The cycling workout: which muscles are you engaging?

On Behalf of | Jul 22, 2020 | Benefits of Bicycling |

Riding a bicycle is well known as a healthy alternative to driving a car, both for you and the environment. The active mode of transportation not only gets you where you want to be but helps you get in a workout along the way. So, what muscles are you engaging when you hop on a bike?


Your legs are the primary workers on a bike. The quadriceps, on the front of your thigh, and the hamstrings, on the back of your thighs, are some of the main players, pushing down to pedal and move your bicycle. These muscles include the semimembranosus, biceps femoris, vastus medialis, rectus femoris and vastus lateralis.

Calves are also engaged in the pedaling motion. Most significantly, they work with the muscles around your joints to stabilize your ankles and legs. This includes the gastrocnemius medialis and lateralis, and soleus.


Your gluteal muscles, or buttocks, are another significant set of muscles for cycling. Made of the gluteus maximum, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, these muscles are important for the pedaling motion.


A big benefit of cycling outside rather than in a gym is the engagement of your upper body, as well as the lower. On an outdoor bike, you not only are pedaling, but also must hold yourself steady. The muscles in your abdomen and back are activated as you sit on the bike and hold yourself up. Especially as you make turns and go uphill, these muscles are engaged.


The biceps and triceps are another upper-body muscle that is engaged while cycling. As you pull back on the handlebars and balance your weight, these muscles in the arms become activated. Depending on your cycling position, you can engage these muscles more and include your shoulders, or deltoids.

Of course, the type of cycling that you choose will change which muscles are targeted. For example, the legs will be pushed if you are working on speed. The glutes, quads and biceps are engaged when going uphill. And with aero bars, where you lean forward on the bike, your arms and shoulders will be more engaged.