Michael gained 35 pounds of muscle cycling to beaches over the summer once a week.
Does Biking Build Muscle?
People who bike regularly and maintain a healthy diet tend to have strong muscular legs. Biking can be a great way to build muscle if you do it correctly. When I started biking to provincial parks, I gained over 35 pounds of muscle. My legs became bigger and stronger. I was biking once a week and each week I tried to increase the duration or the intensity.
To build muscle you need to challenge yourself. Cycling works the glutes, thigh muscles (quadriceps & hamstrings), calf muscles, abs, heart, and back muscles. The muscles in your arms are also used, to a lesser extent. It is a full-body workout that works the largest muscles in your body.
Biking is a great way to build muscle because it works the larger muscle groups, with the exception of your chest. You should do other exercises, like push-ups, to work out your chest and arms.
Endurance & Strength
People often say that cycling is an endurance exercise and that to build strength you need to lift weights. Endurance exercises are not as good for increasing strength or building large muscles as strength exercises, but cycling is not just an endurance exercise. You can cycle as an endurance exercise a strength exercise or a combination of both.
My bike rides require strength and endurance. I use the highest (or biggest) gear while riding. They require more strength and allow me to go at a good speed without pedaling fast. Cycling takes more work when you are heavier, so I wear a fairly heavy backpack while biking to the beach. Going up hills at a fast pace can require a lot of strength so I try to sprint up hills while still using the highest gear.
Interval training is a good way to lose fat and build muscle. You alternate between hard, intense activities and easy ones. For cycling, you could alternate between a fast pace that is too fast to maintain and a slow pace. Alternate between going uphill, downhill, and on flat roads, or change the gear on your bike to change the resistance. Another option is to walk when you need a break from biking.
Changing the activity or the intensity of the activity allows you to do more. So does resting at the halfway point. I recommend biking to a park or a beach when possible. Two intense bike rides are better for building strength than one, long, less intense bike ride.
Exercise Bikes and Elliptical Trainers
To build muscle while using an exercise bike, elliptical trainer, or similar exercise machine you can change the resistance and your speed. Use interval training to help you build more muscle. Spend most of the time using a higher resistance setting and go at a fast pace. Reduce the speed and resistance when you need a short break, then increase the intensity again. Increase the time you spend at a lower intensity when you need more time to recover.
Exercising outside is usually better than exercising inside. Biking outside works more muscles than using an exercise bike and hills may provide more resistance than your exercise machine. Exercising outside is usually cooler because of the wind and you can actually go somewhere. Instead of biking in place for an hour, choose a fun destination.
Is Three Hours of Cycling Too Much in One Day?
Biking three hours a day, three or more times a week is too much. Biking three hours in one day can be a good amount if you break it up into two or three rides. I will bike to a park, rest, bike around the park, and rest some more. Then I will bike back. Biking for three hours straight is good if you just want to improve your endurance. Three, one-hour bike rides are better if your goal is to increase your strength and build muscle.
Before trying to bike for three hours a day, work up to it. Gradually increase the duration and intensity. Three hours of biking a week are enough for me to build muscle. You could spread this out over one or two days. Biking more than three hours a day could hurt your progress and so could biking more than six hours a week. Pay close attention to how it affects you. If you are doing a lot of biking and not improving, then you are probably exercising too much or going too slow.
Cardio workouts that last 1 to 1.5 hours give me better results than ones that last three hours. That is why I quit doing really long cardio workouts.
How to Build More Muscle Cycling
Bike up hills
Use interval training
Wear a backback
Bike against the wind
1 or 2 days a week
Compete against yourself
Use a high gear
Maintain a healthy diet
Set big goals.
If you start cycling to build muscle then you should be able to build muscle fairly quickly. Every week or two you should be able to do more than before. You should be able to bike farther or faster. Going up hills should become easier as your leg muscles get stronger. Your cardiovascular endurance should also improve and your heart will get stronger.
The first sign that you are building muscle is that the exercise is getting easier. You feel stronger. That can happen after two weeks. Seeing and feeling that your muscles are bigger takes a bit longer—about a month. After biking to a park four times my leg muscles were bigger. After biking to parks and beach 10 times, I could bike faster and farther, going up hills was a lot easier, and I gained around 35 pounds of muscle.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Michael H
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 05, 2018:
Interesting article! I am thinking that lifting weights is something I need to do, with less focus on biking.