Is Cycling a Good Leg Workout? Is It Enough!


Cycling is all about propelling yourself forward using your own power, and that power comes from the lower body. Your glutes, hamstrings, and quads each fire at key moments while pedaling, leading to a great workout for your legs.

So does that mean you can get the super lean, strong legs of a Tour de France champion simply by hopping on the bike?

One can definitely sculpt their legs from cycling, especially if it’s paired with a well-planned diet and exercise routine. Cycling helps build the lower body and doesn’t put excess damage on the joints in the process.

But there is more to this. Either way, you can definitely put in the work to increase your overall strength and power. And who knows, maybe photos of your legs will end up as inspirational art for future cyclists.

Can Cycling Count as Leg Day?

Cycling is a great way to get stronger legs, but if you’re really looking to pack on the muscle you’ll want to incorporate some strength training.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pump iron on top of your cycling commitments, but it can be a helpful addition to your routine. Resistance training with weights can help prevent injury and make you a better cyclist overall.

Can Cycling Replace Squats?

No, cycling cannot replace squats. While the motions are similar, they require engaging different muscles and ultimately serve different purposes.

However, squats will definitely help strengthen your legs, which can lead to more power on the bike.

Squats primarily work your glutes and quads, which are the primary muscles you utilize in each pedal stroke (Source).

Better yet, there are different types of squats to target these muscles in different ways:

Back Squat

This is likely what you think of when you think of squatting with a barbell. The barbell rests either high or low on the back trapezius muscles, depending on the type of squat that best suits your body type and goals. Like most types of squats, the back squats will target your quads, calves, glutes, and core (Source).

Split Squat

Also called Bulgarian Split Squats, these are a great addition to any cyclist’s routine. This utiliteral, single leg movement can help fix strength imbalances while also targeting the stabilizing muscles.

Split squats are also a great option for anyone who experiences knee pain when doing back squats.

Squat Jumps

These squats are all about building power, which translates to improved acceleration on the bike (Source).

This is a plyometric exercise that involves jumping onto an object from a squat position and continuing the motion for multiple reps. You can start by just jumping in place and then progress to jumping on increasingly taller blocks.

Can You Get Good Legs from Cycling?

Yes, you can definitely sculpt your legs from cycling, especially if it’s paired with a well-planned diet and exercise routine. Cycling helps build your lower body and doesn’t put excess damage on the joints in the process. (Source)

If you are coming to cycling from a primarily sedentary background, you’ll likely see some noticeable improvements early on.

As you progress in your cycling, though, it may get harder to see changes in your physique. At this point you may decide to add in supplementary weight training work, or simply choose to be happy with the level you’re at.

Is Cycling Better than Going to The Gym?

Both cycling and going to the gym are great workouts, and it really comes down to what your goals are. Do you want to be healthy into old age? Win a cycling race? Get super jacked?

Once you can clearly define what your goal is with exercise, you will be better able to find (and stick to) a plan that works best for you.

But what if you have seemingly conflicting goals? Well, it can help to prioritize them and consider working seasonally. In other words, you may decide to take advantage of the great summer and fall weather when pursuing your cycling goals.

Then in the winter you can switch to more of a weight-training routine. If you want to be competitive, your best bet will be to find a coach who can train you in the race distance you’re trying to conquer.

They’ll typically provide complementary gym sessions to keep your muscles in prime condition without sacrificing your cycling performance or recovery.

In general, if cycling is your primary focus, you’ll want to put the vast majority of your effort into time on the bike. This can include stationary training rides or long rides on the road. No matter how you do it (and you’ll likely want to do a bit of both), you will see results over time.

We also recommend that you check out our post “Is a Stationary Bike Good for Bad Knees? What You Must Know!

You can use strength training as a way to get stronger on the bike and prevent injuries, but it shouldn’t take up a lot of time or energy. In other words, cycling isn’t better or worse than going to the gym, but if your goal is to win a race, then riding should take priority.

How Does Cycling Strengthen Weaker Legs?

If you come from a primarily sedentary background (meaning most of your time is spent sitting), then you will probably notice some new strength in your legs as you begin your cycling journey. However, these gains may be short lived if they aren’t paired with a strength routine.

This is because cycling primarily increases your muscular endurance (along with great cardiovascular endurance improvements).

If you want a challenge, there are things you can incorporate into your rides to make the most out of your time in the saddle and give your legs a serious workout (Source).

Ride Hills

When you’re first starting out, it can be tempting to avoid routes that have hills, but you’re only doing yourself a disservice. Riding hills is a great way to build strength in your legs. The force of gravity will force you to use more of your leg muscles to grind your way to the top.

Stand Up

Standing up to pedal can be super helpful on steep hills and it’s also a great way to work different muscles in your legs. Your body weight creates resistance, so you’ll need to use more power to move each pedal stroke.

Change Your Cadence

Increasing your cadence has many benefits and can be a great way to increase your overall strength on the bike. There are many videos online that will show you how to increase your cadence and different interval training rides you can incorporate to really feel the burn.

Things to Keep in Mind

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what you want out of your cycling journey. If you’re looking to get super beefy legs, you may be better off spending more of your time in the gym.

But if you’re simply looking to become a better rider, nothing beats time in the saddle.

Both options are great for overall fitness and any good routine will incorporate a mix of cardio and strength training.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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