© Seth Taube 2023.

What Does Cycling Do to Legs?

Seth Taube
On 12 April 2023

What Does Cycling Do to Legs? - Seth B. Taube

When you think about the benefits of cycling, the first thing that comes to mind is leg muscles. The quadriceps are the main ones that get a good workout as you pedal, while your glutes and hamstrings also get a great workout.

It’s important to note that cyclists develop their leg muscle mass differently than runners. Runners typically have more developed glutes and quads than cyclists, though that can vary depending on their training.


Cycling is usually considered a cardiovascular activity but also works many skeletal muscles. These include the calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius) and the thigh muscles.

The quadriceps are one of the main power-producing muscle groups used while cycling, which helps increase your pedalling speed. Stronger quadriceps reduce fatigue risk during long rides and can be improved by strength training exercises.

Cycling primarily targets the quads and glutes, but it also engages other muscle groups throughout the core and upper body for stability and balance. These areas are rare, but they are essential for maintaining good form.

Riding requires the activation of core muscles to support and protect the upper body and spine, which is especially needed for more challenging terrains. Cycling also strengthens the shoulders and arms, as cyclists often change positions while riding – standing, leaning forward, or ducking – which places pressure on these areas.


Endurance refers to the ability of an athlete to endure a specific amount of exercise for a prolonged period. It is essential in endurance training and sports like running, swimming, rowing, cross-country skiing etc.

Cycling can help build endurance in many ways. It is an excellent form of non-impact exercise, so it is suitable for athletes who want to reduce the impact on their joints from high-impact activities like running.

By improving the capacity of muscles to use oxygen, developing key enzymes, and increasing muscle glycogen stores, exercise helps with aerobic conditioning, enabling the muscles to use stored energy during physical activity. It can also improve fatigue resistance, VO2 max and lactate threshold.

Riding in the Endurance zone (Zone 2) exclusively utilizes Type 1 muscle fibres, which can sustain themselves for almost indefinite periods with proper fuel. This type of training can trigger more adaptive stimulus than riding at a pure recovery pace, but it does require repeated repetition to develop.


Unlike running, walking or jumping, cycling doesn’t load the skeleton with mechanical stress that stimulates new bone growth. This means that cyclists are at greater risk of fragile bones, especially if they ride long distances without weight-bearing exercise.

A study from 2012 found that road cyclists had lower bone mineral density than healthy non-cycling controls, which could be due to high rates of calcium loss through sweating. It was also suggested that a lack of vitamin D could contribute to the low levels.

However, the researchers found that adding bone-strengthening exercises to a cycling routine may improve bone health. These include suspension training, squats with a bag, barbell work and heavy kettlebell or dumbbell work.

Mental Health

Mental health is a broad term that encompasses a person’s emotional, psychological and social well-being. It also determines how an individual handles stress, interpersonal relationships and decision-making.

Complex factors, including social and financial circumstances, adverse childhood experiences, genetics, and underlying medical conditions, influence good mental health, just like any illness. Serious mental illnesses include depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Cycling is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. It can help you to relax, de-stress and feel more positive in your everyday life.

Studies have shown that people who cycle regularly report higher self-esteem and better moods than those who don’t. It’s also proven to reduce anxiety.