Cycling Calf Muscles: Does Cycling Work Your Calves?

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Cycling is well-known for its aerobic benefits, but it also works out a variety of muscles. Professional cyclists have very toned legs, which is hardly surprising, as your legs are the primary muscle group associated with riding bikes.

But is it cycling that gives these elite athletes toned legs? And how does having bigger calves help your riding?

Yes, cycling does work your calves – but if you’re taking up cycling to build huge calf muscles, I’m afraid you’re likely to be disappointed. Cycling is likely to tone your calf muscles, rather than add a massive amount of bulk.

However, there’s a lot more to understand than that, and there are many ways you can add other elements to your cycling training to provide a proper calf workout.

In this guide, we’ll be covering:

  • What Role Do The Calves Play In Your Pedal Stroke?
  • Will Cycling Make Your Calves Bigger?
  • Will Having Bigger Calves Make You A Faster Cyclist?
  • How To Build Your Calves For Cycling
  • Other Activities To Build Your Cycling Calf Muscles

Ready to learn about how your calves affect your cycling?

Let’s get started!

Cycling Calf Muscles: Title Image

What Role Do The Calves Play In Your Pedal Stroke?

You may be surprised to learn that the muscles in your calves don’t contribute much to your power. Your calf muscle is engaged most when you only push on the pedal with your toes.

However, pulling through the very top and bottom of the pedal stroke will slightly enhance your power output since it will engage a different set of quads and calve muscles. Untrained cyclists cannot exert power as far around the pedal stroke as well as expert cyclists can.

Will Cycling Make Your Calves Bigger?

The short answer to this is no.

So if you don’t want to build big calves, don’t worry; cycling alone won’t give you Incredible Hulk-like legs.

But, if you ride regularly, your legs will become more toned over time as your muscles become stronger. Also, you will burn fat, which will make your calf muscles more prominent.

If building your calves is your goal, you’ll need to do a lot more than just riding your bike.

That said, some cycling techniques will help to build your cycling calf muscles. For example, professional track cyclists develop large legs by riding their bikes in high gears to increase resistance. In addition to this, they do resistance training by riding up steep hills.

Increasing resistance to promote muscle development is pretty hard work, but it increases muscle hypertrophy, which will build your cycling calf muscles.

You need to incorporate different strength training exercises into your weekly fitness regime in addition to cycling. Regularly cross-training with heavy weights will build your calves’ muscle mass with the right exercises.

A road cyclist rides around a corner on an orange bike.

Will Having Bigger Calves Make You A Faster Cyclist?

Your calves provide a firm and stable platform through your ankle joint, helping you transfer power from your quads and glutes to the pedals. But the strength you get from walking and daily life makes your calves strong enough for regular cycling.

Your calf muscles don’t move that much throughout a pedal stroke. But this doesn’t mean that your cycling speed won’t benefit slightly from adding a few strength exercises into your workout regime.

However, building your cycling calf muscles is more critical for balancing the strength in your legs. Nobody wants powerful thighs while their calves remain undeveloped.

It is also a case of improving functional strength. You should increase your cycling calf muscle strength to keep riding for the next 20 or 30 years rather than doing it to improve your current speed.

A cyclist on a black road bike cycles on a tarmac surface.

How To Build Your Cycling Calf Muscles

As we have already discussed, specific cycling techniques will help build your cycling calf muscles. But if you are serious about getting bigger calves, you need to hit the gym.

To build bigger calves, you need to focus on the two muscles that make them up. 

  • The gastrocnemius – the muscle that gives the calf its rounded shape.
  • The soleus – the flatter, longer muscle running underneath the gastrocnemius and lower down your leg.

Here are some excellent ways to improve your cycling calf muscles:

#1. Double-Leg Calf Raise

The double leg calf raise is a classic calf strengthening move. The great thing about the calf raise is that you don’t need any strength equipment or weights, as it’s a bodyweight exercise.

To start your double-leg calf raise, stand close to and facing a wall with your ankles, knees, and hips in alignment. This position protects your joints, and you can put your hand on the wall if you lose your balance.

Raise your body upward by pressing down into the balls of your feet. You should keep your core muscles engaged to ensure that you move straight up and not at an angle. Then slowly lower back down until your heels touch the floor.

You can vary the exercise by standing with your toes on a step. This allows your heels to drop lower than your toes, giving you more range of motion. After you gently lower your heels, press up so you are standing on your tiptoes.

To make the double-leg calf raise more challenging, add weight by holding a dumbbell or some other kind of weight in one hand. Put your free hand on the wall to maintain balance.

#2. Single-Leg Calf Raise

For a more intense calf raise, do the exercise on one leg. This will increase the resistance on the muscles, causing them to adapt and strengthen even more.

The action is the same as the double-leg calf raise but you should bend one knee, so one foot is off the ground. Ensure your ankle, knee, and hip on the leg you are working on are nicely aligned to protect your joints.

Lift your body upwards by pressing down on the ball of your foot and lifting your heel. Use a wall to steady yourself if you need to. You can also do this move while standing on a step and/or holding a weight in one hand to make it more intense.

#3. Seated Calf Raise

You can do a seated calf raise at home or in the gym using a leg press machine. This move works both the gastrocnemius and soleus for stronger cycling calf muscles.

To do seated calf raises at home, sit on a firm chair with your feet flat on the floor. Make sure your knees are lined up over your feet without letting them turn in or out.

Lean forward with your hands on your thighs, close to your knees, adding resistance. Press down into the balls of your feet to lift your heels off the floor as high as you can. Then slowly lower your heels back down to the floor.

In the gym, set yourself up on the leg press machine to do seated calf raises. But just position the balls of your feet on the platform with your heels overhanging. Make sure you don’t go too heavy; start with a light weight to see how it feels, then add weight as necessary.

Unlatch the machine’s safety mechanism to release the weight onto your calves. Slowly press down with the balls of your feet to lift the weight, using the full range of motion. The motion is similar to standing calf raises on a step.

You can vary the workout by positioning your feet at different angles. Do a set with your feet straight, another with your toes pointing at 45 degrees towards each other, and another set with them pointing away from each other.

A runner jogs uphill on a dirt path in a forest.

Other Activities To Build Your Cycling Calf Muscles

Building muscle in the gym is just one way you can cross-train to develop your cycling calf muscles. Cross-training is good to do, as you can exercise in a way that compliments your cycling without overloading the same parts of your body.

Here are some suggestions for calf-building activities:

#1. Running, Walking, And Hiking

Spending time on your feet while running, walking, and hiking is an excellent way to strengthen your cycling calf muscles. You can build endurance, but your calves have to do more work if you head for steep hills.

This is the same principle as riding your bike up steep hills or riding in higher gears. But you get to enjoy a different sport while still working towards your cycling prowess.

#2. Running sports

Sports in which you need to run a lot are also great for building your cycling calf muscles. For example, basketball, soccer, and tennis require running, jumping, and quickly changing direction. All these movements incorporate your calf muscles, which will tone them up.

#3. Spin Class

A spin class is a fantastic workout for your whole body. Your instructor will motivate you to push hard, but they will also direct you to increase your resistance.

When you ride a spin bike standing on the pedals with high resistance, you get similar benefits as riding up a steep hill on your regular bicycle. Your calves will become more toned if you can incorporate a spin class into your fitness routine once a week.

A group of mountain bikers tackle a climb on a grassy trail.

Does Cycling Work Your Calves? – Answered!

Cycling does work your calves, just not as much as you might think!

But if you focus on building your cycling calf muscles, you will gain functional and balanced strength. If you want to build your calf muscles, you need to focus on increasing resistance.

Found this article helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Tom is an experienced freelance cycling journalist and mountain biking expert who competed nationally in the junior ranks. Now based in the world-famous mountain biking destination of Morzine in the French Alps, Tom spends his summers shredding off-road trails by bike and his winters on the same mountains on a snowboard.

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