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The Cyclist in Motion: What Muscles Does Biking Work?

As with any sport and physical activity, regular cyclists enjoy the many benefits that the two-wheeled machine provides. From aerobic benefits, burning a ton of calories, and the opportunity of being out there in nature, riding your bike regularly helps you trim down and tone up. In fact, a lot of emphasis is placed on well-refined muscles and cardiovascular endurance which comes as a result of pushing your body to produce energy to move muscles, especially when pedaling at high intensities. In short, cycling is an effective exercise to get a lean and fit body with notable stamina increases.

So, what muscles does biking work? Understanding which part of your muscles will tone up as a result of regular cycling will give you a better insight into how to integrate cycling into your workout routine for optimal results.

Muscles Used in Cycling

Biking works out the majority of muscles in our body, including the heart. But there are muscles that biking specifically targets and which are crucial for getting a well-defined body. The beauty of riding a bike for fitness is that the more you increase the pedaling intensity, the more and faster you tone the muscles. Of course, this also depends on the type of riding you do and the terrain you choose. Here’s a rundown of the most important muscle groups that are used when biking.

Lower body muscles

No prizes for guessing that key muscles used when biking are your legs. This includes the muscle groups in front of the thigh and in the rear or the back of the thigh. Significant input is also directed to the buttock muscles. So, the following lower-body muscles are used in cycling:

Quadriceps

Quadriceps consist of four muscles (hence the name) which are located in the front of the thigh and work together to push the bike forward when you start pedaling. Quads are the main source of your pedaling power, so it is no wonder you see more definition and feel tightness in these parts of muscles when biking.

You’ve probably noticed that professional cyclists, among all the muscles in the body, have well-developed quadriceps. This points to how effective regular cycling can be if you want your quads to stand out. It is recommended to do a little warm-up before you start pedaling so as not to strain or pull the muscles.

Hamstrings

These are muscles that are located on the back of the thigh and above the knee. Hamstrings allow your knee to bend as you pedal and are most active between the 6- to 9 o’clock position of the pedal stroke. They are vital to bikers as they generate a lot of strength and endurance, so it’s important to warm them up and not overwork them in order to prevent injuries.

Both quads and hamstrings work together as a cohesive unit. It is essential to train both muscle groups at the same level. Many cyclists suffer injuries because they failed to focus on both quads and hamstrings and train them with the same intensity and effort.

Gluteal muscles

Gluteal muscles are another major source of pedaling power and as such, they are constantly toned up when cycling. The gluteal muscles, also known as buttocks are divided into three parts of muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. 

  • Gluteus maximus is the most prominent of all the gluteal muscles and is crucial in providing power behind your stroke. It makes a large part of the shape and appearance of the gluteal region which explains why professional cyclists have very toned glutes. 
  • Gluteus medius and Gluteus Minmus are the prime movers of abduction at the hip joint when the body is in motion and contribute to a large percent of your pedaling power. 

However, you should keep in mind that glute workout works best when pedaling out of the saddle. As a result, it is important to set the saddle height in a more optimal position ( a little higher than you’re used to) so you get the most out of a glute workout.

Upper body muscles

When biking, besides lower body muscles, you work out the upper body, too. This happens when gripping the handlebars, standing to climb uphill, and controlling the direction of your bike. All these lead to biceps tensing up, activating muscles in the back and the abdominal region as well. Let’s which upper body muscles are specifically worked out when biking.

Abdominal muscles

When biking, you are encouraged to stay upright and keep balance which automatically requires you to engage your core muscles. The core is where all the abdominal muscles are located and it is what keeps the back straight and stable while pedaling. Engaging with your core muscles prevents unwanted movements and makes handling the bike much easier and less tiring. Be careful to use a correctly sized bike though,  in order to avert any potential injuries and lower back pain.

Arms(biceps and triceps)

While riding a bike, you also give your biceps (front arm muscles) and triceps (muscles at the back) a toning workout when engaging with the handlebar. Arms are best exercised when you tighten the handlebars when going at high intensities and when you ride in a standing position with high resistance. While arm muscles tend to develop at a much slower rate, compared to lower body muscles, cycling can be combined with other forms of physical workouts to speed up the process of toning your arms.

Back muscles

Biking is also good for your back muscles which play a crucial role in maintaining your position and supporting the spine. Working out your back muscles helps to increase stability and comfort when pedalling. 

Be aware of poor bike fit and handlebars which require you to overstretch the low back. They can put more stress on your back muscles and consequently lead to back pain. Also, bumpy terrains and long times spent in the saddle can have a negative impact on your back muscles. Keep these in mind before you target the back muscles with cycling.

While the lower body muscles (legs) are most targeted when cycling, the upper body parts such as abdominals, arms, and back muscles also get in a great workout. In short, cycling can be a great physical activity and a good dose of exercise if you’re interested in working out a wide range of muscles and body parts.

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