Does Cycling Make Your Legs Bigger?

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One of the many benefits of cycling is that it is good for our bodies. It burns fat and tones muscles in ways you may not expect. But, does cycling make your legs bigger?

You would expect that constantly grinding the pedals will make your legs bigger. This is especially the case when you look at some professional cyclists. Their huge thighs clearly have lots of power in them, but what about those professional cyclists with less muscular legs?

There is a lot of misinformation out there, so we wanted to give you the definitive answer about cycling and how it affects the size and shape of your legs.

In this article, we will cover:

  • Does cycling make your legs bigger?
  • How diet affects your leg muscle growth while cycling
  • How to build leg muscles for cycling

Are you ready to learn how cycling changes the shape of your legs?

Does Cycling Make Your Leg Bigger

Does Cycling Make Your Legs Bigger?

The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, no. But that doesn’t mean that cycling is not good for your legs. Riding a bike improves leg muscles, but people use cycling as aerobic exercise.

Riding for long periods of time improves your muscle fibers used for endurance. Over time, these muscles allow you to pedal long distances before your legs begin to get tired. However, this prolonged exercise will not give you thighs that will split your shorts.

To add muscle mass that will increase your cycling power, you need to regularly cross-train in the gym with heavy weights.

How Diet Affects Your Leg Muscle Growth While Cycling

Your diet makes a massive difference in how powerful your muscles are. You need to fuel your body with high-quality protein to build any muscle you exercise.

It is difficult to ensure you get enough protein without intentionally consuming it. If you are serious about building your legs, you need to look at your diet and adjust it accordingly. Often this will mean that your need to significantly increase how much you eat.

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Women need to work harder than men to increase their muscle mass. This is because women have less testosterone than men and more body fat. Testosterone helps develop your muscles, so men and women’s results will vary, even if they do the same amount of strength training.

When you have more muscle, your body burns more calories, even when sitting on the sofa. If you lose 5lbs of fat while putting on 5 lbs of muscle, you will weigh the same, but you will look leaner and more toned.

How Genetics Affects How Your Muscles Grow

One factor that determines muscle growth that you cannot control is your genetics. Some people’s body compositions are better at building bigger muscles more quickly. However, other people find reducing unwanted body fat more challenging, while others remain lean no matter how hard they try to bulk up.

Therefore, you may have to come to terms that you may not be able to achieve the leg shape you want. But this should not put you off riding, as you will enjoy all the other benefits it brings.


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How To Build Leg Muscles While Cycling

As we have discussed, regular cycling alone won’t build big leg muscles, even though your cycling will benefit from stronger legs.

As you ride more, your legs will start to look slimmer. This is because cycling is an excellent cardiovascular exercise that burns fat while improving your leg muscles.

But there are some riding techniques you can do to build muscle on the bike. Professional cyclists with large leg muscles such as Sir Chris Hoy will train riding high-gear bikes. They will also vary the terrain they ride on to incorporate steep hills and headwinds to increase resistance.

Cycling in a hardcore way with the goal of muscle development will increase muscle hypertrophy. But you need to commit to harsh training conditions to bulk up your legs from cycling alone.

Here are three exercises you can do on the bike to make your legs bigger:

1. Low RPM Intervals

Set off on a ride, and after your legs have warmed up, select a large gear. Keep your cadence below 65 rpm and grind for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this 3 times to give your legs a proper workout. You will benefit from fitting your bike with a cadence sensor, as you will know how fast you need to pedal.

2. Hill Climbing

Head to a hill that would take you 10 to 15 minutes to climb. Ride up the hill in a larger gear while standing on the pedals. When you get to the top, ride back down and do it again another 2 or three times.

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3. Single Leg Drills

Single leg drills are more suited to cyclists who use clipless pedals. These exercises focus on the upstroke and work your hip flexors.

Simply ride along but instead of pushing hard down on the pedals, concentrate on pulling up. Do 3 sets of 1 minute drills per leg. You can even do this with only one foot clipped in.

How To Build Leg Muscles For Cycling Off The Bike

Building big leg muscles all comes down to resistance training and diet. Here are three excellent exercises for building your leg muscles for cycling:

1. Squat Variations

Squats are excellent for cyclists, as your hamstrings are balanced, which is different from the movements you make while pedaling.

There are many different variations of squats that you can use to build your leg muscles. The most basic squat is to lower yourself down until your thighs are nearly parallel with the ground. This is a similar angle you are in when pedaling. Then stand up straight with your glutes engaged.

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You can add resistance by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. Alternatively, you can make your squats more explosive by doing jump squats.

Jump squats also increase your heart rate, adding another benefit to the exercise. You can use a TRX suspension system, too, to help you get lower, increasing your range of motion.

Do 4 sets of 15 reps to build leg strength. If you opt for jump squats, make sure you do them explosively and quickly for the best results.

2. Lunges

Lunges are ideal for improving your leg muscles. They target your quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings. They also help to rectify any imbalances in your thigh strength.

To do lunges, stand straight and take a large step forward with your right leg until your knee is bent at 90 degrees. Make sure your knee doesn’t go over your toes when you send your weight forwards.

Push off your right foot to bring your body back to standing. Then repeat for your left leg. Alternate your lunges until you have done 16.

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You can make your lunges more challenging by holding a weight in each hand. This will also improve your grip strength, which is great for riding, especially mountain biking.

3. Calf raises

Building your calf strength is beneficial, as you constantly flex and abduct your calves while cycling. Calf raises mimic the pedaling action and make them stronger.

You can do calf raises pretty much anywhere. Stand on one foot on a step on your toes, so your heel is hanging over. Then slowly raise yourself up onto your toes, and lower back down in a controlled manner.

Do this movement 20 times on each foot 3 times. Again, you can increase resistance by holding a weight in the hand on the side you are working.

You can add calf raises into your squats to increase the intensity of your workout. As you bring yourself up to the upright position, push up onto your toes. This is especially good when you use a TRX system.

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But What If You Don’t Want To Bulk Up Your Legs?

Some cyclists may prefer to have lean legs and concentrate on endurance rather than power. In this case, all you need to do is ride your bike.

Most regular cyclists, even those with average fitness levels, develop toned legs after a while. If this is your goal, you don’t need to do any extra work, just enjoy your time on your bike.

Does Cycling Make Your Legs Bigger? – Answered!

After riding for a few weeks or months of cycling, you will start to see a difference in your physical appearance. Even people who don’t notice a significant change will find they have much more energy than before. They will also have improved blood flow and enhanced health.

Cycling will improve how your legs perform and look, but it will take more than just pedaling to build them up. So if having bigger legs is your goal, you need to ride and exercise in a particular way.

But, if you don’t want big legs, you can be safe in the knowledge that regular cycling won’t give you hulk-like thighs. So you can keep enjoying the other benefits such as weight loss and improved mental health. 

If you ride enough to change how your legs look, congratulations, you have found something you are passionate about or can stick to! You can now continue to watch your body become more powerful while doing something you enjoy.

For more information on cycling fitness, check out our blogs below:

What Muscles Does Biking Work?

Cycling Interval Training Workouts: Boost Your Speed And Power

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One of BikeTips' regular writers, Tom is a mountain biking expert living in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on two wheels or a snowboard! Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

1 thought on “Does Cycling Make Your Legs Bigger?”

  1. I really enjoyed the few articles I have read, I am now totally blind having only light and dark perception but up to the age of 29 when I lost my sight I had cycled withe the CTC and rode 19 miles to work and then back and did some time trials and hill climbs and a few Audax events. needless to say I miss the freedom of cycling I now am 65 years old and ride about 100 miles each week on my indoor bike, sadly I cannot find a regular front rider for tandem rides but do go out about once a month on a Rans Screamer here in East Devon.


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