to make sure you have very strong calf muscles. When you push the pedal stroke forward at the top, and pull it back at the bottom, your calves are the muscles that initiate this.

As the calves are so important for cycling, some cyclists become overly fixated on them. This can lead them to ignore other important muscle groups such as the glutes and the other leg muscles.

Remember, although cycling is a lower-body-dominated sport, you need to maintain strength in all of the muscle groups.

close up legs of cyclist on indoor turbo

Core Muscles

Your core muscles are crucial for maintaining stability and proper posture as you cycle. They include your obliques, abdominals, and lower back muscles. When you cycle, these muscles are engaged constantly to keep you balanced and upright.

If you’ve developed a bit of a six-pack since you started cycling, that’s why!

If you maintain a strong core, then less weight will be placed on your wrists, hands, and arm muscles as you cycle. This relieves some of the stress on your upper body and makes longer rides more comfortable.

Cyclist in orange jersey riding on a sunny country road

Cardiovascular Health

Last but certainly not least, cycling is a great form of aerobic exercise that can massively increase your cardiovascular health.

Here are the ways cycling improves your cardiovascular health:

  • Increases lung capacity: Regular cycling improves your lung capacity. This allows for better oxygen intake and cycling endurance.
  • Improves heart health: Cycling improves circulation, strengthens the heart muscles, and enhances overall cardiovascular function.
  • Reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases: Off all the muscles biking works, your heart is the biggest beneficiary. Cycling has been shown to reduce the risk of conditions like strokes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Cycling regularly doesn’t just lead to increased cycling endurance—it also makes your daily activities easier and more enjoyable. As your overall stamina and endurance increase, you’re able to sustain physical effort for longer durations. This is transferrable to many other aspects of your life.

Getting Started

Now that you know all about which muscles are used when you cycle, I’ll get you started with some tips on how you can build their strength.


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.

Quad exercises

Strength training exercises like squats, leg presses, and leg extensions are excellent ways to work on your quads. You can use resistance bands, weights, or a bit of both for these exercises. They’re also easy to adjust for varying fitness levels.

Hamstring exercises

If you have access to a leg curl machine, then leg curls are one of the best exercises for strengthening your hamstrings. If not, then you can try out deadlifts instead.

Gluteal muscle exercises

The best strength training exercises for the glutes are lunges, squats, and glute bridges. Incorporating dumbbells into your lunges will help to strengthen your glutes even more. Deadlifts are also good for your glutes and, as mentioned, will strengthen your hamstrings at the same time.

Calf muscle exercises

Calf raises are a simple exercise that is one of the most beneficial activities you can do for your calf muscles. You can do them with weights or without. Calf raises also help to strengthen the muscles around your Achilles. This is very advantageous as it reduces the risk of an Achilles injury when you cycle.

Core exercises

To improve your core strength, incorporate exercises such as sit-ups, planks, and Russian twists into your training regime. To increase the intensity of these exercises, you can use weights or resistance bands.

Still, if you’re new to core exercises, then it’s usually best to start off without them.

cyclist on proper form


Does indoor cycling on a stationary bike work different muscles than other types of cycling?

Cycling on a stationary bike targets the same muscle groups as outdoor cycling. However, there are some differences in the ways that the muscles are engaged when cycling indoors or outdoors.

For example, cycling outdoors tends to involve more engagement of the upper body muscles. This is because it requires more upper-body movement for balance, steering, and stability. This is especially true when navigating rough terrain or making turns.

Generally, cycling on a stationary bike doesn’t require much upper-body movement and places more stress on the lower body.

Does cycling help you lose belly fat?

As with any form of exercise, cycling regularly can help you to lose belly fat. Still, it needs to be combined with a healthy diet.

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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